Secrets of Recruiters with the Best InMail Response Rates: Centrica’s James Dowling

March 29, 2012

Let’s face it: recruiting passive talent can be challenging. What does it take to attract the highest quality candidates, the ones who are satisfied and productive in their current jobs? This is the first in a series of posts showcasing the insights, tips and tools driving the success of some of the best passive candidate recruiters.

We analyzed data from thousands of LinkedIn Recruiting SolutionsCentrica's James Dowling
customers globally and conducted in-depth interviews with seven customers who have among the highest InMail response rates (InMail is LinkedIn's messaging tool). Through these conversations, we uncovered critical insights and practical tips that you can implement in your day-to-day job. We kicked things off with James Dowling, who spent the first eight years of his career in 3rd party search before moving in-house in 2008 to work for Centrica Plc, a UK headquartered Energy company.

Why does your company focus on recruiting passive candidates?

Talent is enormously important to Centrica. People make all the difference, especially as we are a service organization, so we are focused on hiring the best.

Interestingly, many of our most successful individuals haven’t come from our industry: they tend to come from Retail Banking, Financial Services, Telecommunications, IT – they are all fast paced, complex, multi-channel businesses. Our downstream business model is more in line with theirs, but they may not be thinking about a career in Energy. Therefore we have to headhunt the right talent.

What’s the biggest mistake you can make when trying to recruit passive candidates?

A scattergun approach, with mass communication and untargeted emails, does not work. Instead, a focused target approach does.

Inviting an open conversation works too, rather than proposing a specific role.  So instead of, “Can I talk to you about XYZ role?” it is better to write, “I wanted to introduce you to our company. Let’s talk about your career and see if something is suitable.” People are then far more open to responding.

In order to get candidates’ attention, I create a meaningful incentive that’s relevant to them. For example, if I were targeting someone from Retail Banking, I would contrast their industry’s current cost-cutting environment with the opportunity for growth in the Energy sector. I want to be specific, thinking about what that candidate is going through, and what he/she wants.

How much time do you spend finding exactly the right professional profiles at the outset?

I have to have a total understanding of the business, the role, and the type of person we want. The more research I can do up front, the better the results. I am far more interested in spending 10 hours researching 15 candidates and getting a dozen promising responses than spending five hours reaching 100 candidates, but only getting three such responses.

Getting to know where we acquire our talent is important too. We uncover trends by understanding which companies and sectors we’ve recruited from, and then track those employees’ progress in our organization per business areas (upstream and downstream Energy and by function). We further research those companies qualitatively; we want to understand why high performing employees hired from Company A are successful while those from Company B never are.

How do you kick off a new requirement with a hiring manager?

It’s an intensive face-to-face process. I have to go though the job description with them and challenge it. I also get an independent perspective on the role from another HR colleague if I can.  I ask where the hiring manager wants to find this person, and what companies and sectors are doing it well. We create a matrix together: sectors by companies, and then target the actual roles, titles, and experience that we want.

The more expert I am with each assignment, the more hiring managers will trust me as their strategic resourcing partner. LinkedIn data is part of the knowledge I bring to the relationship; when market mapping, for example, we fill 60 percent of it or more with LinkedIn candidates.

Any advice on winning over a hiring manager who doesn’t think you have the expertise?

I come prepared with a range of strong profiles, and ask, “Is this what you’re looking for?” It shows them what I know and helps persuade them to accept that we can recruit without an external headhunter. Also I prepare for an initial internal meeting as I would if I were an external search consultant, sometimes more.

What’s your favorite success story in recruiting a passive candidate?

We wanted to recruit an Underwriting Director (Senior Vice President) for a new business we created – British Gas Insurance. It was a very niche role, very senior, and in a business sector we had no name for at the time. Through LinkedIn we mapped out the market and we brought in an outstanding candidate from a top-five global insurance company. One of the insurance company board directors praised the resourcing team for our innovative approach.


What are some of your best practices in recruiting passive candidates? Tweet your thoughts with the hashtag #passivetalent. We want to hear from you!

Stay tuned for our next conversation with Brazil-based Camila Tartari of Thoughtworks. She has a trick for getting an inMail response that works almost 100 percent of the time!