8 Do’s and Don’ts for Your First Conversation With a Passive Candidate

In a recent post, I offered 10 ideas on how to improve top of the funnel response rates. If you’ve tried these tips, you’ll discover better people are already applying to your jobs, responding to your emails and returning your calls.

Now, the challenge becomes using that intial conversation to turn those prospects into candidates. To do this, you only have 5-10 minutes to grab their attention during your call or meeting and convince them that you can offer a meaningful career opportunity. Here are some do’s and don't for making those 10 minutes count:

1. Don’t box check

Forget the skills and experiences. You’ve gotten the person to talk to you about a career opportunity, not a lateral transfer. To set the stage for this, give a short 30-second overview of your job, the challenges involved and impact on the company, customer or some important project.

2. Don’t negotiate nothing

Don’t ask about salary. And if the person asks, say if the job doesn’t offer a career move the pay won’t matter. Too many recruiters and candidates negotiate the pay, the location and the title before either party knows what the job is or if the person is any good.

3. Sell the discussion, not the job

Be clear from the beginning that the purpose of your call is to explore the possibility that your opening represents a true career move for the candidate. If it does, another discussion can be arranged to get into the specifics of the job and the candidate’s background.

4. Offer a 30% increase

To increase their interest, I often tell prospects that the definition of a career move is a minimum 30% non-monetary increase (see graphic). This consists of some combination of a bigger job, a job with more impact and visibility, a job doing more satisfying work and one that’s growing faster in terms of more upside potential.

5. Review the candidate’s profile before describing the job

Since you don’t know what the candidate would consider a career move, it’s better to first review the person’s LinkedIn profile without describing the job in other than broad outlines. This is called the discovery process. During your review look for areas of growth that your opening provides and suggest another call to get into more details.

6. Offer a chance to talk with the hiring manager

After my second more detailed conversation with a candidate, I often suggest an exploratory phone call with the hiring manager as the next step. Candidates appreciate this go-slower and learn-more process before becoming a serious candidate. The purpose of the call with the hiring manager is to share information and for the hiring manager to invite the person onsite for a formal interview if appropriate.

7. Don’t make strategic decisions using tactical information

Don’t rush the process. It takes hours spread over weeks for a passive candidate to fully appreciate the career merits of a new opportunity. Too often candidates, recruiters and hiring managers use short-term information to make long-term decisions short circuiting the entire information gathering process.

8. Recruiting is not you selling the candidate, it’s getting the candidate to sell you

It’s easy to get an active candidate interested in your opening. Getting a top-performing passive candidate equally as excited is called recruiting. It starts with a go-slow process looking for a 30% non-monetary increase. Sometimes you can’t find it and sometimes you need to suggest a bigger job. However, if you do find it, you’ll quickly notice how interested the formerly passive candidate has just become.

It’s certainly appropriate for a passive candidate to opt-out of the recruiting process if the job does not offer a true career move. Unfortunately too many opt-out making short-term or superficial decisions with inadequate facts. Great recruiters know how to prevent this from happening. A good rule of thumb is to persist until both you and the person being recruited have all of the facts. The person ultimately hired will thank you for your tenacity. So will the hiring manager.

The New Competency Model for Passive Candidate Recruiting

Your Checklist for Becoming a Passive Candidate Recruiting Expert...

With the death of transactional recruiting, recruiters need to rapidly become passive candidate recruiting experts. The following are the prerequisites. And, you can take this online survey as you review the details to see where you stand.

1. Use a Performance-qualified Selection System vs. Skills-qualified System to attract 100% of the talent market

Passive candidates aren’t looking for lateral transfers; they’re looking for growth opportunities. A performance-based job description defines the work a person needs to accomplish in order to be considered successful.

You need to answer a strong yes to these questions to play in the passive candidate recruiting game:

  • Can you influence your hiring manager to use performance objectives rather than a list of skills and experiences to define job success?
  • Can you confidently answer this question the best passive candidates always ask first, “Can you tell me about the hiring manager, why the job is important, what some of the big challenges are, what the compensation is and why it’s a good career move?”

2. Establish a strong recruiter and hiring manager partnership

The recruiter needs to be an influential partner in the process to ensure the best person is being hired. As a result, the recruiter needs to answer a strong yes on these factors:

  • The hiring manager will agree to phone interview 100% of the candidates I present.
  • I’m often asked to lead panel interviews.
  • I’m often asked to lead debriefing sessions.
  • I can defend my candidates from superficial or incorrect assessments.

3. Prepare the “ideal candidate persona” as part of a dual-track sourcing program

The preparation of a candidate persona is part of a complete passive candidate recruiting effort, since it uncovers all possible prospects.

Some of these people will be found and contacted directly. The others will be found using the networking power of LinkedIn Recruiter. You need to prepare the profile and do both to score a five on this factor.

4. Build a great pool of top performing passive candidates

To be considered an outstanding passive candidate recruiter, you need to do all of the following:

  • Be a clever Boolean expert using performance traits to identify the top 25%.
  • Prepare great messages that tap into the candidate’s intrinsic motivators.
  • Achieve best in class passive candidate response rates (>50%).
  • Spend at least 50% of the time getting and calling high quality referrals.

5. Implement a consultative recruiting approach to become a true career advisor

Getting the names of passive candidates is easy. Getting them to talk with you is harder. Recruiting them is tougher still, but getting them hired within budget requires sophisticated recruiting skills.

You need to answer yes to all of the following to earn your master consultative recruiting certificate.

  • I can get at least 80% of the passive candidates I talk with on the phone to engage in a 10-15 minute exploratory conversation.
  • I know how to shift the conversation right away to the three dimensions of career growth over compensation maximization.
  • I can smoothly overcome typical passive candidate concerns, like location, title, compensation and lack of interest.  

6. Be recognized as an outstanding interviewer

You need to have a track record of accurately assessing candidates validated by the person’s on-the-job performance. This is why hiring managers will see all of your candidates and ask you to lead the hiring team’s debriefing sessions.

7. Maximize and manage the passive candidate recruiting process

To get five stars on this factor, you rarely need to present more than four candidates to get one person hired and 2-3 of these are either passive or highly referred candidates.

In our LinkedIn Recruiter Master Course, we describe the skills needed to achieve this mix. But, the big idea is to use a sequence of designed steps to keep the best prospects engaged throughout the recruiting process.

8. Be great at recruiting and closing on growth, not compensation

None of the above matters if you’re not hiring high quality passive candidates within your compensation range. The key to this is moving slowly, selling the discussion instead of the job, not letting passive candidates opt-out until they have a full set of information, converting your jobs into career moves, getting the passive candidate to sell you instead of you selling the candidate, and testing all offers to ensure 100% acceptance thereby preventing competing offers.

To be considered a top-notch passive candidate recruiter, the last factor is the most important. But you can’t get there unless you score high on all of the rest. That’s why you need to master the art of consultative recruiting. Based on the latest hiring trends, the time to get started is now.