5 Critical Ice-breaking Tips for Connecting with Passive Candidates

For the past 30+ years I have been looking for great talent to fill tough assignments. After 1,500 placements I discovered they all hang out in the same place. Not surprisingly, they were still there when I looked last week. Your best candidates are there, too. In the infographic it’s called the Talent Sweet Spot.


At LinkedIn’s Talent Connect in Anaheim in October I’ll describe the big things you need to do to find, contact, recruit and hire them. In this post I’ll give you some basic first steps.

Start by reviewing the Recruiter’s Competency Model I introduced in a recent blog post and the “be honest with yourself” ranking system. Then rank yourself on the 12 factors shown, paying particular attention to those involved with passive candidate recruiting. For ice-breaking purposes, I’ve condensed the most important factors into these five:

1. Know the job.

You need to first convince managers to shift the criteria for hiring from skills and experience qualified to performance qualified. This opens up the pool to the entire talent market on the right side of the infographic. Every job can be described as a series of 6-8 performance objectives. Then when a top passive candidate you’ve recruited in the Talent Sweet Spot asks you to describe the job, you can do it confidently and in detail.

2. Control the conversation.

The first thing a passive candidate will ask about is the compensation, job title, company name, location and a little about the job. Other than providing a 30-second overview, don’t do it. You must get the candidate to talk first. For example, if the person asks about the money, tell the person if the job isn’t a career move, the money won’t matter, so let’s first see if it’s a career move. Recruiting passive candidates requires full control of the conversation, from first contact to the final close.

3. Earn the right to conduct discovery.

Consultative recruiting is equivalent to solution selling. This involves understanding the client’s needs and customizing a solution. For recruiting it means knowing the job, hiring manger, industry, and being someone worth knowing as well as being confident enough to control the conversation. This is the only way the candidate will reveal anything of importance. If the candidate has been referred to you by a trusted source you’ll be given the benefit of the doubt. That’s why referrals are a better door opener than a cold call.

4. Create interest by converting your job into a potential career move during the first call.

As part of the discovery process you need to find out what the candidate likes most and least about his or her current job and what the person’s long-term prospects are the current job. Based on this you need to highlight the factors that indicate your job offers more stretch, increased satisfaction and more long-term growth. Of course if your opening isn’t a good career move, you need to convert the person into a referral source.

5. Get the candidate to sell you.

Recruiting passive candidates isn’t about selling, it’s about getting the candidate to sell you. When the potential combination of job stretch, increased job satisfaction and more long-term growth exceeds 30% percent, passive candidates become interested. But you can’t force feed this information. You need to dance slowly, controlling the conversation. One way is to question whether the person can handle a big stretch opportunity. If they’re interested, the best candidates will attempt to convince you they’re qualified. This is easy to do with an active candidate but with passive candidates it takes exceptional recruiting skills.

(Here’s a post describing the concept of using solution selling techniques as the basis for consultative recruiting.)

It’s easy to find the names of great people in the talent sweet spot using LinkedIn. However, it takes a great job, a highly engaged hiring manager and a skilled recruiter to orchestrate the entire process in order to recruit and hire these people. It starts by figuring out where you rank on the recruiter competency model and becoming skilled at the five factors described in this post. It ends by making great hires every time.

10 Ideas for Effectively Recruiting Passive Candidates

I’m on a kick to come up with 10 ideas to solve any problem. I was reintroduced to this brainstorming technique by James and Claudia Altucher who come up with 10 ideas every 10 minutes.

The other day I was reading LinkedIn’s recent Global Talent Trends 2015, which outlines how candidates want to be recruited and how they view the recruiting process. The report spurred me to come up with 10 takeaways based on what I have read, followed by 10 ideas about how to successfully recruit passive candidates.
Here they are:

Adler’s 10 Takeaways from LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2015

  • For all but the critical jobs, 75% of the people you want to hire aren’t looking — they are passive candidates..
  • For critical jobs, 95% of the people you want to hire aren’t looking.
  • A lot of people look for jobs, but most don’t apply.
  • For your jobs, most of the people you want to hire won’t find you even if they are looking.
  • Even if the people you want to hire find your job posting, they won’t apply because the description is boring, demeaning and represents a lateral transfer, nor a career move.
  • The best people you want to hire are all highly satisfied with what they’re doing now so you have to push and pull them out.
  • The best people find jobs everywhere – job boards, connections with former co-workers and involvement in professional networks.
  • Just about everybody will talk with a good recruiter.
  • Most recruiters and candidates talk about the wrong thing when they first talk.
  • When you contact people matters. Most people will talk with recruiters on Monday through Wednesday, but few will talk with them on Thursday or Friday or over the weekend.

10 Ideas for Converting LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2015 Findings into Action

1. Write better job postings.

Dump the skills and must-haves. They are not legally required. Instead tell compelling stories emphasizing what the person will learn, do and become if successful.

