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6 tips to perfect the art of recruiting passive candidates


Is recruiting passive job candidates part of your talent acquisition strategy? If not, you might want to consider including it. Here’s why.

Years ago, especially in the years following the Great Recession, passive recruiting wasn’t as vital. Job opportunities were limited, and applicants didn’t have much room to be choosy. However, when unemployment rates are low, recruiting becomes a real art.

You may find your company looking to passive candidates – those highly qualified individuals who aren’t actively looking for a new job, but who also might consider a change for the right opportunity. Recruiting them takes finesse, as their motivation differs from that of active job-seekers.

With passive candidates, you have to polish your power of persuasion, as well as your sales skills, since they may not be very familiar with your company. Here are some tips to make the passive recruiting process as optimal as possible.

1. Start by getting buy-in from your hiring manager

When you’re trying to hire passive candidates, you need your hiring managers to be involved in the process from start to finish.

After you get an understanding of the position you’re hiring for, have a talk with your hiring manager to set expectations.

For example, you might say, “Because this position is going to be difficult to fill, I don’t think we’ll be able to find a good candidate on job boards and by using more traditional means of seeking candidates. I’m going to approach it as a passive recruiting effort, and because of that, I’ll need your involvement.”

As passive candidates tend to have less free time to devote to the hiring process, make sure your hiring manager is available to interview candidates immediately. Also, let them know that you’ll need them to be available to quickly answer questions from candidates. Your hiring manager will be the subject-matter expert when it comes to the details of the job.

2. Look beyond job boards

It’s time to get creative. Consider where else you might find candidates outside of traditional online job boards. For instance, does it make sense to contact your local chamber of commerce, university, state workforce or military base?

You might also consider reaching out to recent hires for referrals. You could even go as far as offering a referral program with bonuses or perks associated.

Look to social media as well, but don’t think about just the traditional platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Branch out and join the social media groups where the professionals you’re seeking naturally gather. For example, this might be a forum for IT professionals where they share resources.

But take it slowly when you join these groups. You have to join as a fellow expert and take time to build trust with the group members. If you’re not an expert on the position you’re hiring for, encourage the hiring manager to be the one to interact with members instead.

Start out as a silent participant, and when you have a feel for the type of normal interaction that occurs in the group, share your expertise by engaging in conversations not related to the position. When you feel comfortable, you can then mention that you’re a recruiter or hiring manager who has an open position.

3. Get your timing right

Passive candidates don’t respond well to a process that’s hurried. That’s why you have to know when the time is right in a conversation to introduce an opportunity.

Start your conversations by putting the candidates at ease, and make the conversation about them – not you or your company’s needs.

For example, you might say, “I understand you’re not currently looking for a position, but my job is to find the best talent possible for my company. Through my research, I’ve identified you as someone with the skills we’re looking for.”

You would then want to say something like, “I certainly don’t want to waste your time, but I’d like to get to know you and learn a little bit about what motivates you. If I don’t think I can help you, we can certainly part as friends, and perhaps you can even refer someone else who might be a good fit. With that said, can you tell me a little about yourself?”

Get the candidate to talk first before you pitch the position. Not only will this give you insight into their interests, but it will also get them more interested and invested in the conversation.

When the time is right, you can begin to tell them about your company, the position and what makes it special. Talk about what you like about the company, and you can sell the position without appearing like a salesperson.

4. Give them what they’re not already getting

It’s human nature to want what you can’t have. Sometimes the most effective way to win over passive candidates is to play off the weaknesses of their current employer.

Study the company they’re working for, including the culture, work environment, benefits and growth opportunities. Find out where that company falls short. When you talk to the candidate, you can emphasize how your company can fill in these gaps (without bashing their current employer).

For example, if you’re recruiting a candidate who works at a company that’s known for its dull work environment, talk about what your company does to foster a lively culture, such as team-building or volunteer activities.

This may be the missing link in your candidates’ career, and it could have the power to turn their “no” into a “yes.”

5. Write emails that get to the point

It’s easy to fire off an email to potential candidates. The tough part is getting them to read it. Lengthy or convoluted messages will likely end up in the trash. To get candidates to read your emails, keep them short and simple.

With a constant flood of emails pouring in every day, passive candidates are more likely to read messages they can quickly skim versus something that looks like a short novel.

When writing emails to candidates, a good rule of thumb is to keep your subject line to no more than 35 characters and the body of the email no longer than four to six sentences.

It may take some time to fashion a strong and concise message. But when you find something that works, save it and reuse it when contacting other candidates.

6. Move things along quickly

When a candidate shows interest in a position, you’ll need to act quickly since they may not necessarily need the job. This may entail working around their schedule. Flexibility is key.

If they reach out to you, be prepared to take action right away before they lose interest or second-guess their decision. Don’t wait for candidates to set up a meeting. Take the initiative, and try to get on their calendar within days of your phone call.

While you’ll want to keep the process moving quickly, be sure to perform your normal interview procedure before making an offer. Moving quickly doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind.

Need more recruiting advice like this? Download our complimentary e-book now: Building a better team: How to attract, recruit and hire top talent.