I’m going to go out on a very firm limb here and suggest that I’ve just seen the future of passive candidate recruiting and sourcing 2012-2015, and it’s amazing. Before I uncover this tasty morsel for all to see and properly digest, let me set the stage, the lighting, and get the orchestra warmed-up.

Let me start with the basics of networking and the idea of developing a preliminary list of prospects. Most would agree that a pre-qualified referred candidate from a highly qualified co-worker is the standard of perfection. The reason: since they’re pre-qualified, you already know a bunch of important things about the person — e.g., how good they are, their compensation, if they’re looking or not, a rough idea of how they’d fit in your culture, and their team and leadership skills. That’s a lot of good information to know about someone before you even talk with them. And as a bonus, they’ll call you back if you mention the name of the co-worker.

Of course, you still need to engage with and recruit the person, but this is lot easier than having to call dozens of people, most of whom won’t call you back, and even if they do, you have no sense if they’re qualified and/or interested. This concept forms the foundation of the virtual talent community and future of passive candidate sourcing. Automating and scaling represent the hidden ingredients.

Now let’s consider technology as part of the proposed solution, particularly the concept of auto-ERP. This is one of the emerging bright spots in the world of sourcing and recruiting technology. The basic idea is that candidates can now directly connect with an employee they know at a company when they see a job posting of interest. LinkedIn includes this feature with its “Apply Now” button presenting a list of first-degree connections at the company. Jobvite offers this as part of its social recruiting services, and Jobs2Web provides it as part of its interactive sourcing programs.

But this is only half the solution, and the weaker half, at that. Let’s call this half outside-in auto-ERP, meaning candidates find your posting and then try to connect with your employees. In the long-term inside-out has more potential for passive candidate sourcing. In this case, the sourcing starts at the moment a job requisition is created. The inside-out auto-ERP system then searches through your company’s employees’ connections looking for great matches. The inside-out capability is what drives the virtual talent community and allows it to be scaled throughout the company.

PERP is the last piece of the puzzle. This stands for Proactive ERP (employee referral program). The problem with auto-ERP is that most of the existing connections, regardless of how fast you find them, aren’t going to yield as many top prospects as desired. The reason is that most of your employees haven’t made a point of building their networks with the idea of maintaining contact with the best people they’ve worked with in the past. While this might happen now and then, more likely their networks are composed of their good friends, people they know somewhat, a few subordinates, a potential future boss, and semi-casual current and former co-workers. This laissez-faire approach has limited value when it comes to turning these connections into outstanding employee referrals. While some will be there, most will not be. So when the auto-ERP engine starts doing its thing, it won’t find much.

PERP changes the game. The idea here is to set up internal company programs for employees to proactively connect with the best people they’ve worked with in the past, independent of their “friendship” status. Jobvite is doing this with a new for app for your employees to use for Facebook. LinkedIn is a little more direct since it’s designed to be a professional network of business associates. Regardless of the social media platform, PERP allows you to dramatically expand your employees’ network of top people.

Combining PERP, inside-out auto-ERP, and the concept of only calling pre-qualified referrals, represents the Virtual Talent Community, and in my mind the future of passive candidate sourcing and recruiting. Having a database of resumes, aka a “talent community,” is less advantageous than having a deep network of direct connections to the best people pre-qualified and referred to you by your own employees. With this type of virtual talent community in place, once a requisition is opened you’ll instantly see a pool of potential prospects emerge. Your employees will be automatically notified that one of their connections could be a good fit for the new career opportunity. They then can decide to contact the person directly, send an email, have a recruiter make the call, or suggest the match is not appropriate. As long as the posting represents a great career opportunity and the connection is a strong match, some type of contact will likely be established. (You might want to sign-up for a number of webcasts we’re hosting over the next weeks on how to implement these concepts.)

Of course, even with a virtual talent community, you still have to engage, screen, and recruit the prospects, but this is required anyway. However, we all know that when dealing with passive candidates, stronger recruiting and closing skills are required than when dealing with active candidates.

While all of this stuff is now being developed, you don’t have to wait to test out the virtual talent community concept for yourself. Here’s how. Search on some of your employees’ first-degree connections for a current search. If you have LinkedIn Recruiter you can do this automatically. You also might want to use LinkedIn to find co-workers you don’t now know who might be connected to the right type of person, and then connect with them. When you get a few good prospects, just call up the employee and ask what he or she thinks. Then connect with those people who are the best. You’ll discover they’ll all call you back, and since they’re pre-qualified, you just need to describe the career opportunity and get them interested. I refer to this as process as cherry-picking, and while what’s described here is manually intense, you quickly see how it could be automated and scaled throughout the organization.

The future of passive candidate sourcing and recruiting will accelerate with the development of the virtual talent community as described here. Of course, once everyone has the same tools and processes, they won’t help much from a talent acquisition standpoint since all your best employees will be connected with everyone else’s. The key then will be to make sure you’re providing your employees the best career opportunities. But until then, whoever has the first and deepest virtual talent community will have a field day.

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