5 Critical Ice-breaking Tips for Connecting with Passive Candidates

July 16, 2015

For the past 30+ years I have been looking for great talent to fill tough assignments. After 1,500 placements I discovered they all hang out in the same place. Not surprisingly, they were still there when I looked last week. Your best candidates are there, too. In the infographic it’s called the Talent Sweet Spot.


At LinkedIn’s Talent Connect in Anaheim in October I’ll describe the big things you need to do to find, contact, recruit and hire them. In this post I’ll give you some basic first steps.

Start by reviewing the Recruiter’s Competency Model I introduced in a recent blog post and the “be honest with yourself” ranking system. Then rank yourself on the 12 factors shown, paying particular attention to those involved with passive candidate recruiting. For ice-breaking purposes, I've condensed the most important factors into these five:

1. Know the job.

You need to first convince managers to shift the criteria for hiring from skills and experience qualified to performance qualified. This opens up the pool to the entire talent market on the right side of the infographic. Every job can be described as a series of 6-8 performance objectives. Then when a top passive candidate you’ve recruited in the Talent Sweet Spot asks you to describe the job, you can do it confidently and in detail.

2. Control the conversation.

The first thing a passive candidate will ask about is the compensation, job title, company name, location and a little about the job. Other than providing a 30-second overview, don’t do it. You must get the candidate to talk first. For example, if the person asks about the money, tell the person if the job isn’t a career move, the money won’t matter, so let’s first see if it’s a career move. Recruiting passive candidates requires full control of the conversation, from first contact to the final close.

3. Earn the right to conduct discovery.

Consultative recruiting is equivalent to solution selling. This involves understanding the client’s needs and customizing a solution. For recruiting it means knowing the job, hiring manger, industry, and being someone worth knowing as well as being confident enough to control the conversation. This is the only way the candidate will reveal anything of importance. If the candidate has been referred to you by a trusted source you’ll be given the benefit of the doubt. That’s why referrals are a better door opener than a cold call.

4. Create interest by converting your job into a potential career move during the first call.

As part of the discovery process you need to find out what the candidate likes most and least about his or her current job and what the person’s long-term prospects are the current job. Based on this you need to highlight the factors that indicate your job offers more stretch, increased satisfaction and more long-term growth. Of course if your opening isn’t a good career move, you need to convert the person into a referral source.

5. Get the candidate to sell you.

Recruiting passive candidates isn’t about selling, it’s about getting the candidate to sell you. When the potential combination of job stretch, increased job satisfaction and more long-term growth exceeds 30% percent, passive candidates become interested. But you can’t force feed this information. You need to dance slowly, controlling the conversation. One way is to question whether the person can handle a big stretch opportunity. If they’re interested, the best candidates will attempt to convince you they’re qualified. This is easy to do with an active candidate but with passive candidates it takes exceptional recruiting skills.

(Here’s a post describing the concept of using solution selling techniques as the basis for consultative recruiting.)

It’s easy to find the names of great people in the talent sweet spot using LinkedIn. However, it takes a great job, a highly engaged hiring manager and a skilled recruiter to orchestrate the entire process in order to recruit and hire these people. It starts by figuring out where you rank on the recruiter competency model and becoming skilled at the five factors described in this post. It ends by making great hires every time.

* image by Kris Williams

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