Don’t Waste Your Time Trying to Hire Mary


I just met a remarkable woman. Her name is Mary. I’m going to use her as the prototypical outstanding person whom you’ll want to hire, but can’t.

A little background first:

  1. Mary’s a classic achiever. She gets assigned projects over her head and delivers. She gets promoted more rapidly than her peers.
  2. She’s technically superb.
  3. She has a strong academic background and has been successful at one well-known company and at one start-up.
  4. She thinks technically, tactically and strategically.
  5. She has successfully managed large multi-functional teams handling difficult IT international implementation projects.
  6. She gets stuff done without making excuses.
  7. People in all functions – even her peers – ask to be assigned to her teams.
  8. Directors and VPs at every company she’s worked for want to get her assigned to their projects.
  9. She is highly satisfied with her work and is on a nice upward growth path.
  10. She’s not looking for another job.

How I went about piquing Mary’s interest

When I called Mary I left a voicemail, mentioning a former boss who had referred her to me. He had said she’s great but is not looking, however she knows other great people she can refer.

She called me back and I did get her to consider my open spot when I asked her this question, “Would you be open to explore a situation if it were clearly superior to what you’re doing today?” She said, “Sure, but I’m not looking and unlikely to change jobs.”

Most recruiters aren’t even able to get to this first base, so getting the referral and asking the right question was critical. However, for me to recruit her and place her in another position I had to do the following:

  1. Overcome any discussion about compensation, title or relocation. She pushed the compensation a bit but I said that if the job didn’t represent a career move the comp package wouldn’t matter. And if it did, we’d make the compensation work.
  2. Other than the generic title and without telling her the company name, I got her to tell me about her background first. Most recruiters start selling the job once a person expresses any level of interest. This a huge turnoff and will kill the chance for any additional conversation.
  3. During this discussion I needed to see if my open job represented a career move. To do this I needed to find at least 3-4 factors that represent significant upside growth (e.g., stretch, growth rate, impact). Even if I did find some big gaps I still needed to influence her to at least consider them.
  4. For this job it turns out the team she’d be managing is bigger and she’d have direct exposure to the CEO since she’d be leading one of his pet projects. I mention that while she might be a bit light for this position, it would represent a career move if it could all come together. Rather than rushing it I suggested she let the idea soak in. Of course, I also suggested she talk it over with family and close friends and call me if she’d like to discuss the idea in more detail.
  5. I waited a few days to see if she’d call me back. Typically most people like Mary want to arrange a second, more in-depth call right away, since only then will I reveal the company details. But in this case I purposely wanted to slow down the process. Not surprisingly she did call me the next day saying it would be foolish not to at least explore the opportunity a little bit further.
  6. This second call went very well but I mentioned to Mary that a few other fine candidates have surfaced that I’d be meeting right away. However, I asked Mary if she’d be open to an exploratory phone call with the hiring manager if I could arrange it. She enthusiastically agreed.
  7. When I spoke with the hiring manager I told him all about Mary but indicated she was a very passive candidate and the phone call was exploratory only. He had to tell Mary a little about the role and some of the challenges and then review Mary’s work history and some of her big projects. If the call went well he should invite Mary onsite for a more formal interview.
  8. If Mary agrees to the onsite meeting she will have moved from a passive prospect to an interested candidate.

This is how you recruit people at the top of the funnel. But most recruiters and few hiring managers are willing to invest the time needed to hire people like Mary.

Getting the best candidates into the top of the funnel is not about employer branding, going social or optimizing the candidate experience. It’s about converting lateral transfers into career moves, identifying and recruiting great passive candidates and ensuring hiring managers are fully engaged in the process.

If you’re not willing to do these things, don’t waste your time trying to hire Mary. But if you are, you’ll discover that’s how you need to recruit and hire all great people.

Focus on Recruiting at the Top of the Funnel to Overcome Talent Scarcity


I just spent two days in San Francisco with 250 recruiters charged with finding thousands of people for some of the fastest growing companies in the country.

