When Talent is Scarce, This is Where Recruiters Should Focus Their Efforts

When it comes to a recruiting strategy, I usually advocate a 40-40-20 sourcing mix. This means spending 40% of your time networking, 40% searching for candidates online and using campaign marketing to get them to respond to your messaging, and 20% of your time creating compelling job posts that are reverse engineered to be found by those who are looking.

However, in a talent scarcity situation – when the demand for talent exceeds the supply – this should be shifted to a 50-40-10 mix. That means more time networking and less time on job descriptions. Why do this? Because this is how you get referrals.

Why recruiters should focus on referrals when talent is scarce

I was discussing this mix idea with the CEO of a small staffing agency in the UK the other day and asked him how his recruiters now spend their time. He told me it was more like 10-70-20 (less networking, more job posts). I told him he would either have to reduce his fees to stay in business or present too many candidates to get a person hired.

My contention is that the best candidates are those who have been referred – especially when talent supply is low. I call these people recruiter’s gold. Here’s why:

  1. They call you back 100% of the time.
  2. The call is more natural since the person is connected to a common acquaintance. Your first degree connections’ connections are referred to as weak acquaintances. Mining these weak connections is the sweet spot for top talent.
  3. You’ll only call people who are prequalified.
  4. You’ll only call people who are in the budget range.
  5. The person would see your opening as a career move by asking the referrer if the person would find the job a good move.
  6. The hiring manager is more likely to hire the person if the referrer is a trusted person in your company.

Given this extraordinary bundle of benefits, you need to ask yourself why a recruiter wouldn’t spend most of his/her time getting these types of referrals. The typical excuse is they don’t have enough time. The real reason is probably a lack of confidence or call reluctance.

Regardless of the reason, here’s what I told the staffing agency CEO his recruiters need to do to get on the phone and start getting referrals.

1. Know the job

The job is what a person does, not what a person has in terms of skills and experiences. The difference in your opening and what the candidate is doing now represents the career opportunity. If you don’t know the job, you can’t figure this out.

2. Partner with the hiring manager

If the person who first talks with a passive or referred candidate hasn’t personally met the hiring manager, the likelihood of convincing the prospect to seriously consider what you have to offer is unlikely. That’s why sourcers and recruiters need to be SWK – Someone Worth Knowing.

3. Be proactive about getting referrals

Cherry pick your connections’ connections using Clever Boolean to identify 2-3 top people. Then ask your connection if these people are as strong as they appear. Then mention the referrer’s name when reaching out to the prospects.

4. Sell the discussion, not the job

It takes hours over weeks for a passive candidate to decide if a job is a true move. The process starts by just exploring this possibility, not hustling your open job as an “awesome” opportunity.

5. Position a career move as a 30% increase

A career move needs to provide stretch, growth, improved satisfaction and more impact. Using this measuring stick as the basis of the discussion is a great way to focus on the future rather than the compensation.

6. Conduct discovery during the first call

When reviewing the candidate’s profile look for the 30% growth opportunity.

7. Set up a 2nd call to validate the 30% increase

Once I find 3-4 factors that could indicate a career move I describe these as reasons to have a second more in-depth call to validate them.

8. Use the goldilocks reposition to get more referrals

I tell candidates who are too strong that the open job is beneath their ability. I tell those who are too light that the job is too big a stretch. I then connect on LinkedIn and search on their connections for perfect referrals.

I can understand that cold calling is not fun. But calling referrals is not cold calling. While it’s not the same as a warm call pitching a job to someone you know, it’s darn close. More importantly, by spending more time with fewer high quality, referred candidates you’ll save time in the long run and improve quality of hire. In my mind, getting referrals is how all recruiters should be judged. This is the essence of recruiting and also it's future.

Do You Have the 10 Traits That Top Recruiters Share?

It’s a new ballgame. LinkedIn Recruiter’s new search capabilities make it relatively easy for any sourcer to identify top talent. (Of course, they need to search on Achiever terms to do it.)

