Great recruiters know that waiting for people to respond to your job postings or emails won’t bring in the best talent. Instead, you need to narrow your focus by identifying 15-20 top-notch passive prospects who would consider your job a career move, and then recruit them.

Identify your ideal candidates

Finding these ideal prospects is the first step in the process. They need to be highly qualified and they also need to see your job as a true career move. For them a career move needs to be some combination of a bigger job, one with more impact, faster growth and/or more satisfying work.

To find these ideal prospects, look for people who are a bit different than what’s listed in your job description. For example, for a Controller position in a not so desirable location, I found people who were directors of accounting who might be willing to relocate to get the better title with more responsibility. For an IT director position in a high-demand market, I found people at larger companies who could be interested in moving to a faster-growing smaller company.

Next, try to get 40-50% of the people on your short list of ideal prospects through referrals. That makes it easy to get them to call you back. To get these types of great referrals, use a “reverse referral process.” Here’s how this works: First search on your first degree LinkedIn Recruiter connections to identify some ideal prospects, then get the referral and qualify the person. Even if you can’t recruit these people, you’ll still be able to connect with them and use the same reverse referral process to get some other ideal prospects.

Now, use the right messaging to get candidates interested

For the ideal prospects you’ve found who haven’t been referred, you’ll need to implement a campaign marketing effort to get 75% of them to call you back. That means you’ll need some creative messages to make the contact worthwhile even for those referred. Here are some marketing secrets to gaining their attention:

1. Have a compelling subject line

“Joe Smith asked me to contact you,” should get you a 100% response rate if the person has been referred. If not, something like, “Our accounting manager needs to get out of the numbers and make a difference,” should work since it describes the impact of the job.

2. Highlight the employee value proposition (EVP) in the first line

We used, “Get a seat at the head of the strategic table,” as the first line for an HR VP search. We knew this is the only way a top-tier VP candidate would consider relocating to an out-of-the-way Midwest location. It worked.

3. Forget the skills

Instead describe the two biggest challenges the person would face on the job. You might want to say something like, “Use your extensive knowledge of guidance control systems and GLISP to build an AI engine for our driverless factory forklift system.” The secret: Use your messaging to demonstrate how a person can use his/her skills to make a bigger impact.

4. Tie the job to some grander purpose

One of our clients included this in her emails and tweets - “Flight Nurses – Helping Save Lives Everyday” - and increased her response rate threefold in one week. She hired four outstanding people two weeks later. For a company with a weak Glassdoor rating, one recruiter counteracted with, “We need someone who can rebuild a shattered Glassdoor.”

5. Take the pressure off

Don’t try to sell the job in your email; sell a conversation instead. At last year’s Talent Connect, one woman told me she emailed 20 highly qualified engineering leaders saying she was in the process of preparing her workforce plan for the next year. By offering just to chat about these jobs, she increased her response rate to 50% overnight.

6. Have the hiring manager call or send an email

Get a VM from a hiring manager saying something like, “I’m very impressed with your LinkedIn profile. I’m (name) managing the (describe team) and would like to chat with you briefly about some upcoming spots I’ll be filling in the next month. The big focus of these jobs is (describe major challenge and importance).” This will triple your response rate.

It’s a waste of time to send hundreds of emails to people who won’t respond or are unqualified. Rather than trying to be more efficient, the real secret for hiring the strongest passive candidates is being different. And starting with a few great people and recruiting the heck out of them is how to be really different.