For Lou Adler, recruiting passive candidates is a different beast than sourcing active jobseekers. It means getting on the phone, and it means truly dedicating yourself to networking and relationship-building.
For Adler, this comes naturally; one of his great talents is his speaking ability, and this gift of the gab is part of what has made him so successful in his field. More than 40 thousand recruiters and hiring managers have attended his workshops over the past two decades to hear his insights on recruiting over the years.
And as the CEO and founder of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm that teaches companies to implement his Performance-based Hiring℠ system for finding and hiring exceptional talent, he’s well-versed in the art of “solution selling”, an approach critical to wooing in-demand talent from current jobs to better opportunities.
MightyRecruiter sat down with Adler to dig in and glean some insights on what differentiates a good recruiter from a great recruiter, why the best candidates are passive candidates, and how to fish for top talent in today’s murky labor pool.
You’ve written in the past about recruiting passive candidates. In one article, you wrote that for most open positions, 75 percent of people that recruiters want to hire aren’t actually looking for a new job – they’re passive candidates.
I should’ve said 90 percent.
Interesting! You also said that for critical jobs, the number of passive jobseekers is as high as 95 percent. Can you clarify for our readers how you define critical jobs, and why so few candidates are actually looking for those jobs?
Sure, there are two reasons. But first, a critical job is a job that is strategic to the company’s success. If somebody’s building a product that requires the use of unusual technology, for example, that would be a critical job. In my mind, all managers are critical because under them may be 10 or 20 people, so a screw up by the manager can affect these people. And, of course, executives are critical to any company, as is anybody else that has a strategic impact on a company’s success.
The primary reason that there are so few jobseekers looking for these critical jobs is that the supply – in other words, the top talent – is finite, but the demand is infinite. So it’s a simple problem of supply and demand. As a result, the best people are being wooed all the time.
For example, let’s assume that you’re a writer in an unusual field, and you’re the only writer who understands that field. If that were the case, everybody would want you. You wouldn’t have to look for a job; people would be calling you. And that’s typically what happens when you have a critical position – qualified candidates who fit these roles are well-networked, and recruiters know who they are. The people who need to know, know. So these candidates aren’t looking on job boards because they don’t have to go in the public market to find a job. They are in the “hidden market,” where jobs are never posted.
I know of a lot of jobs that never get posted because recruiters don’t want an influx of unqualified people. Instead, when they need to fill a critical position, they network first to see if they can find a qualified person. It’s often only if networking doesn’t work that then they go and post the job.
Another interesting thing that you’ve written is that you feel that recruiters and candidates are typically talking about the wrong things when they first make contact. How should a recruiter, in your opinion, first approach a passive candidate about a role they’d be good for? What kinds of questions should they be asking once they make contact?
Too many recruiters are box-checkers. They check off boxes – does this person have the skills, for example – but they don’t think beyond that. Most recruiters focus the conversation on what the candidate will receive on day one of the job instead of talking about the future.
Good passive candidates are only going to engage in a conversation if the job represents a career move. And that conversation almost never happens. Let’s get past talking about starting salary and the benefits package. If the job isn’t a career opportunity for the passive candidate, who cares what we pay you. Most recruiters don’t get past that.
A good passive candidate wants to have a more future-focused discussion about the job. It’s called “solution selling” in selling terms. It’s what has to happen when you’re selling a complex product to a sophisticated buyer. It’s a back-and-forth – asking the candidate what they need to make a move, whether this role makes sense for them long-term.
It sounds like what you’re saying is that to be successful with passive recruiting, recruiters and hiring managers need to be skilled at relationship building and marketing.
Yes, and they need to have knowledge of the job beyond what’s written in the job description. They have to recognize that the job is not just a list of required skills and experiences. To have the conversation properly, they have to really know the job and know whether the job they’re offering truly represents a career move to the candidate they are contacting.
It’s also about being willing to talk to candidates and find out what they want and need in their careers and being willing to invest in relationship building. Simply calling or emailing and saying, “Hey, I think you might be right for this job I have isn’t sufficient.”
Let’s talk about technique now. What do you find to be the most effective ways for recruiters to reach passive candidates? Through LinkedIn? Through email? By phone?
Well, I suggest that for good candidates, recruiters should implement a 40-40-20 plan. Forty percent should be heavy networking, 40 percent should be direct sourcing [online], and the other 20 percent should be concentrating on writing really compelling ads that are pushed to the target audience. That’s for the passive top-tier candidates.
For critical jobs and candidates with really in-demand skills, I recommend a 50-50 split. Forget the ads; it’s 50 percent networking, and 50 percent direct sourcing. Or even 60 percent networking, 40 percent direct sourcing. Again, direct sourcing is going on LinkedIn, searching for candidates, and sending them emails.
Either way, aggressive networking, through employee referrals or your own network, is critical. That combination of identifying people, building a relationship, then calling them up and convincing them that your job is a career opportunity is what will get those jobs filled.
For recruiters who use ATSs, how well does mining those for candidates work?
It’s okay. It depends on the quality of the database. Now, some companies believe that building a big following of candidates is great. Maybe it is, I don’t know. I’ve never needed an ATS to get good candidates. I can get good candidates within 72 hours into any job in the world, and I don’t need an ATS database to do it.
Many recruiters think of an ATS just as a database of potential candidates, but it’s also a database of possible leads for referrals. Too many recruiters think single-mindedly about ATSs as a mine for candidates, but they can do more than that. Once you have the name of a candidate you’re interested in, you can use your ATS to get a referral.
So, you think there needs to be more of a personal touch when it comes to passive recruiting?
It’s mandatory. I mean, I’m trying to convince someone to change their life. They don’t need to change jobs. However, if I can tell them that I have spoken to their former boss from Company XYZ and that he or she recommended that I give them a call, suddenly this isn’t a cold call anymore; it’s a referral. More often than not that is enough to get them to call me.
Recruiters can’t forget that passive candidates don’t have to change jobs. We have to convince you to change jobs, and that’s a lot of work. It takes a lot of skill, and it takes a lot of persistence. It’s not a simple task, but it’s a critical task if your company wants to improve the quality of the people they’re hiring.
What do you think distinguishes a good recruiter from a great recruiter of passive candidates?
The key thing is that you’ve got to get on the phone, and too many recruiters are reluctant to get on the phone. If you want to get good at relationship building, make sure you sit down and spend time on the phone.
Think about it this way: Look at your last three assignments. If the majority of your recruits for those jobs were active candidates, you’re not any good at your job. But if 70 percent of those hires were passive candidates, you’re a pretty hot recruiter. My next question would be, how’d you get them? My guess is that you spent 90 percent of your time on the phone. If you did that, those numbers wouldn’t surprise me.
Some other recruiters that I’ve spoken to spend a lot of time in industry chatrooms to do their recruiting. It sounds like a pretty time-consuming way of recruiting. Do you do that?
No. They do it because they’re afraid to get on the phone. I say, get on the phone, and you’ll find your candidates within 24 hours. Ask me where I got my best candidates, and I’ll tell you that I call people. I create referrals. I go to LinkedIn, and I call the people I am connected to who are going to know the right people. Once I can get those people on the phone, I’m in the game. The great talent out there consists of passive candidates, and referrals are the way to reach them.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about passive recruiting?
I tell people, don’t sell the job, sell the discussion. All it takes is time, and it takes a phone to do it. It’s critical in this market.
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