However, identifying top talent is not the same as recruiting top talent. And since most of the top 25% in any field are not looking to change jobs, recruiting these people is the real challenge.

Given the accelerating need to emphasize passive candidate recruiting skills, we’re in the process of updating our classic recruiter competency model. Here’s a survey you can take to see where you stand. The skills and competencies are described below using the following 1-5 ranking system. As you rank yourself or other recruiters, recognize that a Level 5 is considered an industry Most Valuable Player (MVP) and a Level 1 is considered a rookie.

The Recruiter Competency Model ranking system

Level 5.0: MVP – Recognized industry leader. Consistently far exceeds aggressive performance standards for recruiting the best passive candidates for the most critical positions.

Level 4.0: All-star – Recognized company leader. Consistently exceeds aggressive performance standards for recruiting passive candidates for hard-to-fill positions.

Level 3.0: First-string – Can be counted on to consistently meet the performance standards.

Level 2.5: Role player – Has the basic skills but needs some coaching and training. Inconsistent.

Level 2.0: Bench Player – Needs a great deal of training, coaching and support.

Level 1.0: Rookie – Developmental player.

As you review the following traits and skills of the best recruiters, use the above 1-5 scale to rank yourself.

What the best passive candidate recruiters do

1. Make placements with top quality candidates.

These recruiters don’t just fill positions with the best people who apply. Instead, they seek out the best people, work with them closely and ensure the best ones get hired.

2. Emphasize fewer candidates, advanced networking and more recruiting.

The best recruiters don’t need a lot of candidates to make great placements. Instead they identify a small group of top tier candidates (15-20) using advanced searching tools and proactive networking. Converting 80% or more of these into career discussions is the key to their success.

3. Have top of the funnel metrics that are over the top.

Since the pool of prospects is small, the yield must be high. This requires a campaign approach to convert 80% of their outbound efforts into conversations and converting 80% of these conversations into interested prospects or more pre-qualified referrals.

4. Know the job inside out.

A job is not a list of skills or experiences. It’s a list of performance objectives that define the required results and the best process to achieve these results in the actual environment, the true culture and with the actual manager. As important, the best recruiters can convince hiring managers to define the job this way.

5. Use a consultative vs. transactional process to create a true career move.

It takes hours spread over weeks for a top-tier person to fully appreciate the long-term career opportunity inherent in any job. Good recruiters orchestrate this effort ensuring the decision to proceed or not is based on the difference in what that person is doing now and could be doing in the future.

6. Trusted and accurate interviewer.

The best recruiters conduct top-to-bottom interviews that focus on fit, performance and motivation. They can recognize top talent and their hiring manager clients give them a full vote on whom to hire.

7. Equal partner with the hiring manager.

Hiring top tier candidates who have multiple opportunities can’t be done without a strong partnership between the recruiter and hiring manager. Part of this involves coaching and influencing the hiring manager at each critical step.

8. Considered trusted career advisors by their candidates.

Recruiters profoundly affect people’s lives, especially top tier and passive candidates who don’t need to change jobs or have multiple opportunities. Developing this trust also results in high-quality referrals of other top tier candidates on an on-going basis.

9. Can negotiate and close offers based on career growth rather than compensation maximization.

The best recruiters don’t box check skills or filter candidates on compensation during the first call. By setting the conditions for a career move during the first meeting, the best recruiters achieve high close rates within the budgeted comp ranges.

10. Applicant control is not considered distasteful.

Ensuring candidates don’t opt-out before understanding the full opportunity is the essence of passive candidate recruiting. Controlling the conversation this way is referred to as applicant control. The best recruiters fully understand the importance of this technique.

Now that it's easier to identify passive candidates, it’s time for recruiters to up their game and learn how to become true recruiters. This is the only way any company will be able to hire the best talent available, not the best people who apply. Mastering these 10 skills is the place to start.

