Where Do You Rank in the Competency Model for Recruiting Passive Candidates?

Recently I introduced the concept of the Talent Sweet Spot – the place where the people in the top 25% of the talent market “hang out.” When it comes to this top 25 percentile, it is easy to find out who they are, but because they are passive candidates, it takes a truly skilled recruiter to engage them in a meaningful conversation. As a matter of fact, I believe that only a recruiter who scores in the upper-third (a Level 3 or better) on our 12 factor passive candidate recruiter competency model can effectively recruit this top talent.

Below are the 12 factors of this model – take a look and rank yourself from Level 1 to 5 on each one. Next to every factor, I have offered a tip for what you need to do to rank at Level 3 or better.

An Honest 1-5 Ranking Scale

Level 1 – Basic understanding of the topic but need some guidance

Level 2 – Good understanding of the topic in order to get the job done

Level 3 – Excellent understanding of the topic and able to coach others

Level 4 – Recognized within department as the “go-to person” for the topic

Level 5 – Recognized in the industry as an expert in the topic

12 Factor Recruiter Competency Model

1. Driven to deliver high quality candidates.

The only excuse for not ranking a Level 3 or better on this factor is too many reqs to handle.

2. Be Someone Worth Knowing (“SWK”).

To score a Level 3 or better on this one you need to know your industry inside out, compensation levels by position, what your competitors are offering and your company’s unique value proposition.

3. Partner with the hiring manager.

A Level 3 or better means 100% of your candidates are seen and you don’t need to present too many to get one hired. If you’re leading the debriefing sessions, advising whom to hire and are a trusted advisor, you’re at least a Level 4.

4. Know the real job.

If you’re using skills and experience to evaluate a candidate, you can’t score a 3 on this factor. For a Level 3 you need to prepare performance-based job descriptions during the intake meeting. A Level 4 knows the job as well as the best hiring managers.

5. Source in the entire talent market.

If you’re not implementing a 40/40/20 sourcing planning process the best you can get on this factor is a 2.5 – which is pretty good.

6. Maximize active candidate response rates.

Getting the best of all active candidates to respond to your postings is a true talent. A Level 3 refuses to post skills-infested job descriptions substituting compelling SEO’d stories as a means to attract the best people rather than spending time weeding out the weak.

7. Clever Boolean and CRM email expert.

Being a Boolean yellow belt is good enough to play, but you need to be clever to rank a Level 3. Clever means you know what words to use to separate the best from the rest. To get higher than this you need to write compelling emails, too.

8. Getting referrals is the name of the passive candidate recruiting game.

To maximize quality of hire and reduce sendouts per hire, 50% or more of the candidates you present need to be referrals. This is Level 3 performance and here’s how to achieve it.

9. Prioritizes everything and follow-up.

A Level 3 recruiter doesn’t make excuses, needs to anticipate problems, organize every day’s activities and have contingency plans in place when hiring managers change their requirements.

10. Use technology to increase efficiency.

Being efficient doing the wrong things is mistaking activity for progress. Using technology and metrics to do the right things like reducing sendouts per hire and tracking passive yield is Level 3 performance.

11. A great assessor of talent.

A Level 3 ranking here means all of your hiring manager clients trust your interviewing skills and, as a result, are willing to interview 100% of the candidates you recommend. A Level 4 means you’re leading panel interviews and debriefing sessions.

12. Recruit, negotiate and close the deal.

None of the above matters if you can’t close the best people who have multiple offers without giving away the farm. This is Level 3 performance. Level 4 means you can do it with the best passive candidates for the toughest positions.

LinkedIn is a great resource for finding top people in the Talent Sweet Spot, but it takes a Level 3 recruiter to pull them out. A Level 4 or Level 5 Performance-based Hiring recruiter does it better. Take the survey to find out where you honestly stand. I’ll be posting the results in an upcoming blog and inviting those who participate to a private webcast.