2. Capture the person’s intrinsic motivator in your emails.

First ask the best people who took a comparable job why they took it. Then capture this theme in the subject line of your email. In this HR VP email the motivator was to get a seat at the strategic table.

3. Personalize the email.

Prepare an ideal candidate persona and capture a few points that highlight why a person would be willing to have a career discussion.

4. Design a bigger apply button.

In this post I suggested the your company’s apply button should be easier to find but harder to push. The idea is to slow down and sell the career discussion, not the job.

5. Control the conversation.

Rather than filtering on compensation, start by saying, “Let’s hold off on discussing compensation until we see if the job represents a career move. If it does, we can then see if the compensation fits.”

6. Talk to people when they don’t want to talk to recruiters.

Try to contact candidates on Thursday through Sunday because most recruiters won’t even make the attempt then.

7. Be a networker not a cold-caller.

Getting referrals is the best way to improve quality of hire. Passive candidates are willing to have career discussions with recruiters who have gotten their names from someone they know. Set a goal of having these referrals represent at least 50% of the people you present to your hiring managers.

8. Sell more growth and satisfaction, not more money.

Using the job-seekers decision grid to figure out what motivates your candidate to excel. Then find out if there any roadblocks at their current job that’s impeding their progress. If you can overcome them use these to get the person interested in continuing the conversation.

9. Design a bigger target.

Dump the individual job posting. Instead cluster all you job posting under one big heading like, “People who want to help design the new VR app for the iPhone 7.” Make this a separate one-page SEO’d microsite and push it to relevant groups using social media. Rather than applying, ask people to summarize their most relevant accomplishments in a two-minute video.

10. Get your hiring managers 100% involved.

While all of these ideas will help generate a bigger pool of more qualified passive candidates, you won’t hire any if your hiring managers aren’t fully engaged. So start implementing this idea first.

You could have figured out all of these things by talking to the 10 best people your company has hired in the last few months. Just ask them how they found the job, how satisfied they were with their previous jobs, how long the process took, what they discussed at each step and why they accepted your company’s offer. Then write a blog post about what you found. Summarize these in a YouTube video. (Send me the link.)

Bottom line: Recruiters and hiring managers need to personally understand why passive candidates change jobs before you can recruit and hire passive candidates.

Time, Not Money, is the #1 Factor for Winning Over Passive Candidates

Last week, I read LinkedIn’s Talent Trends 2015. This is an insightful report that covers what people around the world are looking for when changing jobs. There is invaluable information about how to describe your positions, the role of the hiring manager and how to better manage the entire interviewing experience.

Despite this value, the part that caught my eye was the criteria candidates use to consider changing jobs. The report inferred that the compensation a candidate gets on Day 1 is the most important criteria for changing jobs.

This is not what I’ve experienced and I disagree.

money is important to candidates

Here is why money is not the driving factor for passive candidates to talk to you:

People who aren’t looking for another job (aka passive candidate) often get disruptive calls from recruiters. Unfortunately, most recruiters fall into the “What money do I get on day 1?” trap and this kills their chance of having a meaningful career conversation.

Here’s how this plays out. Passive candidates surprised by the call often ask some basic questions like, “What’s the title, company, location and compensation?” Recruiters fall into the trap by giving them the answers. The problem with this is that passive candidates use this short-term information to decide if they should invest the time to have a long-term career discussion. Since it takes a few hours spread over a few weeks to obtain this information, it’s easier to just say “no.”

However, the conversation is different when former bosses, past co-workers, or a recruiter the person has worked with in the past gives a passive candidate the same call about a potential career move. In this case, the prospect is more open-minded, more courteous, and more willing to invest some time to determine the career merits of the position. If everything goes smoothly and these people ultimately decide to accept an offer, what they get on Day 1 (company, title, location, compensation) is less important than the career opportunity inherent in the new position.

Most candidates, whether they’re looking or not, lack concrete job knowledge so they will naturally focus more on compensation. However, once they obtain full job knowledge, significant rebalancing of these priorities occurs.

For example, if the job is a lateral transfer, the only reason the person will take it is for more money and more convenience. If it’s a downgrade, they’ll only take it for a lot more money. And if it’s a major career move, they’ll take less money than initially desired and sometimes no increase at all if the upside career potential is huge.

Here are some tips on how to avoid the “what money do I get on day 1” conversation and instead have a talk about the career upsides of a new job:

How to get passive candidates to engage in a career (not money) discussion

Here are 5 steps you can take:

  1. First, ask if the person would be open to exploring a potential career move. Don’t provide any Day 1 information as part of this question. Here’s a post that describes this technique in more detail.
  2. When the person says “yes,” you can delay the compensation discussion by saying, “Great. Let’s first see if the opportunity makes career sense and, if so, we can then see if the compensation matches your requirements.”
  3. Suggest as a first step that you’d like to review his or her LinkedIn profile for a few minutes and then give the person an overview of the job. Follow-up by saying that if it’s not a career move you can at least network and stay in touch.
  4. During this initial profile review look for three to four factors in your open spot that would be considered career opportunities. These include items like company growth rates, more interesting projects, span of control, influence, potential impact and visibility.
  5. Highlight these factors as you describe the job. Then suggest having another more in-depth conversation to better understand the career potential of the job. If the opportunity gap is big enough, you’ll get easy agreement.

