12 High Touch Ways to Win Over Passive Candidates

No one disputes the idea that if you want to raise quality of hire, you need to hire more passive candidates. But hiring more passive candidates involves an entirely different process than hiring active candidates.

The most important step is having a job that represents a true career move. The second most important step is ensuring the prospect doesn’t opt out of the conversation too soon before learning if the job is a true career move. If you want to hire more passive candidates you need to master both of these concepts. Here’s how to get started.

How to succesfully recruit passive candidates

1. Instantly shift to a career-based discussion

Would you be open to explore a situation if it put you on a better long-term career trajectory?” is a much better question to ask than asking if the person is interested in considering your ill-defined, awesome job. Most passive candidates are willing to casually discuss potential career moves but few are willing to consider some short-term job change.

2. Use permission marketing

Don’t start pitching your job when the prospect agrees to a career discussion. A yes to the “open to explore” question means you have about 5-10 minutes to make your case that your job is worth another discussion. This is a permission marketing technique that’s essential for successfully recruiting passive candidates.

3. Go much slower

While many passive candidates are open to discussing better opportunities, it takes more time for them to fully appreciate the career potential of making the move. Unfortunately, too many recruiters try to push the process at a pace much faster than the prospect is willing to accept. As a result, the person opts out without fully appreciating the true career opportunity.

4. Sell the next step, not the job

One way to slow down the process is to consider the first few calls as exploratory conversations used to share information. The first call is to get agreement from the prospect to be open to consider a career opportunity.

5. Define a career opportunity as a 30% non-monetary increase

Tell the person you define a career opportunity as a minimum 30% non-monetary increase consisting of job stretch, more satisfying work, more impact and a higher rate of growth. Tell the person you want to use the first few calls to figure this out.

6. Present a one-minute elevator pitch

Once the prospect agrees to a short exploratory chat say, “Great! Let me first give you a one-minute overview of the position and then I’d like to quickly review your LinkedIn profile to see if we can find the components of a 30% career move. If so, and if you’re interested, we can schedule another call when it’s more convenient. Worst case we can network for future opportunities.” Establishing this ground rule upfront sets the tone for the subsequent recruiting conversation.

7. Put money in the parking lot

Don’t answer the, “What’s the compensation?” question. Instead, if the candidate wants to know the range say, “It doesn’t matter what the pay is if the job doesn’t represent a career move. Let’s first see if it’s a career move and then we’ll see if the pay fits.” If the job is a career move, the pay will be negotiable. It’s okay for the recruiter to ask about the person’s compensation after the LinkedIn profile review but not before.

8. You must know the job to find the 30%

If the recruiter doesn’t know the job as a series of performance objectives and upside potential it’s not possible to determine if the 30% non-monetary increase is even possible. Knowing the job is the tipping point in the entire passive candidate recruiting process.

9. Conduct the quick LinkedIn profile review

It takes about 10 minutes to determine if your job offers a potential career move. If it does, describe the components of the 30% non-monetary increase and arrange another call to validate it. In fact, try to find another 10% increase. You’ll use this to recruit the candidate.

10. Use the “Push Away” to get the prospect to sell you

As you conduct your profile review, look for gaps in the person’s background that could offer significant job stretch. Mention these gaps as concerns you have as a recruiter in moving the process forward. If the person finds the job compelling, he/she will try to convince you of his/her quality for the role. This is how you get a formerly passive candidate excited about your open opportunity.

11. Get the hiring manager engaged early

As part of the early recruiting process it’s important to have the hiring manager talk with the prospect on an exploratory basis. If the call goes well have the hiring manager invite the person onsite. This ensures you’re on the right track and, as important, it forces the hiring manager to understand the important role he/she plays in recruiting top tier passive talent.

12. Connect and network

If the person is not a perfect fit, connect on LinkedIn and proactively network with the person. Start by asking who they’d recommend for the role and then search on their LinkedIn connections to find some ideal candidates to get referrals.

Using a high-touch process like the one described is essential for recruiting and hiring more passive candidates. The importance of this cannot be understated. It’s how you raise quality of hire that’s why you need to track your passive candidate conversion rates at every step in the funnel.

5 High Touch Techniques You Should Use to Recruit Passive Candidates

Recruiters need to recognize they’re facing an existential threat when it comes to sourcing and hiring active candidates. On one level, automation is rapidly identifying candidates ready to look for jobs and matching them with the most appropriate opportunities. In addition, hiring manager do-it-yourself (DIY) models are now starting to appear. Both trends will accelerate and minimize the role of recruiters for anything other than administrative and transactional purposes.

However, these driverless and DIY trends will be less useful for attracting high quality passive candidates who are only interested in changing jobs for true career reasons. This is the reason I advise recruiters to shift their efforts to using a high touch consultative recruiting approach like Performance-based Hiring because it generates higher quality of hire and will give you better results.

