How to Recruit Passive Candidates

The “post and pray” method of sourcing candidates and beginning a recruiting campaign, posting a job online and praying the right candidates apply, isn’t an efficient or effective way to find top talent in an evolving and competitive job market. According to the LinkedIn Research Network, 83 percent of employed professionals classify themselves as not actively looking for jobs. Just posting on job boards where active candidates are looking means missing more than three quarters of the most qualified candidates. Recruiting veteran Lou Adler claims that the process for recruiting passive candidates, those not actively looking for jobs, is different than the one for active candidates.

Lou’s Rules for Recruiting Passive Candidates

Adler’s rules rely heavily on throwing out the job description and using compelling recruiting sales tools like performance profiles, compelling ads and emails, and candidate personas to actively engage candidates and sell the career opportunities versus jobs.

Performance profiles list what the candidates must be able to do to be successful in the open position, not the skills and experience typically outlined in a job description. Performance profiles define the job, not the person applying for the job. Adler suggests that jobs have six to eight key performance objectives, and these are what make up performance profiles to recruit passive candidates.

Adler advises using compelling ads and emails that discuss the first year in the position and opportunities in the job and company. He advises that job postings go into what a candidate could expect to do in the first year on the job, and describe what the candidate needs to be able to do. Emails should follow the same format, not focus on skills and experience required, but describing the position, company, projects, and industry to catch the candidate’s interest.

A candidate persona is a complete description of the target candidate, including typical background, types of prior employers, job titles, academics, industries worked in, and anything else specific to the job opening. Adler recommends creating a candidate persona at the beginning of any recruiting campaign and using it as the basis for sourcing and Internet marketing programs.

Recruiting the Future Workforce

In “The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today,” Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd urge employers and recruiters to look ahead. They claim that employers engaged in recruiting now need to hire not just for today’s staffing needs, but for the type of talent that companies will need in five, 10, and 15 years. To do this, they say hiring managers must look at the skills, interests, and expertise candidates must have in the areas most important for the future workforce. While new college graduates entering the workforce may have the latest qualifications, and mid-career professionals may be motivated to find the next career advancement, it’s passive candidates, those full time working professionals not actively looking for jobs, who may have more of the skills needed in the future workforce.

Meister and Willyerd describe the 2020 workplace as fluid, flexible, mobile, and global, as well as diverse in age and ethnicity, collaborative, and hyperconnected. They advise looking for passive candidates with skills, experience, and expertise with the latest technology, at ease with and proficient in social media, and who have a demonstrated ability to adapt and achieve in a changing work and industry environment. These types of candidates won’t always be easily identified through LinkedIn, but through their participation in blogs, online forums, social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and industry associations and affiliations. Meister and Willyerd claim that the best companies are preparing now for 2020, when a majority of the Baby Boomers will start retiring. They feel that recruiting strategies, employee development and benefits, and social networks must be focused on this future workplace, the 2020 workplace, when there will be even more competition for talent. Those who haven’t prepared now will come up short on talent in their future workplace.

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Harvard Business Review

In “Harvard Business Review on Finding & Keeping the Best People,” Harvard Business Review discusses how most firms squander the recruiting opportunity presented by economic recessions. They claim that recruiting practices in most companies are scattershot when they need to be more uniform and analytical, and suggest a rigorous recruitment process is needed to hire top talent. In terms of passive candidates, this is even more important, because recruiting passive candidates requires a different recruiting process than recruiting active candidates such as new college graduates. They are less motivated to entertain new opportunities, may be jaded by recruiter contacts, and are probably happy with the work they are doing. The techniques that will attract active job seekers will not work with passive candidates.

Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources, says that a search engine and a few simple queries yields hundreds of resumes for qualified passive candidates. Visiting chat rooms, cybercommunities, and online forums, as well as flipping the URL from links in resumes back to company intranets, are more techniques savvy recruiters and hiring managers use to dig up qualified passive candidates quickly to reach out when they have openings.

Cappelli advises looking closely at what it takes to attract, sort, and contact passive candidates, and the best online technologies to do so. He discusses the labor market as a true market, requiring targeted marketing just like any other market. He says today’s candidates must be approached the same way as prospective customers: identified and targeted, attracted by the company brand, and then sold on the job.

If more than 75 percent of top candidates are passive candidates, and finding them doesn’t require more than some online research, a rigorous recruiting strategy should include, or possibly focus on, passive candidates. Cappelli advises making contact quickly once the best passive candidates have been identified before their interest cools or they are hired away by another company. Lou Adler advises using more compelling communications with passive candidates to convince them of the high value of your opportunities. Meister and Willyerd urge companies to look for the right candidates for their 2020 workplaces, not just today’s needs. Whatever your recruiting process is, how you approach passive candidate recruiting will be critical to your overall recruiting and workforce development success.


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