On Becoming a Great Recruiter, Part 4

Sourcing passive candidates is more about networking than cold calling

We're into the fourth week of our eight-week program on becoming a top 10% recruiter. By now, you should have taken the online recruiter diagnostic to benchmark your current performance. You might want to take it again to see how much you've improved so far. Here's the link to our Recruiting Challenges 2006 survey. This is one you'll want to take. Participants will learn where they stand among their peers in both performance and compensation.

Last week, ideas were presented as to what you needed to do to find more strong, active candidates. The key: Be different. Ads must have an engaging title and a compelling employee-value proposition. Ads that are just like everyone else's or can't be found are non-starters. If you want to hire top people, your ads must offer career opportunities, not just another job. These ads are just as important if you want to attract and hire top passive candidates. These top people will read your online posting to see if the job you're offering is worth evaluating. So, if it isn't anything special, the great recruiting and sourcing techniques described below will prove valueless.

Let's get real. I'm leading a search right now for a Fortune 500 group vice president of marketing for a consumer products company. Without working too hard, I found 65 possible passive candidates on ZoomInfo, 27 on LinkedIn, and another 30 using a few Internet data-mining techniques Shally Steckerl taught me. It will take me approximately 31 hours (at 15 minutes each, on average) to call these 122 people and then recruit and qualify those I connect with. If history is any guide, 15-20 of these people will have been worth calling (meaning the person is a good person who is either very interested or knows someone who could be very interested), and from these, one to two people will wind up as candidates I'll present to my client. This is a lot of work for such meager results.

On the other hand, if I call the best 20 candidates from all of the lists based on their titles and companies, get 75% to call me back, and get two or three prequalified referrals from each one, I can do this work in less than a day. Better yet, if I'm really good at getting these referrals, I should wind up with four or five very interested and highly qualified candidates. It will take another two days to process these referrals. So, in 75% of the time, I'm able to get more than three times as many top candidates. This is a 400% increase in productivity! And, that's the secret to hiring more passive candidates: Be great at getting highly qualified referrals.

You can prove this for yourself. Start tracking these metrics: number of cold calls per day, percentage of returned calls, number of people open to considering your opportunity, and the number of good referrals per call. Now, track the same metrics for these referrals. If you prequalify the referrals, you'll discover that working the referred list is three to five times more productive than working the cold list.

I've written about leaving voice mails and networking in previous ERE articles. Here are some highlights and other ideas you can use to improve your performance in recruiting passive candidates.

  • You must know the job. You can't be a good salesperson unless you know the product you're representing. This is just as important for recruiters. The best recruiters know their jobs, sometimes even better than their clients. Reread Part 2in this series for more on how to prepare performance profiles that describe what the person taking the job must do to be successful, not the skills the person must have. Knowing the job gives the recruiter the confidence to make the cold call to passive candidates and be able to quickly screen the person. Knowing the job is also the prerequisite to converting the cold recruiting call into a networking call.
  • Recruit first and network second. You'll get more returned calls and better referrals if you recruit the person directly and screen the person before describing the job. People will be more willing to give you names if they consider you to be a professional who knows real job needs and can conduct a solid interview by asking meaningful questions. People like to talk about themselves. So, to get more referrals, you need to let the person talk about himself, and then if he is not a perfect fit, get referrals.
  • Don't lose your leverage. You must get the candidate to talk first. When you ask the person if he would be open to explore a situation if it were clearly superior, don't tell the person about the job when he says "yes." Instead, conduct a quick phone screen. You have leverage when the person says "yes" to your offer, but if the job is beneath the person, you lose this leverage and the chance to get referrals.
  • Create an opportunity gap to determine fit. When interviewing, first conduct a work history review and then ask about one or two major accomplishments. Dig deep. Look for areas in which the job you're representing offers job stretch. Consider the size of the budget, the team, the challenges, the impact that could be made, and the importance of the job. If the job offers enough stretch, it should be easy to recruit the person. If the stretch is too much or not enough, you'll have to switch the call into a networking call. Top people need at least 15-20% job stretch and growth before they'll consider moving. We'll discuss in detail how to determine this in next week's article, but the principle here is that to increase your odds of recruiting a top person, the candidate must internalize and own the gap between her current job and the one you're representing. You don't do this by selling and talking; you do this by asking meaningful questions that entice the candidate into telling you why she's a good fit.
  • Gracefully say "no." To get names, you must offer proof that the person is not qualified. If the gap is too great, say that you're impressed with the person, but she would need another few years before being considered for this type of position. Then, provide some specific examples, like the budget is double, the team is bigger, the project is more complex, or something you gleaned from your phone screen and knowledge of the job. If the job isn't big enough, just say the job seems too much like a lateral move, or it doesn't offer enough stretch.
  • Ask for the names of people at prior companies. If you've developed a professional relationship and engaged with the person for at least 10 minutes as described above, you're now ready to get some referrals. Recruiters who don't get many referrals usually mess up steps 1 through 5, so review this if that's the case. The best way to get names is to first give a short, compelling summary of the job and then just ask for specific titles and names of outstanding performers at prior companies. Use questions like these to start the discussion: Who was your best boss, who would you like to work with again, who would you like to hire if you could, who would you refer for your employee referral program, and who is the best person you know who won't move? Even ask for names of people who aren't looking, but who might know some other top people who also aren't looking. Say that your objective is to build an outstanding network of top people, not just to find a candidate for your open position.
  • Prequalify everyone. Once you get a few names, find out why the person is considered a top employee. Ask about awards or recognition received, if the person has been promoted, what the person's track record is like, and something about her experience or academic background that makes the person unique. In the future, you'll only network with these top people. You know you're at maximum efficiency if you limit your calls to prequalified top people who are either potential candidates themselves or know a potential candidate personally. This is what you should strive for.
Recruiting top passive candidates is less about getting their names and more about knowing the job, getting the candidate to talk first, conducting an in-depth phone screen, and then getting referrals. Cold calling people you don't know doesn't take courage; it takes confidence that you know what you're doing, and knowledge that you have a great job to offer.

Collectively, this all starts when you took the assignment. There are no shortcuts or magic bullets here. If you're making lots of fruitless phone calls, getting few returned calls, getting even fewer top referrals, and getting frustrated with your lack of progress, the solution is right on this page. It's not about cold calling, it's about networking.


By Lou Adler, reprinted with the permission of Electronic Recruiting Exchange
 BlackDog Recruiting Software Inc.
For more five star recruiting tips, click here.