* image by Jose Maria Miñarro Vivan

Lou Adler’s Single Most Important Recruiting Technique since His One-Question Interview

After 30 years of recruiting outstanding senior staff, mid-level managers, and company executives, I can now state unequivocally that the single most important step in the passive candidate recruiting process is the 30-minute exploratory interview. Here’s why:

1)    You will engage with 5-10X more passive candidates. Asking people who aren’t looking if they’d like to chat for a few minutes about a potential career move is far more productive than selling lateral transfers. Of course, you have to ask the question the right way to get 93.6% of them to say yes. This is at the core of our Recruiter Boot Camp program.

2)    You will be able to convert a job into a career. When you start the phone screen, don’t tell the person much about the job. Instead suggest that the purpose of the call is to determine if the job represents a true career move to the person. For the next 5-10 minutes review the person’s LinkedIn profile and find 4-5 learning and opportunity gaps your job offers that their current job does not. Use these to fashion the career opportunity as you move on to the next step.

3)    You will be able to minimize the impact of compensation in the decision process. As long as your job offers a combination of less pain, some short-term stretch, and long-term growth, you’ll be able to get the person to agree to minimize the need for a big compensation increase. Use this to gain a compensation concession to move forward into a more serious career discussion.

4)    You will be able to get 2-3 warm referrals of outstanding talent. If the person isn’t qualified, you’ll be able to network with them on LinkedIn and then search on their first degree connections. This is the most powerful feature and primary reason why every recruiter should have LinkedIn Recruiter. We provide step-by-step instructions in our LinkedIn Recruiter Master Course, but you need the exploratory phone screen to set up the process.

5)    You will be able to open up the search process to more top talent. Few top people are likely to jump at a chance to take a lateral transfer. In our training we show recruiters how to get 93.6% of passive candidates to engage in a short, exploratory career discussion. You can’t do this without the exploratory call, but converting these prospects into serious candidates is what you need to do during the call.

6)    You will be able to get your hiring managers to “own” the candidate. We suggest that all hiring managers first conduct a similar 30-minute exploratory discussion with the prospect. By taking full responsibility for inviting the candidate onsite, managers will become more objective and responsible in their evaluation.

7)    You will be able to minimize the impact of first impressions and increase assessment accuracy. Knowing something about the person before you invite them onsite for an interview naturally minimizes the perverse impact of first impressions.

8)    You will be able to get more people open to consider the idea of relocation. Asking people if they’ll relocate on the first call is like asking someone to buy a house without seeing it. It takes times for a person to fully appreciate the idea of a relocation as part of a significant career move. The exploratory call allows for this repositioning first step.

9)    You will be able to get passive candidates to sell you. Recruiting passive candidates requires finesse and advanced recruiter skills. Overselling is not a part of it. The key is to make your career move so attractive the person sells you as to why they’re qualified. This is the primary purpose of the exploratory phone call – moving one step at a time – and at the heart of all of our Performance-based Hiring training programs.

10)You will raise your company’s overall talent level. While you might hire a few strong people who are more interested in what a job pays than its career value, this is no way to implement a “raising the talent bar” program. The exploratory call is a foundational step that should be part of every company’s hiring process. If you want to hire people who are looking for career moves, you can best demonstrate this by having the exploratory interview as the first step in your hiring process, rather than submitting an application and hoping for the best.

And the list goes on. All it takes is 30 minutes. If you want more ideas on how to hire more top performing passive candidates contact us right away, or sign up for our next Recruiter Boot Camp or our LinkedIn Recruiter Master Course

Stop Doing Searches Over Again

Adler’s first rule of recruiting: Don’t do searches over again. Once is enough. If you’ve presented a slate of 3-4 strong candidates for the position, one of them should get hired. If not, you have a problem.