As one of the speakers, I laid out my standard recruiting strategy. It was simply that getting stronger candidates in at the top of the funnel is more important than being efficient in getting them hired.

Regardless of the soundness of my claim, this is not what actually happens in most cases. This is due to the underlying assumption a company makes when designing its recruiting processes – the assumption of whether there is talent surplus or talent scarcity.

Here is the hiring process of companies that assume there is talent surplus:

Surplus of Talent Hiring Model – Focus on the Cost of Hiring

This is a high-tech, impersonal, high volume process designed to drive active candidates to apply using automation to create a candidate shortlist. This is the process shown on the left side of the recruiting funnel graphic. This hiring process assumes that there are plenty of good active candidates available. This assumption drives these fundamental process design concepts:

  1. Maximize the number of active candidates in the top of the funnel. Focus on employer branding and optimizing the customer experience. Push this via all channels including job boards and social media to make sure all qualified active candidates find it. Then make it easy to apply on mobile.
  2. Use a laundry list of requirements to weed out the weak. Post traditional job descriptions and use high technology including assessments to screen out the unqualified. Invest in technology to rank-order applicants.
  3. Fit the person to the job qualifications and compensation ranges. For the sake of efficiency, box check skills and make sure the candidate fits the compensation range and is okay with the job title, company name and location. Get 8-15 people on the shortlist of acceptable candidates.
  4. Use the interview to minimize hiring mistakes. Assess technical skills, generic competencies, personality and team skills to determine cultural fit. Since little is known about the job, indirect assessment techniques need to be used to determine fit. These are known to only be about 65% accurate in predicting on-the-job performance and why 68% of the U.S. is disengaged.
  5. Increase efficiency and reduce costs. The cost of hiring 100 people is somewhere between $500,000 to $700,000. Doing this faster can save $100,000 and reduce the time to hire by 20-30%.

By filtering on skills and negotiating on short-term rewards this process leads to the vicious cycle of dissatisfaction, underperformance and turnover. But at least it’s quick and efficient.

Recruiting Funnel

Scarcity of Talent Model – Focus on the Impact of Those Hired

This is a high-touch/high-tech hybrid recruiting model emphasizing passive candidate recruiting. This is shown on the left side of the recruiting funnel where there are no shortcuts. The underlying assumption is that there are not enough top candidates available so the processes need to be designed with this in mind, specifically:

  1. Maximize the quality of the candidates at the top of funnel. This require more time to develop each candidate but is offset by a focus on fewer candidates. Finding A-Team quality candidates requires skilled recruiters who can not only find and identify top talent but can also contact and recruit them.
  2. Attract the best by branding the job, not the company. The best people are not looking for lateral transfers. This requires that all recruitment advertising and marketing materials emphasize the actual work that needs to be done, the employee value proposition and the direct impact of the job on the company’s strategy, mission or major initiative. In this case mobile is a tactic, not a strategy.
  3. Use Performance-based Interviewing to create the opportunity gap. The difference between what needs to be done and the candidate’s past performance represents the career opportunity. This gap consists of job stretch and long-term growth. (Here’s the complete Performance-based Interviewing handbook.)
  4. Present no more than four qualified candidates for each job. If a hiring manager needs to see more than four candidates it indicates the recruiting and selection process is flawed. This troubleshooting guide can help pinpoint the problem.
  5. Emphasize career development over compensation. Recruit and close on what the person will do and become, not the size of the compensation package on the day the person starts.  Compensation growth is more sustainable when there’s a near term opportunity to take on bigger projects.
  6. Maximize quality of hire and the ROI of hiring the best. The annual compensation of 100 people is around $10 million. These people should generate around $50 million in revenue (at $500,000 per employee) and $20 million in incremental pre-tax profit (at 40%). The impact of hiring the A-Team would be an additional $4-5 million per year, every year for a modest cost increase. Use this calculator to figure out the ROI of this for your company.

Given these two different paths I’m still surprised talent leaders think there is a surplus of great talent when there isn’t and why they’re more concerned with efficiency of hire rather than quality of hire. Regardless, the shift can be made by recruiting at the top the funnel.

