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Guide to hiring passive candidates

For the majority of jobs you actively recruit for there exists, just below the tip of the iceberg, a vast swamp of hidden and usually highly qualified candidates your clients will likely be willing to pay a premium to hire.  In fact your ability to find and hire such individuals outside the 9 to 5 ecosystem is a major reason client businesses decide to retain your services in the first place.

If you’re reading this as a recruitment professional then you’ll likely know much of what follows.  But you’ll likely learn a few noteworthy lessons to apply when searching for so-called ‘passive candidates’ so please read on!     

As a professional recruitment consultant you’ll likely agree that the ‘hit and hope’ method of simply advertising a role on various online job boards really won’t cut the mustard when it comes to seeking out top talent.  If that was the case recruitment consultants would not be in businesses since advertising on multiple job boards does not require any special skills or licences.   In other words if attracting active candidates was the only objective in the recruitment process HR departments would not outsource work to agencies.  Mining for so-called ‘passive candidates’ should be seen as an essential skill for recruitment professionals to foster and develop throughout their careers.

Attracting passive candidates is an essential skill for recruiters

A passive candidate is simply someone who is not currently searching for a new job role.  It is often quoted that up to 80% of potential candidates you have at your potential disposal fit into this category.  And although these candidates are usually perfectly content in their current roles the potential for more cash and more responsibility is usually the bait utilised to pry these desirables away from their current roles.   You’ll likely nevertheless come up against some resistance when you approach these particular candidates as they’re more often than not happy in their current role and could possibly even be adverse to the notion of change and perceived unsettlement which a new job role could entail.   

To aid you in this uphill task we have outlined a few tips you can utilise in order to find and subsequently win the trust and interest of these passive candidates.

#1  Ensure you make good use of your Application Tracking System

If you’ve been in the recruitment business for some years now it’s highly likely you’ve accumulated a lot of data on valuable candidates.  Some of these candidates may not have been quite as valuable from a marketing point when you first captured their data; that might not be the case today.  So it’s important for you to update your candidate records to reflect the progress these people have made in their careers.  Updating your data can be problematic both in terms of data availability and in terms of the time it takes to collect and organise in your database.  It is advisable you utilise tools such as LinkedIn in order to determine any recent experience candidates have gained.    Do not assume just because a candidate was not a good match for the role a few years back the candidate will continue to be unsuitable now.   

Furthermore candidates who make an appearance on your Application Tracking System are likely to recall either who you are personally or at least who your business is.  This ‘warm approach’ element to targeting past candidates can be the difference between being totally ignored or receiving a warm welcome upon your initial approach.

#2 Embrace content

If you regularly produce content on your blog you will attract a wide range of readers though channels such as Google search.  Your content will give your business brand exposure to individuals who may not be looking for a new role but who are, for instance, looking to update their CV.  If you target in your content keywords these individuals are likely using a search engine to find their new career and if your content is related you can be sure they’ll have a chance of landing on your website.  You can then utilise devises such as email capture boxes where you trade free guides for personal details.  You could also include a ‘Submit your CV’ banner within the content.  

#3 Offer excellent customer service to your current candidates

If you go over and above a candidates’ expectations when it comes to customer service you can be sure your candidates will recommend you to their colleagues.    It’s not uncommon to hear ‘Sarah recommended me who you placed into a role last year’.  Surely Sarah would not have recommended your services should she have received a poor customer services experience.  

#4 Re-state your objectives as ‘relationship building’ rather than sales

Simply put, if you treat candidates like a commodity to be sold you will never have a lasting and long term relationship with your candidates.  Instead you should try to be in it for the long-term when it comes to fostering candidate relationships and try to recognise the Customer Lifetime Value of your candidates from taking such an approach.   Short term gain should never trump the opportunity to build a strong and lasting relationship with your candidates.   Look at what you can do for your candidates rather than what they can do for you.  It is likely you can give candidates often much needed career advice and helping candidates with their CV and interview technique can ensure they’ll at least consider new roles you are promoting for a client even if the now prior candidate isn’t actively looking for a role.    

#5 Make friends with industry ‘rainmakers’

Rainmakers refer to well connected individuals who make deals happen.  Make friends with such people and attempt to leverage off their contacts.   Ensure you do not make this the basis of your relationship with these people.  Such a one-way un-reciprocal arrangement is likely to sour and we are certainly not recommending that you exploit well-connected individuals for your selfish financial ends.  

Rainmakers could be colleagues, recruiters from outside firms, past candidates and even in-house HR people who are employed by your clients.  Remember to be in contact with these people at least once a month and preferably in person.  If you can’t make a physical meeting with these people ensure to at least drop them an email.

