Top Talent in a Flash: How SanDisk’s Tom Brouchoud Wins with Passive Candidates

May 24, 2012

Part VI of our interview series features Tom Brouchoud, SanDisk’s Senior Manager of Global Talent Acquisition, who just celebrated his 10-year anniversary with the company.  SanDisk’s recruitment needs span the globe, with locations in the United States, Japan, Israel, and across Europe and the Asia-Pacific regions.

Why does your company focus on recruiting passive candidates?
Tom Brouchoud, Senior Manager, Global Talent Acquisition at SanDisk Tom Brouchoud, Senior Manager, Global Talent Acquisition at SanDisk

Often, the best candidates are not out there looking for jobs. SanDisk hires the best people to advance our technology so we can continue to be the world's largest provider of Flash memory storage solutions.  Finding great talent takes research!  SanDisk always pushes the engineering envelope, researching and developing state of the art technologies, and the Talent Acquisition team needs to target, contact, attract and hire these amazing people.

How critical is passive candidate recruiting in your company’s overall recruiting mix?

SanDisk uses all avenues to find great talent including (but not limited to) employee referrals, internal mobility, research, boards … but more and more, we’re finding candidates who are passively interested in new employment, but aren’t actively looking.  This may mean they’re unhappy with their current situation, or SanDisk simply has something better to offer.  Whatever the reason, passive candidate recruiting is very important.  About 35 percent of our total hires are passive candidates, and LinkedIn accounts for about half of those. We mostly fill engineering and senior management roles with passive candidates, but passive candidates can fill any position.

When you started out recruiting passive candidates, were there any best practices that you learned the hard way?

Some people say, ‘here’s a position for you,’ and bulk-post the job description to prospective candidates.  This approach may make a candidate feel like a commodity rather than a specialized professional with unique interests and skills. Once a recruiter learns the importance of uncovering candidates’ needs and interests, they start to look at recruiting differently.  A recruiter’s job is to help match a company’s interests with a candidate’s interests; when this occurs, great things happen.  Highly impactful hiring has very little to do with simply filling open positions.

Let’s say you’re working with a hiring manager on a new requisition. Where do you start?

I’ll sit down with the hiring manager and conduct a ‘strategic recruiting meeting’ which includes a comprehensive overview of the first year deliverables. Understanding the raw skills, i.e. the ‘what’ of the job, is critical, but I also establish the ‘how’ of the job. The ‘what’ may be a C++ programmer with a Windows background who needs to deliver a new Software solution in the first six months of hire.  The ‘how’ may mean the individual will regularly interface with programmers in India while leading a cross functional project team in the US.

Often it’s the ‘how’ of the job that resonates with candidates, even if they aren’t ready to make a move.  I think my high InMail response rate is a function of taking the time to present something interesting beyond the ‘what’ of a job, recognizing and targeting candidates’ individual goals.

What InMail messaging has been most successful for you?

I characterize most of my InMails as my desire to ‘talk to you,’ rather than all of the people you know. People generally do not respond to long job descriptions copied/pasted into an InMail, but will respond to a quick note – something high level – giving enough to establish initial interest, without going too far.  Too many words tend to make people’s eyes cross, and not respond.  If candidates want to know more, they’ll ask.

So it sounds like you don’t ask for referrals?

I do both, but my response rate is better when I don’t ask for referrals, whether or not they are actively looking for a job. My only goal initially is for them to reply, ‘Sounds interesting. I’d love to chat more.’ Interest level is an easy and low-investment question, so I keep it brief, casual and friendly, and then once I’ve established interest, I try to connect with them on the phone.

But I will often ask for referrals with VPs because they tend to be great networkers. As opposed to an entry-level candidate, a VP-level candidate is more likely to reply, ‘I’m not looking, but here are four qualified people who are.’

If you find that a candidate is not open to new opportunities at that time, what are your strategies for keeping them warm?

LinkedIn Recruiter keeps track of who I contacted, when, and whether there was a response.  When I do a search, I’ll go back and see what the previous interest level was, and will contact the candidate saying we agreed to touch base X number of months later. I can then continue the conversation rather than having to start over.

For those who don’t respond initially, I keep notes about who they are, what they do, where they go and when. By tracking great people, I always have them at my fingertips.

How do you inspire best practices in your team?

I am a self-taught headhunter. I’ve turned my team into a headhunting organization, and all of my recruiters are headhunters. I set clear expectations internally and externally: we are an organization experienced in finding the un-findable. We’re willing to go the extra mile and target people who may have never received a call from a recruiter before simply because they are so hard to find. I provide the tools and training necessary to meet those expectations.

We train our colleagues how to find people, what it means to be a recruiter, and how recruiting works. We utilize traditional headhunting techniques (e.g., cold calling, networking) as well as newer resources such as LinkedIn and the occasional job board. LinkedIn is now the gold standard for finding passive talent and my team uses it extensively.

Is passive candidate recruiting an art, science or a mix of both?

I’d say it is 10 percent science and 90 percent art. What excites and motivates a candidate may not be money or title or office location: it may be something completely different. The moment we understand what they’re looking for is the moment we can start to draw parallels between what we have to offer and what the candidate can provide. If I can’t match up enough of the lines, it won’t be a good hire.

The science part is finding people, knowing which web searches to do and which sourcing techniques to use. But at the end of the day, I have to be able to motivate a person, and that’s an art.

What response would you give to a recruiting leader who says, ‘my team and I don’t have time to focus on passive candidates’?

You have to make the time! You may fill 10 to 15 percent of your open positions relying on active candidates, but what about the remaining 85 percent? Maybe you’ll get some referrals, but will the rest be ‘post and pray’ from job boards?

There’s a difference between those candidates from whom you simply want a resume and those candidates with whom you want to start a conversation. Make sure your recruiters have the time to have those conversations. Give them resources, such as coordinators to handle scheduling or sourcers to do research. And if you don’t have the budget for these resources, then you need to make the case for it.

Last question: how would you describe the role of LinkedIn in your passive candidate recruiting strategy?

LinkedIn is an excellent tool for research, and not just in the United States. Our colleagues in India are actively using LinkedIn, and our Israel team just made their first hire through LinkedIn.

People who are not interested in marketing themselves are not necessarily on LinkedIn.  Top-performing engineers often have no online presence.  But we can use LinkedIn as a springboard to find these truly hidden candidates, by reaching out to their colleagues who are on LinkedIn and asking for their names.

Then, there are those on LinkedIn who haven’t taken the time to complete their profile, and thus won’t show up in keyword searches – so you need to get them on the phone, or at least entice them to send a resume.


What are some of your best practices? Tweet your ideas using the hashtag #passivetalent.

See more posts in this series:

Secrets of Recruiters with the Best InMail Response Rates featuring Centrica's James Dowling
What Works with Passive Candidates in Brazil featuring ThoughtWorks' Camila Tartari
Five Questions You Must Ask Your Hiring Manager featuring Betfair's Rachel Riddington
Mastering the Basics: Passive Candidate Recruiting for Newcomers featuring Tim Horton's Jacqueline Benedetti
It Takes Two: Passive Candidate Recruiting from Both Sides of the Table featuring Greg Harezlak of TinyCo and a successfully hired passive candidate