Why Strong Full-cycle Recruiters Outperform the Best Sourcers in the World

Finding an active candidate who fits your skills requirements and compensation range is not the same as convincing an outstanding performer who’s not looking to consider your open opportunity for a modest increase in pay.

These are two fundamentally different hiring strategies and they make it clear why full-cycle recruiters are likely to outperform the best sources when it comes to quality of hire.

Here is a brief overview of what these strategies entail:

Hiring Strategy #1: The “Broad and Shallow” Cast a Wider Net Approach

The objective of this strategy is to expand the pool of active candidates through employer branding, advanced Boolean searching and sourcing, expanding your pool of followers and increasing your email response rates. This is a very transactional process that filters candidates on their skills and compensation requirements. Unless there’s a surplus of top talent for the open job, this approach results in hiring solid but not necessarily spectacular people.

Hiring Strategy #2: The “Narrow and Deep” Work a Short List of Top Performers Approach

This strategy involves building a list of 20-30 strong and largely passive prospects and with the recruiter and hiring manager working in partnership, convince 6-8 people to be serious contenders and 2-3 to be final candidates. This is a very consultative process that requires a basic knowledge of Boolean, strong recruiting and networking skills and fully engaged hiring managers. This is the required process for improving the quality of hire in a talent scarce market.

Surprisingly, there is no difference in cost per hire or time to fill with either strategy but there is a huge improvement in quality of hire and ROI using the narrow and deep strategy.

In previous posts and at Talent Connect I made the contention that if a hiring manager needs to interview more than four candidates to get one person hired there’s a problem. It’s usually lack of alignment around real job needs, over specifying the skills required, inadequate sourcing or weak recruiting.

So rather than seeing more candidates using the same techniques it’s better to investigate the problem and improve the processes. It’s pretty obvious the problem is sourcing-related if there are too many active candidates being interviewed. My rule of thumb is that passive candidates should represent 50-75% of any slate of candidates presented to a hiring manager.

Given that most recruiters are pretty good at the broad and shallow approach let me describe the narrow and deep recruiting process. This will be helpful if your mix of passive candidates needs some bulking up.

How to Work a Short List of Top Performers

Good full-cycle recruiters only need to identify 25-30 hot prospects, even if they’re all passive candidates, to convert 4-5 of them into serious final candidates. The initial target list needs to be created via a combination of direct searching and aggressive networking. The direct approach involves using “Clever Boolean” in combination with LinkedIn’s powerful search filters to identify people who are in the top 25% of their peer group.

Getting great referrals of people who are not looking involves proactive networkingsearching on your connection’s connections. For example, if you’re looking for a top-notch servo engineer, connect with project managers who have led projects involving these types of people. These people are doubly great since they call you back and obviously you won’t call anyone who’s not a talented person. So all that’s left is to recruit them.

Once you have the 25-30 hot prospects you’ll need to send multiple emails and voicemails to convert the direct list of names into exploratory phone calls. If you persist, you’ll get more than 50% to call you back. Almost all of the referred candidates will call you back just by mentioning the referrer’s names. As long as you’ve prequalified both groups properly, this process will result in 15-20 exploratory calls with top-notch people, and if you’re a strong recruiter you’ll be able to convince 6-8 of them to seriously consider your opening.

This requires strong recruiting skills including knowing how to overcome objections, how to put compensation in the parking lot and how to shift the decision to proceed based on career growth vs. compensation max. But these are the things full-cycle recruiters are required to do every day.

Unless sourcing efforts focused on expanding the pool of active candidates yields outstanding talent it should be used sparingly. In my opinion, a narrow and deep process starting off with a list of 25-30 great prospects is all that’s needed to maximize quality of hire quickly, efficiently and cost effectively. This requires strong full-cycle recruiters working in partnership with fully engaged hiring managers who will not comprise on the quality of the people they hire.