Time matters when recruiting anyone who’s not desperate to change jobs. That’s why in a recent post i suggested adding a time delay factor to the “Apply Now” button. The purpose was to prevent qualified candidates from opting out before they learned the career merits of the job. Changing jobs for any high potential person is a long-term decision requiring a series of discussions spread over multiple meetings. It’s not a transaction to be negotiated during the first call. Avoiding the Day 1 trap starts by understanding how easy it is to fall into it.

The 5 Most Important Minutes of Talking to a Passive Candidate

At a recruiting training workshop I was leading last week, one of the attendees asked me to identify the most critical aspect of successfully recruiting passive candidates.

I told her it was the first five minutes of her initial contact with a strong person, who’s not looking for another job.

Every aspect of being a great recruiter is funneled into these five minutes. Recruiters who can successfully convince the most passive candidates to further evaluate their open positions will drive more high-quality hires than anyone else on the team.

I then suggested that all recruiters should track the following three metrics to determine their overall passive candidate recruiting effectiveness, emphasizing the fact that they all hinge on how successful the opening five minutes of the first call are handled.

  1. First contact yield. Once a recruiter gets a passive candidate on the phone, he or she must be able to convert at least 80% into interested prospects, or be able to get at least two high-quality referrals from the person. Identifying dozens of great people using LinkedIn Recruiter isn’t worth much if you can’t recruit and hire them.
  2. Unique candidates interviewed per hire. If you’re working with great passive candidates, a recruiter should never need to present more than four people to get one hired. Problems here are typically due to a weak understanding of real job needs, lack of passive candidate recruiting skills or a problem with the hiring manager.
  3. Passive candidate mix. Whenever the percent of passive candidates presented as part of the total candidate slate is less than 50% (i.e. 2 of the 4), it’s a clue the recruiter is having difficulty recruiting passive candidates.

These three metrics help pinpoint potential passive candidate recruiting problems, and while it takes more than five minutes to convert a passive prospect into an interested candidate, what happens in the first five minutes predicts ultimate success. Here’s what it takes to maximize this moment:

1. Know the job before the call.

Since passive candidates will ask during the first call, recruiters need to explain the actual work that will be done, not the skills necessary to do the work.

2. Determine the employee value proposition when you take the assignment.

You must be able to describe with specific details why a top person who’s not looking would even consider your opportunity. You’ll use this to get the prospect excited enough to spend the next 5-10 minutes continuing the discussion.

3. Know the ideal candidate’s hidden motivators.

Preparing a candidate persona will allow you to capture the person’s motivating needs once you get the person on the phone. You’ll also use this as part of your voice mail and email messaging to get the person to take the call.

4. Persist.

No matter how compelling your emails and voicemails are, you’ll need to persist to get 75-80% of the people you’ve identified to call you back. (This is another metric you need to track.)

5. Get the candidate to talk first.

When you get the person on the phone, don’t sell the job, sell the conversation. Start by asking the person if he or she would be open to explore a possible career opportunity. Then immediately start reviewing the person’s LinkedIn profile.

6. Don’t box check.

Under no circumstances use the word “awesome” when describing your job or ask the person about his or her salary. Also, don’t start asking about your “must have” list of requirements.

7. Control the conversation.

It takes hours of time for someone who’s not looking to fully appreciate the potential opportunity in any new job. By maintaining applicant control, you’ll be able to parse the information out over multiple discussions.

8. Create the opportunity gap.

In about 10 minutes you’ll know if your job has enough stretch and growth to be classified as a career move. Use the “30% Solution” as a lure to structure the next conversation by suggesting that every job should be evaluated on a combination of strategic and tactical factors as well as compensation.

9. Get the candidate to sell you.

Don’t oversell, overbuy. You know you’ve succeeded when the formerly passive prospect tries to convince you he or she is qualified.

10. Determine if you should recruit the person or get referrals.

If the opportunity gap is too big or too small, you need to instantly shift the conversation to getting pre-qualified referrals. Shoot for two referrals per call. These second round referrals are like gold, since you’ll only be calling back those who are perfect fits and they’ll all call you back if you mention the referrer’s name.

Since 80-90% of the people you want to hire are not actively looking for another job, the ability to find and recruit passive candidates is essential. The ultimate measure of success can be predicted based on what happens in the first five minutes of the first phone call. But perfecting this call takes a great job, a true partnership with the hiring manager, a skilled recruiter and hours of hard work. As you’ll discover, it’s time well spent.

*Image by Robert Müller

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