Five Steps to Overcoming Passive Candidate Objections

May 31, 2012

How many times have you heard, “I’m not in the market right now” or “I’m happy where I am”? Passive candidates are working hard with their heads down, so often they’ll push back when approached by recruiters.

Today’s interview wraps up our passive talent recruiting series with a focus on handling objections. Jon Lynch is Senior Recruiting Manager at AKQA, the world’s largest independent digital agency.  Always an ad man, Jon started out in account management, then went to a recruiting agency, and finally ended up in-house at AKQA. Jon echoed many of the tips that we heard in our other interviews, so we’ll cut right to his advice on overcoming objections and nurturing candidate relationships for the long term.

What InMail messaging has been most successful for you?

[caption id="attachment_4790" align="alignright" width="289"]Jon Lynch, Senior Recruiting Manager at AKQA Jon Lynch, Senior Recruiting Manager at AKQA[/caption]

My initial InMails are fairly consistent across the board. I’m professional, conversational, and very brief: ‘Hello from AKQA. I’d love to connect if you are open to a chat.’

Sometimes people will respond, ‘I’m not looking right now’ or ‘I’m not interested in taking a new position.’  So in my second communication I’ll say, ‘That’s fine, I’m just looking to make the connection. You have an impressive background (or ‘I’ve heard great things about you,’ or ‘I saw you speak’) and I just want to learn more about you when you have the time. You look like the kind of person we’d want here at AKQA.’ People are usually receptive to connecting. At the end of the day, they like to talk about themselves.

Do you ever reference a specific position in your initial communication?

If I have a specific opportunity that I know is a perfect match, I’ll reference it.  Recently I came across the profile of a woman who had built her entire career in the fashion space, and I was looking for someone with great fashion experience, so I was sure to mention that.

For candidates with more limited profiles, I try to avoid getting boxed in with specific language. Instead of writing, for example, that I’m looking for someone with automotive experience specifically, I might write that I’m looking for someone with digital experience in any number of industries.

What is the most common objection you get from a passive candidate?

It’s either, ‘I love your work, but I’m not in the market right now’ or it’s, ‘I’m not interested in the opportunity.’ Sometimes it will end there, but sometimes they’ll be open to chatting. The ones who are really happy elsewhere are the ones I want.

So how would you respond to a candidate who says, “I’m happy where I am”?

I’ll call and say, ‘I’m happy you’re happy. Tell me more about your job. Wow, that sounds awesome. You’re in a really good situation. As much as I’d love to get you here, I want you to be in the place you want to be. But good people know good people: do you know anybody I should talk to?’

So I acknowledge the objection and keep it positive, and get them to tell me more about their current situation.  I listen well and take note of what excites and motivates them. And then I get referrals.

And how would you leave it with them?

Recruiters have fairly warranted aggressive reputations, so I never send a LinkedIn invitation to connect without asking for permission first. It is a subtle, but very important step. Sometimes I’ll even put the onus on the candidate by saying, ‘If you’re open to it, send me an invite and we can stay in touch.’  I’d say 80 percent of the time I get an immediate invitation to connect back from the candidate.

How long do you wait to reach out again?

Three to four months is a reasonable amount of time.  Too frequent communications can be a major turnoff. I find that if I am up front about when I’m going to check in with people, most are receptive. I keep track of our correspondence using LinkedIn Recruiter. I might say, ‘I’m going to reach out again in four months. Sound good?’

When you reach back out, how do you frame the discussion?

I might say, ‘We connected back in January and you weren’t ready at the time. I would love to continue the conversation.’ At that point I might reference some of our recent work or accolades, and maybe mention relevant open opportunities.

Beyond that, I often use the period between Thanksgiving and New Year as an opportunity to reach out to all of my contacts - ‘I just wanted to touch base and see what’s on tap for you in the New Year.’

And if they still don’t want to put their hat in the ring?

If I think they have a great background and they’re not ready right now, I usually convince them to meet with someone senior from our organization. I might say, ‘Now might not be the perfect time, but would you consider coffee with our Head of Client Services?’ Ambitious professionals rarely turn down a meeting with senior execs in their field.

Five Steps to Overcoming Passive Candidate Objections

When you get an objection, you need to:

1. Acknowledge and accept the objection. Validating the objection builds trust, makes candidates feel good, and compels them to treat you with similar respect and openness.

2. Ask to contact the candidate in the future and connect on LinkedIn. Getting agreement to touch base in the future makes the subsequent communication much easier to execute.

If the candidate is open to chatting, you need to: 
3. Listen. The more you understand the thoughts and emotions behind their objections, the better you will be able to address them. There is always something more to “I’m not interested.”  Uncover the candidate’s needs, and then find ways that your opportunity can address those needs.


4. Agree to a timeframe for the next touch point. Propose a time and ask for buy-in: “Is it OK if I contact you again in X months?”

When all else fails:

5. Wheel in the big guns. Use face time with senior executives to help persuade happy candidates to move.

Do you have a best practice to share? Tweet your thoughts with the hashtag #passivetalent. We want to hear from you!