10 Email Best Practices for Attracting Passive Candidates


Clever Boolean and LinkedIn Recruiter are great for finding remarkable people for just about any job you need done. But this is the easy part. The hard part is getting the people to respond to your email once you have identified them. The even harder part is to maintain control of the conversation once you get them on the phone. How to pull this “first contact” part off was described in a post a few weeks ago, “The Most Important 5 Minutes in a Passive Candidate Recruiter’s Life.”

This post will describe how to use email to get the people to call you in the first place.

The emails that work

To make the email tips more effective, I want you to read the message below. It went out to 75 HR leaders in the Midwest and it got an overwhelmingly positive response:


Why do you think the email did so well?

Here are the 10 reasons why I think this email was a hit and the 10 steps you should always incorporate in your messages any time you reach our to candidates:

1. Understand the job.

When working with passive candidates, recruiters need to understand what the person will actually be doing and why the work is important to the company. If recruiters don’t know this, they’re seen as just gatekeepers with little influence. To better understand the work involved, ask the hiring manager, “What will this person be doing most of the time, and what kind of results would the person need to achieve in order to be considered successful?” For the HR job it was rebuilding the entire HR function.

2. Determine the employee value proposition (EVP).

To understand the true EVP, ask the hiring manager, “Why would a top person who’s not looking even consider this a better opportunity than what he or she is now doing?” For the HR spot it was accelerated growth, working with a CEO who valued HR and the strategic importance of the job itself.

3. Capture the prospect’s intrinsic motivator in your messages.

For the HR VP spot is getting a seat at the strategic table. This motivating need needs to be reinforced in every component of your recruitment advertising.

4. Tell stories.

Think about the best consumer ads you’ve seen. They’re all stories based on the benefits of the product. None emphasize a boring list of requirements. Note: In the U.S. there is no legal or compliance requirement that internal job descriptions need to be posted for recruiting nor do they need to be boring! This was an invention of the first job boards!

5. Start with a compelling headline.

You must capture your ideal prospect’s imagination in a few seconds. Notice the subject line in the HR email. It was irresistible.

6. Forget the laundry list of skills.

Focus on what the person can learn, do and become. Notice the total absence of any “must have” requirements in the email. Any HR executive knows what skills and competencies are required to do the work, so why waste space listing them?

7. Focus on the future, not the past.

When crafting recruitment advertising describe the future, not the past. Notice how the HR email emphasizes where the company is going and the important role the VP HR will play in this growth.

8. Brand the job, not the company.

Hyperbole, generalizations and boilerplate have no place when recruiting passive candidates. The job brand is a customized description of the impact the person can have on the company.

9. Reengineer the apply process.

Passive candidates will not apply nor will they take some assessment test until they’re convinced the job represents a career move. So start slowly. If the offer is compelling enough even passive candidates will prepare a short write-up, but the big idea is sell just a short conversation about a possible career move as the first step.

10. Elevate the importance of the job.

In this email one of the first discussions the prospect will have is with a board member. This demonstrates the importance of the job. Saying something like, “Send us a short write-up of a major accomplishment and we’ll make sure the hiring manager reads it first thing in the morning,” is also effective.

There is as much art to recruiting passive candidates as science with the recruiter as the artist. It starts by creating a compelling word picture of the job but only revealing its full potential in a series of orchestrated discussions. A great email can launch these discussions by creating a persuasive vision that’s hard to ignore.

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* image by Robert S. Donovan

The 7 Steps for Recruiting Hard-to-find Passive Candidates

I just completed a search for a director in Silicon Valley for an important technology role. After posting a very compelling ad and conducting a quick, traditional Boolean search on LinkedIn Recruiter, it became apparent that the demand for talent for this type of position was much greater than the supply.

To get around this, I had to immediately implement a proactive passive candidate recruiting (PCR) effort.

Here are the 7 steps I took to find the talent I was looking for:

1. Used out-of-the box Boolean to find some “one-offs.”

One-offs are people who have done comparable work, but not identical work. In this case, I looked for project managers in different industries who worked in comparable technologies, vendors who might have implemented similar solutions with their clients, and consultants who worked on these types of projects. Within a few hours, I was able to identify about 40 potential prospects who lived with 20 miles of the client.