Adler’s second rule of recruiting: If you present more than 3-4 candidates to a hiring manager on any search and one of them doesn’t get hired: STOP! Don’t send any more candidates to be interviewed. Something’s wrong. Figure out what it is and correct it before you waste your time on a fool’s errand.

Adler’s third rule of recruiting: When you first meet a person wait 30 minutes before making any yes or no decision. If you and your hiring managers put your emotions in the parking lot for these first 30 minutes you’ll cut the number of times you need to follow rules one and two by 50%.

Over the past 12 years I’ve written over a thousand articles, multiple books, and spoke at hundreds of conferences and training sessions on this and related topics. Here are the top five things that are the typical causes for “too many candidates before one is hired” syndrome:

  1. Someone doesn’t know what they’re looking for or how to find the person, or typically both. Banishing job descriptions and using performance profiles instead will solve most of this problem.
  2. Someone doesn’t know how to measure what they’re looking for accurately, even if they found the person. This is always part of the problem.
  3. Everyone overvalues first impressions. This is a big problem, even if you do everything else right. That’s why it’s my third most important rule. (See below for some quick ideas on how to fix this.)
  4. You have a real company constraint like the person as described doesn’t exist, your job or company really is awful, or your pay is not competitive. You need to get your executive team to solve this problem. Doing searches over again won’t help.
  5. You’re probably using a “talent surplus” approach to hiring in a “talent scarcity” situation. Watch this video and then get your executive team involved. This change is so big it impacts points one to four above.

The “number of candidates interviewed to hired” ratio is a great metric for recruiters and recruiting leaders to track on a weekly basis. If it’s too high or trending up, it’s an indication that something is wrong. Surprisingly, most recruiters ignore this obvious warning signal.

While four of the above five causal factors require significant process or strategy changes, the “Wait 30 Minutes” rule can be applied on your very next search. The only point is that everyone on the interviewing team needs to follow it, so it’s a bit like herding cats. Nonetheless, it might reduce your candidates interviewed to hired ratio by 50% or more, so it’s worthwhile spending a few minutes on how to use it.

More hiring mistakes are made in the first 30 minutes of the face-to-face interview than at any other time. Most interviewers unconsciously react to the candidate’s first impression, good or bad. Prospects who are prepared, confident, friendly, outgoing, communicative, and professional in appearance tend to be instantly considered viable candidates for the open position, even if they lack critical skills. If you’ve ever hired someone who makes a great first impression, but doesn’t deliver the results needed, you’ve experienced one side of this first impression bias problem first hand – hiring the wrong candidate for the wrong reasons.

Not hiring the right candidate for the wrong reasons is a waste of time, too. But it happens frequently. If a candidate is slightly less professional than expected or a bit nervous, managers become uptight, convinced the person is not qualified, and then go out their way to ask tougher questions, attempting to prove the candidate is not qualified. This is how we lose good candidates who are actually top notch. Stopping or minimizing this unnecessary loss of good candidates is one way to improve your interviewed to hired ratio. Waiting 30 minutes before deciding yes or no can help the interviewer become more objective and see past the superficiality of presentation and focus on the person’s ability to meet the performance needs of the job.

Many of you will loudly protest the need for this 30-minute delay, arguing that good first impressions are essential for anyone in a sales position, working with executives, or being part of multi-functional teams. However, if you just try it out, you’ll discover that after just 30 minutes about a third of the people aren’t nearly as great as you initially thought; another third will be a lot better than you first imagined (you might even want to hire a few of them); the remaining third will turn out to be pretty much as you first imagined. In addition to reducing the need to present too many candidates, you’ll also stop hiring people who are long on presentation and personality, but short on ability.

