The 5 Most Important Minutes of Talking to a Passive Candidate

March 12, 2015

At a recruiting training workshop I was leading last week, one of the attendees asked me to identify the most critical aspect of successfully recruiting passive candidates.

I told her it was the first five minutes of her initial contact with a strong person, who’s not looking for another job.

Every aspect of being a great recruiter is funneled into these five minutes. Recruiters who can successfully convince the most passive candidates to further evaluate their open positions will drive more high-quality hires than anyone else on the team.

I then suggested that all recruiters should track the following three metrics to determine their overall passive candidate recruiting effectiveness, emphasizing the fact that they all hinge on how successful the opening five minutes of the first call are handled.

  1. First contact yield. Once a recruiter gets a passive candidate on the phone, he or she must be able to convert at least 80% into interested prospects, or be able to get at least two high-quality referrals from the person. Identifying dozens of great people using LinkedIn Recruiter isn’t worth much if you can’t recruit and hire them.
  2. Unique candidates interviewed per hire. If you’re working with great passive candidates, a recruiter should never need to present more than four people to get one hired. Problems here are typically due to a weak understanding of real job needs, lack of passive candidate recruiting skills or a problem with the hiring manager.
  3. Passive candidate mix. Whenever the percent of passive candidates presented as part of the total candidate slate is less than 50% (i.e. 2 of the 4), it’s a clue the recruiter is having difficulty recruiting passive candidates.

These three metrics help pinpoint potential passive candidate recruiting problems, and while it takes more than five minutes to convert a passive prospect into an interested candidate, what happens in the first five minutes predicts ultimate success. Here’s what it takes to maximize this moment:

1. Know the job before the call.

Since passive candidates will ask during the first call, recruiters need to explain the actual work that will be done, not the skills necessary to do the work.

2. Determine the employee value proposition when you take the assignment.

You must be able to describe with specific details why a top person who’s not looking would even consider your opportunity. You’ll use this to get the prospect excited enough to spend the next 5-10 minutes continuing the discussion.

3. Know the ideal candidate’s hidden motivators.

Preparing a candidate persona will allow you to capture the person’s motivating needs once you get the person on the phone. You’ll also use this as part of your voice mail and email messaging to get the person to take the call.

4. Persist.

No matter how compelling your emails and voicemails are, you’ll need to persist to get 75-80% of the people you’ve identified to call you back. (This is another metric you need to track.)

5. Get the candidate to talk first.

When you get the person on the phone, don’t sell the job, sell the conversation. Start by asking the person if he or she would be open to explore a possible career opportunity. Then immediately start reviewing the person’s LinkedIn profile.

6. Don’t box check.

Under no circumstances use the word “awesome” when describing your job or ask the person about his or her salary. Also, don’t start asking about your “must have” list of requirements.

7. Control the conversation.

It takes hours of time for someone who’s not looking to fully appreciate the potential opportunity in any new job. By maintaining applicant control, you’ll be able to parse the information out over multiple discussions.

8. Create the opportunity gap.

In about 10 minutes you’ll know if your job has enough stretch and growth to be classified as a career move. Use the “30% Solution” as a lure to structure the next conversation by suggesting that every job should be evaluated on a combination of strategic and tactical factors as well as compensation.

9. Get the candidate to sell you.

Don’t oversell, overbuy. You know you’ve succeeded when the formerly passive prospect tries to convince you he or she is qualified.

10. Determine if you should recruit the person or get referrals.

If the opportunity gap is too big or too small, you need to instantly shift the conversation to getting pre-qualified referrals. Shoot for two referrals per call. These second round referrals are like gold, since you’ll only be calling back those who are perfect fits and they’ll all call you back if you mention the referrer’s name.

Since 80-90% of the people you want to hire are not actively looking for another job, the ability to find and recruit passive candidates is essential. The ultimate measure of success can be predicted based on what happens in the first five minutes of the first phone call. But perfecting this call takes a great job, a true partnership with the hiring manager, a skilled recruiter and hours of hard work. As you’ll discover, it’s time well spent.

*Image by Robert Müller