2. Prepared a compelling email (InMail) and voice mail campaign to obtain initial contact.

I got an over 50% response rate after two emails and 75% after four emails. More than half of these were willing to engage in an exploratory call. The subject line was compelling, but the real key was suggesting the idea of engaging in a short networking conversation that had the potential to lead to a more in-depth career conversation. A link to a very compelling job posting (this is not the actual ad for this job) and my LinkedIn profile was part of the multi-part push. We also left voice mails for everyone who didn’t respond after the first email to boost yield.

3. Used to schedule 15-minute exploratory conversations.

I didn’t want to lose anyone due to scheduling conflicts, so this calendaring tool made it easy to arrange a short call. Based on this effort, I personally spoke with 14 people.  Each of them claimed that they were not looking for a job and that they were perfectly satisfied with their current positions.

4. Put compensation in the parking lot at the beginning of the first call and looked for a career gap to justify a second call.

When I started the call, I suggested that we should not discuss compensation unless the job represented a real career move. They agreed and we instantly got right into reviewing the job in comparison to their accomplishments. Of the 14 who agreed to the first call, seven were worth another call and they all agreed. After the second call, five were strong enough to present to my client. I used both calls to determine the gap between what they were doing now and moving towards to what the new opportunity represented. Since the gap offered plenty of stretch and the potential for faster growth, they all agreed to have an exploratory call with the hiring manager.

5. Had the hiring manager conduct a 30-minute exploratory call with five prospects.

My client, a Sr. VP, agreed to have a phone conversation with anyone I presented. He also agreed to meet them all, although he wasn’t sure they were a perfect fit based on their LinkedIn profiles and resumes. The goal of this call was to qualify the person, determine interest, and convince the prospect to meet in-person for a formal interview. The VP was impressed with each one and all were interviewed personally. Four agreed to become serious candidates and went through a series of formal interviews with other executives.

6. Debriefed every candidate after each round of interviews.

The first purpose of these calls was to focus on identifying and overcoming concerns. The second goal was clarifying the career gap by emphasizing the actual work, the impact it had on the company’s success and the potential for continuing upside growth. As candidate’s gained this insight, they understood that their current jobs were not nearly as good as they originally thought and they openly vocalized this point. This is a common occurrence, but always fascinating when it happens. It takes effort to get to this point, but it’s the essence of passive candidate recruiting.

7. Completed the process and closed the deal on career growth, not compensation maximization.

This post describes the negotiating process in detail, but the key is to test every component of the offer before ever presenting it formally. If a candidate says she or he has to think about it before giving verbal acceptance, you’ve rushed the offer process. While you want the person to think about it, there is no need to extend the offer prematurely. The most important thing is that the candidate fully understands the career opportunity the new job represents, not the size of the compensation package. (Here’s a link to the full negotiating handbook.)

They key to successfully completing this process was persistence. None of these people would have been found, recruited, seen or hired without diligence, full knowledge of the job, and advanced passive candidate recruiting selling skills. I’ve met many recruiters who have the selling skills and advanced knowledge to be great, but they fall short when it comes to persistence. Yet, this the key to passive candidate recruiting – it’s the most important trait a recruiter needs to possess to find, recruit and hire the best people for any job.

* image by Me2

Lou's Top 10 List for Becoming a Better Recruiter in 2013

As The Adler Group gets ready for 2013, Lou prepared his Top 10 list for 2013. He doesn't always publish this, but it reflects what he thinks recruiters should focus on in the upcoming year. This year we're fortunate since he's decided to let everyone have a glimpse at what he thinks is in store for 2013. We thought you might find it useful as a framework for establishing a self-improvement program for the new year. He bases his advice on something he learned from Jim Rohn about 25 years ago: "If you want things to be better for you, you first need to become better." We think you'll find Lou's list a helpful place to begin this journey.

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

The Adler Group Team