Now, it’s hard to follow this method when you have 15-20 heads to recruit, which in my opinion is a clear indicator that a company is more interested in efficiency and cost metrics than quality of hire. But, The ROI of a great hire is more than 1000% when you consider the increased profitability generated over multiple years to the modest one-time marginal cost increase required to hire the person. However, it takes a visionary talent leader to make the case and skilled recruiters to deliver on the promise.

At LinkedIn’s Talent Connect 2016, I presented a high touch process for sourcing and recruiting top tier passive candidates. As part of this, I briefly mentioned the following five high touch recruiting skills as critical. Here are some more details:

1. Offer a 30% non-monetary increase

Early in a conversation with a passive candidate, I suggest the only reason the person should change jobs is if it offers a minimum non-monetary increase of 30% in comparison to his/her current job. The 30% is some combination of job stretch (a bigger job), more rapid growth, more impact and a more satisfying mix of work.

One recruiter at Talent Connect came up to me and thanked me for describing this approach in The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired. By using it he is now able to double the number of passive candidates who agree to engage in exploratory discussions.

2. Control the conversation

Too many top tier candidates opt-out of the conversation before they even know much about the job other than the title, location and the compensation. Worse, recruiters start pitching the job if the candidate is even slightly interested.

This is backwards. Instead, get the candidate to talk about his/her job first and what the person likes most and least. During this discovery process the recruiter needs to find details justifying a potential 30% non-monetary increase and present this as a reason for a more serious conversation.

3. Sell the discussion, not the job

Consultative recruiting is similar to solution selling. In this process, the sales rep conducts a discovery process uncovering client needs and proposing a customized solution. Recruiters need to use a similar process when contacting passive candidates.

The first step is an exploratory conversation without any pressure whatsoever. If the job represents a career move, another more serious discussion can then take place. It’s better to spend more time with fewer candidates rather than hoping a perfect candidate is magically found for some imperfect job.

4. No NOs!

Recruiters shouldn’t let candidates opt-out of the process until the person has full knowledge about the job. When a candidate says he/she is not interested or is happy at his/her current job or anything similar, it’s time for the recruiter to use rehearsed rebuttals for common candidate objectives. For example, when a candidate tells me she’s not looking I say that’s the best time to talk, since the only way she’d change jobs is if it was for a remarkable opportunity.

5. Get the candidate to sell you

Too many recruiters and hiring managers believe recruiting is selling the job using hyperbole and generic promises. This is a great way to overpay for someone who will underperform. As part of the discovery process, find a few areas where the job offers significant growth and express some concern that the job could be too big a stretch.

This type of subtle “push away” technique will often get a high potential passive candidate to try to convince you that he/she is qualified for the position. Making the candidate earn the job this way minimizes the chance the person will accept a counter-offer or be lured by a bigger salary somewhere else.

In the future, more people will be hired using a highly automated impersonal process requiring limited recruiter involvement. However, the best people will be hired using a consultative career management process designed to maximize quality of hire and candidate satisfaction. This high touch approach represents an alternative future and one all career-minded recruiters need to master.

10 Ways to Overcome Passive Candidate Concerns and Objections

At a recent advanced recruiting class, I asked attendees to describe some of the objections they have heard from passive candidates. Here were the most common:

  1. I’m happy where I am.
  2. I’m not interested in leaving.
  3. I don’t like (pick one: The title, the compensation, the company, the location).
  4. I wish you had called me sooner.
  5. I just accepted another position.
  6. I’m involved in a critical project I must complete.
  7. I don’t talk to recruiters.

Since 80-90% of candidates for most high-demand positions are passive, recruiters need to get beyond these barriers in order to have meaningful conversations. Here’s what I suggest.

1. Don’t sell the job - sell the conversation.

By definition, passive candidates are not looking for another job, so stop selling them something they don’t want. Instead ask them if they’d be open to have an exploratory career conversation about if one of your current or future opportunities represents a good career move.

2. Don’t ask questions that can be answered by a ‘no.’

It’s hard to say no to, “Would you be open to exploring a senior financial management position if it were superior to what you’re doing today?” It’s easy to say no to, “Would you like to discuss an amazing cost analyst position at our Oshkosh plant?”

3. Remove the hustle by focusing on the future.

Try this: “We’re now doing our workforce planning for next year and a few senior positions are being created. Would you be open to chatting for a few minutes to see if one represented a strategic career opportunity?” Adding a delay into your opening is a great conversation starter.

4. Use referrals to turn strangers into semi-acquaintances.

Conversations with people you’ve worked with in the past tend to be informal, open and exploratory. Cold calls are stiff, narrow and perfunctory. Mentioning a referrer’s name is the best way to have a natural conversation.

