8 Steps for Turning Passive Prospects Into Eager Candidates

We all know that recruiting people who are looking for a new job requires a different strategy and different process than hiring people who are actively looking. The first big difference is that passive prospects need to be convinced that the first conversation is worth their time investment.

To do this, here are some techniques I’ve used to increase first contact response rates:

  1. The recruiter must be SWK. If you’re “Someone Worth Knowing,” like a specialist in some area, strong candidates will want to be part of your network.
  2. The job is remarkable.
  3. The company has several remarkable jobs in a similar field.
  4. The hiring manager is a true leader who is going places.
  5. The person has been referred by a known and trusted acquaintance.
  6. Remove any time pressure by stating hiring needs are 3-6 months in the future.

Of course, while all of these techniques will help get the person to respond to your message, it won’t matter much if the job isn’t remarkable and the hiring manager isn’t fully engaged.

Here’s a plan of action you can follow for improving both the response rates and creating serious interest:

1. Use performance qualified job descriptions

In your job postings and outbound messages, you need to describe the big challenges in the job and why the job is important. The difference between this and the prospect’s current job represents the “opportunity gap” your position offers.

2. Create a “small batch” target list of Tier 1 Talent

As long as you can get 70-80% of the prospects to respond to your messages, you don’t need more than 20-25 strong people to begin the search. However, you do need to convert at least 50% of these people into interested prospects. Recruiters will need to “cherry pick” this list to make sure these people would quickly see your job as a career move. For example, I like to look for people with similar titles at slightly bigger companies who would see moving to a smaller and faster growing company as a good move.

3. Have the hiring manager review and approve the list within 72 hours

Before contacting these people it’s important to have the hiring manager agree you’re on the right path. As important, the hiring manager needs to agree to have an exploratory phone call with any prospect who wants to seriously consider the opportunity.

4. Make them feel unique and include multiple motivating factors in your message

In your outbound email, mention that you and the hiring manager reviewed a number of LinkedIn profiles but this person’s background was of special interest. Mention why and suggest you’d like to engage in a very preliminary conversation to see if one of your upcoming positions would represent a true career move. If you state you’re doing your planning for 3-6 months out and if some of the job titles are bigger than the person’s current role, people are more likely to respond.

5. Sell the discussion, not the job

The objective of your first call with the person is to establish the idea that your opening represents a true career move. I refer to this as the “30% Solution.” This is a non-monetary increase of at least 30%, which is the sum of job stretch, faster growth, more impact and more satisfaction. Early in the call say compensation doesn’t matter if the job isn’t a career move. Rather than sell the job, just review the candidate’s background looking for the 30%. If you find it, suggest a further conversation, first with you and then with the hiring manager.

6. Have the hiring manager conduct an exploratory conversation

If the candidate is strong but somewhat reluctant to proceed, suggest an exploratory call with the hiring manager to gain more insight. During the call the hiring manager needs to review the person’s background and then provide a more detailed overview of the job and some of the challenges. If the candidate is interested, the hiring manager can dig further into some of the person’s related accomplishments.

7. Have the hiring manager convert the prospect into a candidate

If the hiring manager considers the candidate a strong possibility, he/she should invite the person onsite for a full interview or at least continue the phone discussions. This relationship building (aka, recruiting) is a critical role the hiring manager must play to hire more top tier passive candidates.

8. Move slowly as fast as you can

Phase 1 of the passive candidate recruiting process is gaining serious interest. Once this is established it’s important to convert the prospect into a serious candidate. You don’t want to move too fast to get to this point, but it’s important that the recruiter pushes this to the highest degree possible.

When the supply of talent is less than the demand you need to attract people in rather than weed them out. Success requires a balanced emphasis on targeted sourcing, customized messaging and sophisticated recruiting. While gaining initial interest is a critical first step, getting these people hired requires a great job, a more than fully-engaged hiring manager and a strong recruiter to orchestrate the entire process.