How to Recruit the Ambitious & Accomplished

February 11, 2015

Recently, I read an article showcasing something called the “Passive Candidate Spectrum.” It discusses why some recruiters are so much better at getting those top passive candidates to take jobs with their employers. In particular, it outlines what stage a passive candidate needs to be at to increase the chances they’d leave their current employer.

In my experience, the sweet spot is the “ambitious” and “accomplished” candidates. Why? Because they are driven to succeed, but haven’t reached their goal yet. Translation: they’re quietly keeping their eyes and ears open for anything that can help them get to their next level.

Once you know where to fish, you need the right bait

While this article does a super job of helping us see how to narrow down the search for the best passive candidates by focusing us on the right pool of talent, it doesn’t discuss why you’ll need a carefully calculated approach to get their attention. Can’t go fishing without the right bait. You might think a killer compensation package or incredible benefits are what you need to lure that talent into talking to you. However, that's not the case.

HINT: Flashy lures don’t work, here’s why…

The best passive candidates get hit on a lot. They're like the “hot” person at the dance club. Lots of looks. Lots of pick-up lines. Here’s an example: On a recent flight, I overheard a software developer tell the guy next to him that he gets at least a dozen voicemails and emails each week from recruiters. He told the man he rarely responds because the recruiters make so many promises in their introductions, it sounds too good to be true - and his opinion, is code for being desperate.

The truth is, marketing the benefits and perks in the first connection makes top talent defensive and doubtful. You need to go at them differently. You need to act smarter. Be calmer. And most importantly, earn their trust and respect. You need to offer them the one thing that will validate you as a recruiter worth talking to…

3rd party credibility = secret weapon

It’s much easier to recruit the “frustrated” or the “fated” listed on the spectrum because they are already feeling pain and looking for relief. But, to get the “ambitious” and “accomplished,” you need to prove a move to your company offers all the things they need to make their career goals a reality. Specifically, extensive studies by my company show the best passive candidates need to deeply understand and feel confident about the following five areas of your business to consider an opportunity:

1. Leadership – Stories of your executive team and what drives them are crucial. Top performers work “with” employers, not “for” them. They expect the leadership to be on the same page as them.

2. Employees – Top performers recognize they’ll need to rely on teammates to achieve their goals. They want to understand some of the common traits and attributes of top performers at the employer to make sure they see similar qualities they possess displayed in their potential co-workers.

3. Values & Beliefs – A clear explanation of what drives the company’s leadership team is a must-have. Top performers constantly assess the character of the company they work for. Even beyond feeling connected to the mission of the company, they need to feel in alignment with the company’s approach to achieving that mission. Respect is key. Partnering with the best employer is the only way they see themselves reaching their goal.

4. WOW Factor – The most driven talent want something to brag about. If your company doesn’t have an element of the business model that many people admire and envy, they won’t join your team. The WOW Factor is a reflection of the company’s desire to be the best. Top performers see themselves as the best – and expect the same in their employer.

5. Fun Factor – The best passive candidates work hard – very hard! But, that doesn’t mean they don’t like to play too. They feel they deserve a workplace that is happy and knows how to have fun. If they are going to spend one-third of their day at the office, they expect the employer to find ways to make it enjoyable.

Give recruiters URLs to attract more passive candidates

If you have the ability to showcase the five elements of your business above, you’re half-way to being able to recruit the ambitious and accomplished. All that is left to do is turn these stories into tools recruiters can use to lure the talent in!

Getting your company’s stories written and showcased online isn’t as hard as you might think. It’s just a matter of getting your Employment Branding set-up and ready for distribution. Once your stories are online, recruiters can use the links (URLs) to promote your company on social media. How is this helpful? Studies show companies that post detailed information about employment at their company 1X/week get 40% more views of their company profiles and 25% more applications. In short, sharing stories about your company is the best way to get passive candidates’ attention. Better still, if you can get them to follow your company, you have an even greater chance of them responding to your recruitment outreach. Here’s why…

70% follow you because they are interested in you as an employer

Recent LinkedIn data shows that 70% of the professionals following your company are interested in employment opportunities with you. They’re following you in hopes you’ll showcase all the information we explained above so they can determine if you are an employer worth talking to. Data also shows that recruiters get 81% of InMail response rate when they reach out to candidates following the company. That means, if you can get the passive candidate’s attention with your company stories, you can use those same stories to generate a dialog with the hottest talent. It’s the ultimate way to reach out to the ambitious and accomplished. Here’s an example:

Dear Joe,

I see you’ve been a top performer at XYZ Corporation for several years. At ABC Industries, we know how hard you must have worked to achieve that status. We’re in a similar industry, but our leadership team is approaching the market slightly differently. This article talks about our strategy. [Insert URL here.]

I’d love the chance to chat with you and get your thoughts on how we’re tackling the market. Also, we’re looking for some higher-level talent, like yourself, who are trying to reach the next level in their careers. After speaking and getting to know us a bit better, perhaps you might be interested, or know someone who might be?

This type of outreach is passive yet poignant. The candidate is guided to your company story and drawn into the conversation based on shared interests. It shows respect and earns trust. Best of all, you don’t look like all the other desperate recruiters who are begging for a minute of their time. Instead, you offer a valid business reason to exploring the company via a conversation.

Want to hire the best? Offer plenty of digital proof you’re in their league

The best passive candidates know what quality employers look like. They didn’t get to where they are by working for dysfunctional ones. They’ve climbed the career ladder by paying attention and knowing what kind of employer will give them the greatest odds for success. To hire the best talent, you need to prove your company is on their level. The more proof, the better. Give them plenty to read and watch online (articles and videos), to help them get educated on you as an employer. It’s the only way to earn their trust and respect so that they’ll respond to your recruiting efforts!


J.T. O’Donnell is a Top 20 LinkedIn Influencer and CEO of, a site that helps employers of all shapes and sizes tell accurate and compelling stories to recruit better candidates for their companies. You can learn more here >>

* Image by Kristina Alexanderson

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