5. Use an attention-getting mechanism.

When a prospect says she’s “not interested” before knowing anything about the job, say “That’s exactly why we should talk.” Neither comment makes much sense so this is a great way to reset expectations.

6. Use the parking lot.

When someone asks, “What’s the compensation?” say, “If the job doesn’t represent a career move, it doesn’t matter what we pay you. Let’s first see if the job is a career move, and if so, we can then determine if the pay is appropriate.”

7. Shift the focus to career strategy, not tactics.

I said this when a candidate almost took a job for all of the wrong reasons: “You’ve just made a long-term career decision using short-term information.” The person realized a big pay increase in a dying industry was career suicide.

8. Reframe the risk in changing jobs.

Try this with a candidate who’s not interested or quite happy: “Time is your most valuable asset. Whatever you do in the next 2-3 years will affect the next 5-10. Sometimes there’s a bigger risk in staying in the same role rather than changing.”

9. Become someone worth knowing.

It’s hard for a candidate to say no to, “I focus exclusively on placing top people in (types of positions). If the current opportunity isn’t a good career move, we can at least network until something more appropriate develops.” People want to work with people who can help their career growth.

10. Anticipate the concern in order to neutralize it.

Hiding a problem is ill-advised. Something like, “While our Glassdoor.com rating has taken a nosedive, the current role involves turning things around,” will at least get the conversation started.

Recruiting a passive candidate always starts with an exploratory conversation. They never start by trying to hustle someone into an open job you’re desperate to fill. Overcoming the barriers to these conversations requires a different mindset. With this different mindset you actually might find a bunch of people you talk with who find the job you’re desperate to fill a great career move.

How to Get Passive Candidates to Say “Yes” on Every Call

LinkedIn asked me to host a webcast on August 26, 2015 on the trials and tribulations of passive candidate recruiting. They even suggested that attendees can send me their toughest challenges and tag them with hashtag #PitchItToLou on Twitter and I’ll provide my best advice during the webcast. Although I don’t know what questions will be asked, I suspect my advice will go something like this:

  • Don’t take no for an answer.
  • Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a no.
  • Don’t talk about the job.
  • Get the candidate to talk first.
  • Promise you’ll give the person a 30% pay increase.
  • Conduct needs analysis.
  • Prove the promise.
  • Recruiting isn’t selling the job.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Learn to drive the bus.

While you’ll need to attend the webcast to understand all of the answers, I’ll use this post to provide a few hints at what underlies the skills required to be an outstanding passive candidate recruiter.

What all passive candidates ask about….

Start by answering this question, “What do passive candidates want to know first when contacted by a recruiter?” Since I’ve talked to at least 10 thousand passive candidates over the past 30+ years this is typically what they want to know: the compensation, the company, the job title and the location.

I never tell them.

You shouldn’t either.

….And why I never tell them

To understand why, you need to answer this question, “After having full knowledge of the position, what criteria do the best passive candidates use to compare job opportunities and select one over another?”

If you don’t already know the answer you can review LinkedIn’s new report, Why and How People Change Jobs. In it you’ll discover that the best people focus on the career opportunity, job satisfaction, importance of the job and the people they’ll be working with as more important than compensation, job title, company and location.

If you answer the passive candidate’s first group of questions, you’ll never have a chance to provide him/her the answers to the second group of more important questions.

How to eliminate the “No” and get to a “Yes” every time

That’s why you can’t take no for an answer. If the candidate asks about the compensation, say it doesn’t matter if it’s not a career move. If the candidate says he/she is not interested, say that’s exactly why you should talk. If the candidate says he/she is happy where he/she is, say that’s exactly the frame of mind you need to have in order to evaluate any new opportunity objectively. It doesn’t matter how he/she says no, don’t fall into the trap. Have an instant rebuttal for every type of no.

Even better is to not ask questions that can be answered with a no. Here are some examples of good questions to use:

  • “Would you be open to chat for a minute or two about a potential career opportunity?”
  • “I’m leading a search for a number of executive-level positions. Would you be open to chat for a few minutes if one of them represented a career move?”
  • “(Name of referrer known to the person) indicated to me that you are the best person he knows in the field of (whatever you’re looking for). (Referrer) didn’t say you are looking-just someone I needed to contact. Let me ask you a question. Would you be open to explore a situation if it represented a significant career move?”

If anyone says no to these non-no questions, use one of the rebuttals. If you do this as described you’ll get more than 90% of the people to agree to a few minute discussion about your open position. But then don’t tell them about the job, because it will invite a no. Instead, get them to talk first. This is point 4 in the list above. At the webcast on August 26th I’ll describe exactly what you need to do to get them to talk first and how to offer a 30% increase, but it all starts by not taking no for an answer.