Here are some practical ways to force yourself to remain objective for at least 30 minutes:

  1. Use Yellow Stickies. Put these on the top of every résumé with the words “Wait 30 Minutes.” During the initial 30 minutes of the interview conduct a work-history review looking for the Achiever Pattern and ask one job-related Most Significant Accomplishment question. Your emotional reaction to the candidate will have changed completely by then.
  2. Use the Plus or Minus Reversal Technique. When you first meet a candidate note your initial reaction to the person with some type of plus or minus indictor. Then force yourself to do the exact opposite of what you’d normally do. For those people you don’t like, ask them easier questions, going out of your way to prove they’re fully competent. Ask those you do like tougher questions, going out of your way to prove they’re not the least bit qualified for the job. This mental reversal is how you offset your natural reactions to first impressions.
  3. Treat candidates as consultants. Assume everyone you’re meeting is an expert for the job at hand. Under the consultant umbrella you assume competence, you give respect, and you listen attentively, assuming the person has more expertise than you do. You do this even if the consultant makes a bad first impression. Since you don’t require a consultant to be a close co-worker, first impressions and friendliness are less important in your ultimate decision, so it’s a great way to reframe the situation.
  4. Phone screen the candidate first. You would never invite a person for a face-to-face interview if you didn’t think they were reasonably qualified. Conducting a 30-40 minute phone screen helps you make this assessment. When you meet a person whom you know something about, first impressions are naturally far less impactful. You also have something already invested in the person, so you feel more obligated to conduct an objective assessment.

Doing searches over again is a waste of time. If you didn’t do it right the first time, figure out why before continuing. You’ll discover it’s usually some fundamental process problem or a skills gap with the recruiter, hiring manager, or someone on the hiring team. While these changes could take weeks or months to implement, they are essential changes you need to make. However, you can get started right away by waiting 30 minutes when you meet your next candidate. In 30 minutes you’ll notice the difference.

How to Achieve the Recruiting Performance Trifecta of Quality, Cost, and Time

Let me start with three basic points:

Point 1: active candidate recruiting leaves a lot to chance, primarily quality-of-hire and time-to-fill, primarily since hiring managers will procrastinate as long as possible to find their “ideal” candidate. This waiting time is random, unless the supply of top people is greater than the demand, or the manager becomes pressured to decide. Of course, the longer the wait the more the cost.

Point 2: The lack of a correct and agreed upon definition of pre-hire quality adds more randomness, time, wasted effort, and cost to the process. No one uses the job description for measuring quality and we’ve all had hiring managers confidently say “I’ll know the person when I see him.” This is a problem with passive candidate recruiting, too, but it’s more like playing the lottery when you’re only sourcing active candidates.

Point 3: passive candidate recruiting emphasizing direct networking techniques, i.e., calling pre-qualified referred prospects, reduces the time to find prospects to a few days.

How to Achieve the Recruiting Performance Trifecta

With this as background, here’s a basic passive candidate recruiting process that will maximize quality of hire, minimize time to fill, and reduce cost per hire:

1) Get agreement on quality of hire by everyone involved before you start the search. In my search practice, I define it along these three dimensions:

  • The prospect possesses the “achiever” pattern. This indicates the person is in the top-third of his/her job class. While these are different for each job there are many obvious clues on the person’s resume or LinkedIn profile. Some clues include a series of industry or company awards and honors, a work-study fellowship, rapid progressions, special leadership roles, patents, whitepapers, or industry conference speaker.
  • Define on-the-job success up front. We work with managers before starting a search, defining what the person must do to be considered successful. As part of this, convert every competency or “must have” into some measurable task. Prospects then must have a track record of accomplishments comparable to what’s described in these performance profiles.
  • Skills, academics, industry, and experience are subordinated to the above two factors, with the only proviso being that the prospect has “enough” of these to accomplish the tasks listed in the performance profile.

2) Get the hiring manager to agree to have an exploratory phone conversation with every prospect the recruiter recommends. During this 30-40 minute session the hiring manager has three objectives. First, review the prospect’s profile and biggest accomplishments in comparison to the performance profile. Second, describe the job and its importance. Three, if appropriate, offer the prospect an opportunity to interview onsite. The recruiter might need to support this later effort.