#6 Open with a strong hook

It is likely passive candidates won’t initially be interested when you call to inform them of the existence of a role you’re recruiting for.  The balance of power is firmly in the prospective candidate’s favour and you’re likely be perceived as ‘just another salesman’.  To combat this try to be specific in your initial call.  Do not simply say ‘I want to update your details’.  Instead be honest about the role you are recruiting for, the potential pay scale and if possible the identity of the hiring company.    Without expressing the details you’ll likely fail to get any initial interest from the candidate needed to take things further.    Worst of all some recruiters approach passive candidates to ‘up-date their records’ or ‘run through the candidate’s CV’ when no actually job even exists.  This will sound clichéd to such candidates and act as a major turn off!  What conceivable benefit is there for a candidate for you to update their records?  Please do not waste people’s time as this could hurt the good name of your business.

You need to be able to answer ‘what’s in it for them?’  If you cannot do so please go back to the drawing board before you make the call.  

So be specific and tailor your approach!  Lead with the carrot and everything else will fall in place.

#7 Demonstrate to passive candidates that you understand their work

Hypothetically let’s say you are recruiting for a highly skilled construction worker. Say something in your initial call to a prospective candidate that demonstrates that you understand the world in which they live in.  Twentieth Century marketing guru Robert Collier used to say the key to good marketing is to “join the conversation already going on in your prospects' mind.”  If you fail to establish yourself as ‘somebody in the know’ when it comes to their professional work, it’s unlikely you’ll be taken seriously.  

#8 Start the day early and end the day late

It certainly isn’t rocket science to say passive candidates are going about their day in their current role and they’re thus difficult to get hold of during working hours.  If you attempt to contact these candidates during the day you’ll likely hit a brick wall.  Indeed the grit and determination needed to contact high calibre passive candidates, often at times outside the 9-5 day, is what separates a recruitment consultant from in-house HR teams.   Of course this tip is perhaps the most deceptively simple of all the tips offered here, since to make this extra effort to contact passive candidates on a month-on-month and year-on-year basis requires a lot of determination and hard work, something your employer is surely going to thank you for when you manage to provide qualified passive candidates.  

#9  Monitor forums and other places where passive candidates hang out

You’re probably already utilising LinkedIn but why not take this further and monitor industry forums and chat rooms.  Join in on the conversation taking place on the various industry forums for which you recruit for.    Use a web forum reader to aid this process.    Using forums will allow you the means to locate highly qualified candidates who are not readily identifiable through channels such as LinkedIn.

#10  Utilise Google search

Make use of Google advanced search operators to find online CVs.  Below are a few search phrases you can use to get started:
- inurl:my inurl:cv + Keyword
- inurl:my inurl:cv + Keyword
- intitle:cv + keyword
- site:https://uk.LinkedIn.com/in +occupational_keyword +location

By searching ‘inurl:CV construction’ you will force Google to only return search results with the word ‘CV’ in the website URL and all secondly all documents which contain ‘CV’ in the URL and containing the word ‘construction’ anywhere within the webpage.
Searching 'intitle:CV construction’ will return all web pages with ‘CV’ in the page title plus with the word ‘construction’ anywhere else in the document.  You could add ‘Manchester’ or ‘Glasgow’ to return CVs of candidates located in your area.

Searching for ‘site:https://uk.LinkedIn.com/in construction Glasgow’ will force Google to only return search results contained in LinkedIn personal profiles where the person has included the ‘construction’ and Glasgow.

This approach will allow you to find passive candidates who have published their CV online and also allow you to leverage Google to find candidates on LinkedIn.  Go ahead and try this tip right now!

#11  Don’t buy into the belief passive candidates should always equal better candidates

The entire UK job market has changed vastly since the 1980s and early to mid-1990s.  Most employees can no longer expect to be in the same job in ten years’ time as was the case in the past.  Candidates understand the fickle nature of their employment arrangements more so today than at any other time in the past.   The best candidates often understand the value they bring to the table and it is likely proactive individuals will have their hand on the pulse in the job market.  For this reason you shouldn’t automatically assume active candidates who respond to job advertisements are in some way inferior to passive candidates.  In fact it could be argued passive candidates feel ‘lucky’ to have their current role given their ability and so such a candidate wouldn’t dare look elsewhere.

Therefore it is important for recruiters not to put too great a premium on the value of passive candidates.  Like all things in life, have fun and don’t take the process of contacting passive candidates too seriously.    If you relax and value the proposition you possess for such candidates you will find the whole process much less daunting!

That’s all for now

We hope you’ve enjoyed our latest blog post.   Remember to check back soon for updates.  Amanda Wright's rec2rec service caters for talent across all levels of seniority, from graduate recruitment roles to recruitment consultants and executive roles. We can be contacted on 07921694562.


Paul | Wed 11th Feb 2015


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