It takes hours spread over multiple meetings for a person who’s not looking for a job to understand the true career potential of a new career opportunity. You can’t rush it.

Recruiting a passive candidate is not about the recruiter or hiring manager selling the job, it’s about being skillful enough to get the candidate to sell you. This is easy to do with active candidates but hard with passive candidates. Everybody wants to know what they get on Day 1 – a title, location, company and compensation package. Yet the reason why they take the job is based on what they’ll be doing, learning and becoming in year 1 and beyond.

To recruit passive candidates you need to make sure they don’t make long-term decisions using short-term information. The process starts by not taking no for an answer.

Register for Lou’s webinar to learn more about his passive candidate recruiting tricks.

4 Insights That Will Enhance Your Passive Candidate Recruiting Efforts

LinkedIn recently released a report on Why and How People Change Jobs, which offers interesting insight to any company that wants to attract and hire stronger people. I’ll be discussing the findings in detail at an upcoming webcast on August 26th, but I thought it would be important to provide an initial assessment of the results.

Here are the core findings from the LinkedIn report, supplemented with some related research:

1. Just about everybody finds their jobs via networking.

All passive candidates find their jobs this way and over 50% of active candidates do as well. (Here’s a recent survey summarizing these findings.)

2. Job branding is more important than employer branding.

After a few years in the workforce, people are more interested in making an impact. In this case, the job content is more important than the employer name.

3. People are finding better jobs at smaller companies.

While big companies are a great place to start a career, for many people they become stifling after a few years.

4. Emphasize the work itself and why it’s important, not the skills needed to do the work.

People want to know what they’ll be doing before accepting an offer. This is the essence of job branding. Clarifying expectations up front has always been the number one driver of employee satisfaction.

Given these findings, here are some things recruiters can do to find more great talent and what you need to do to convert your open job into a career move.

Convert skills-laden jobs into a series of challenges before you call anyone.

To get more strong referrals you’ll need to know why your position represents a career move. The difference between what a person is currently doing, learning and becoming and what he/she could be doing, learning and becoming is how the person determines if it’s a career move or not. That’s why the recruiter and hiring manager need to fully understand what a person in the role needs to do and the bigger impact of doing it successfully.

Proactively network with co-workers to get more referrals.

In my opinion, the true value of LinkedIn Recruiter is that it’s a network of 380 million names, not a list of them. So when looking for candidates first ask, “Who at my company would have worked with someone for this role?”

For example, sales people work with customers, those in procurement work with vendors, project managers work with everyone, financial analysts work with executives preparing budgets and product marketing people work with engineers. Once you find some coworkers who might know someone for the role, connect with them on LinkedIn and then ask them who is the best person they have ever worked with doing the type of work required.

To get even more names, search on your coworkers’ connections for potential prospects. Then ask the co-worker if the person is worth contacting. Then only contact the best people. 

Engage in a conversation, not a sales pitch.

When you first contact these referrals mention your co-worker’s name. This will boost your response rate, but when you first talk to these people don’t start selling your job. Instead, ask the person if he/she would be open to engage in an exploratory conversation to determine if one of your current openings represents a possible career move. Most people will say yes, but once they do, still don’t start pitching your job. Instead, start by reviewing the person’s LinkedIn profile.

Conduct career discovery.

Once the candidate agrees to a more in-depth exploratory conversation, it’s important to listen and ask questions. The worst thing to do is to sell your job. Recognize the purpose of this conversation is to understand what it would take for the person – a passive candidate – to consider the job a growth move.

As you’re reviewing the person’s LinkedIn profile examine three key areas: the scope and impact of the person’s current role, how long he/she has had the role and the work the person finds most satisfying. If your job offers more stretch, impact, more and rapid growth, you have the makings of a career move. With this you can begin a low key sales approach.

Offer the possibility of learning more.

It normally takes about 10-15 minutes to determine if the potential for a career move exists. If so, describe why you think another more detailed conversation is warranted.

To obtain agreement to move forward you’ll need to present the combination of stretch, impact, satisfaction and growth as significantly bigger in comparison to the person’s current role and your open opportunity. If the person agrees to another more detailed conversation or an exploratory call with the hiring manager, you’re now well on your way to converting a passive referral into a serious candidate.

LinkedIn’s Why and How People Change Jobs report offers great insight on what it takes to recruit and hire passive candidates. What’s not mentioned is that recruiting a passive candidate you found through networking is comparable to solution selling. This involves a deep understanding of the person’s actual needs and crafting a custom career solution. This is also called great recruiting, but it’s a slow dance, not the quick step or the hustle. Moving too fast is a sure way to lose some great people and more great referrals.

Register for Lou’s webinar to learn more about these new data and how you can use it to recruiter candidates.