These two prerequisites are essential. They put some critical control parameters around quality and time. The exploratory meeting also passes “ownership” of the prospect to the hiring manager. Even more important, when the prospect and hiring manager meet for the first time after the phone call, the impact of first impressions is minimized. Collectively, this reduces time spent on meeting weaker candidates and increases the likelihood good people won’t be eliminated due to improper assessments

In my Golden Rule article on these pages a few weeks ago, I described how to produce a slate of highly-qualified passive prospects in 72 hours using LinkedIn Recruiter, so I won’t repeat them here. However there are some big points worth highlighting again.

  1. While it’s easy to identify possible prospects, this isn’t the objective. With LinkedIn Recruiter this can be done in 30 minutes. Instead, the recruiter must personally contact these people, qualify the person, and get the prospect to agree to the exploratory call.
  2. The only way you’ll make the 72-hour target is if 80% of your outbound calls are to pre-qualified warm leads. This means that most of your 72 hours (i.e., three working days) must be networking calls, not cold calls. There is not a single researcher or sourcer who ever worked in my search firm for more than three months who didn’t become exceptional at this. The Golden Rule article describes how to do this using LinkedIn Recruiter.
  3. Recruiting leaders need to track some metrics to ensure every recruiter/sourcer is hitting their targets. Specifically: warm referrals per call, warm call to cold call ratio, quality-of-prospect per call, hiring manager conversion from exploratory call to onsite interview. These metrics have to be in real time (daily tracking) in order to implement the necessary training and follow-up to ensure the metrics are achieved.

Managing the top of the sourcing-recruiting-hiring funnel this way will go a long way toward achieving the recruiting performance trifecta of maximum quality, minimum time to fill and lowest cost. In future articles I’ll describe how to complete the task of getting these high-quality prospects hired at reasonable compensation levels.

In my mind the key message here is that by engaging hiring managers in the process and defining pre-hire quality, you force hiring managers into a decision-making process, rather than allowing them to endlessly wait for their “ideal” candidate to show up. Shortening the time to fill this way by defining quality also reduces cost, so all of the big three metrics are optimized using the same approach. Recruiters are not let off the hook here, though. Networking is the key to passive candidate recruiting. Calling pre-qualified warm leads is the only way to take the randomness out of the active candidate “post-and-pray” sourcing approach or the “dial for dollars” passive candidate technique used by most corporate recruiters.

From an intellectual standpoint, the real reason all of this works is that you’ve made quality and time the primary drivers of the process, rather than secondary results of other process changes. Too many companies start with reducing cost as their primary emphasis hoping quality and time will improve as a result. This is comparable to a dog chasing its tail. Maybe it’s time to switch dogs.

This article originally was published in the Electronic Recruiters Exchange (www.ere.net). Check out ERE for more great recruiting information.

Using the Two-Question Performance-based Interview for Recruiting, Part 3

The second question involves asking candidates how they would handle one or two of the most critical job-related challenges defined in the performance profile. This is more of a give-and-take type discussion to get at thinking, planning, and the ability to visualize job-related problems.

These two questions in combination with the performance profile, and an in-depth review of the person’s resume looking for the achiever pattern indicating that the person is in the top half of the top half, is all that’s necessary to accurately assess a candidate across all job needs.

Using this information, the candidate can then be assessed using the following formula for hiring success, ranking the person on a 1-5 scale for each factor:


Hiring Success =
(Talent + Management + Team (EQ) + Problem-solving)*Motivation2
Organizational Fit

While the Performance-based Hiring process is an easy way to assess a candidate, you still need to recruit and close the candidate on equitable terms. On this score, most managers, and too many recruiters, think recruiting is selling. You get far better results if you make the candidate sell you. Here are three ways to do this using the two-question interview:

Stay the buyer from beginning to end. If a candidate has an economic or career need for your job, it’s pretty easy to stay the buyer. Needy candidates are always in sales mode, trying to convince you they’re worthy. High-demand candidates are different. In this case, managers and recruiters go into hyper sales mode in an attempt to convince the hot prospect of the worthiness of the opportunity. This not only diminishes the job, but ends up in a bidding war if you decide to make the person an offer.

To reverse this, start by listening four times more than you talk, asking tough, detailed questions about the person’s accomplishments using the most significant accomplishment question as the foundation. Preface the question with a description of what you need accomplished and why it’s important to the company. If the job is of interest, the candidate will naturally try to convince you they’re qualified. This is called the pull-toward recruiting technique. Don’t accept superficial answers. Peel the onion, get facts, and specific details. Challenge the person. Top people will leave this type of interview knowing they’ve been assessed properly, and if the job appears to be a real career move, they’ll be thinking about why they want it, not why they don’t. Make the candidate earn the job — it has more value this way.

Create the career gap. In order for a job to represent a career move it needs to offer both stretch and growth. Stretch represents the actual scope and scale of the job in comparison to the person’s current job. Growth is the future, representing what the job and person can become in terms of bigger assignments, promotions, bigger projects, and unique learning opportunities. A job 15-20% bigger than the person now holds would represent an excellent career move. If the combination of stretch and growth is less than 10% the job is more a lateral transfer, and if more than 25%, the job is most likely too big a jump.

You can determine the size of the gap using the most significant accomplishment question by comparing the candidate’s accomplishments to the performance objectives listed in the performance profile. Then use the “push-away” interviewing technique to get the candidate to personalize, or “own” the gap, and sell you. For example, if the candidate is light in some area, state your concern, and then ask the candidate to describe something she has accomplished that’s most comparable. Good candidates will not be offended or deterred. Instead, they’ll try to convince (i.e., sell) you as to why they’re qualified.

A bunch of small gaps can often represent a big career move. For example, a slightly bigger team, more influence, bigger impact, and broader responsibility, combined with a faster-growing company, is often all you need to convert what seems like a lateral transfer into a significant career opportunity.

Don’t make an offer until you’re 100% sure it will be accepted. For a top person, especially a passive candidate, taking a new job represents a critical personal and business decision. These decisions are not made quickly, lightly or alone. Too often, companies hurry the process to fill an opening. This clash of needs often precludes either party from making the best decision. While you want to move as fast as possible, don’t move any faster than the prospect is able to digest and consider everything. As part of this, don’t wait until the end to make an offer. You lose a lot of negotiating power this way. Instead test everything before you make an offer, including getting concessions at every step along the way.

Here’s how this is done. First, you need to stay the buyer throughout the process and create the career gap as described above. Second, lengthen your process to add an exploratory step at the beginning and one or two additional steps during the assessment. A second round of interviews including a problem-solving take-home question should be part of this expanded assessment. Regardless of what you add, the key is to not allow the candidate to proceed to a subsequent step, without getting some type of concession. For example, suggest that while the candidate is a bit light in comparison to the other candidates being considered, you’d like to present the candidate to the hiring manager as a high-potential person worthy of serious consideration. However, since the candidate’s compensation is already at the high end of the range, going forward would mean any potential salary increase would need to be modest. Don’t proceed unless the candidate agrees to this concession.

While there’s more to negotiating compensation, if testing is done properly, by the end of the process all aspects of the offer will have been tested and agreed upon before it’s officially presented. Equally important, by delaying the process this way, the candidate is fully aware of the career opportunity you’re offering and has discussed it thoroughly with everyone.

Hiring the best people, especially passive candidates, is much more than an interview and a sales pitch. Done properly, it’s an end-to-end process starting with a full understanding of real job needs, and a professional recruiting process integrated into every interview question. As shown here, it can be done with just two questions.

This article originally was published in the Electronic Recruiters Exchange (www.ere.net). Check out ERE for more great recruiting information.