10 Ways to Overcome Passive Candidate Concerns and Objections

December 10, 2015

At a recent advanced recruiting class, I asked attendees to describe some of the objections they have heard from passive candidates. Here were the most common:

  1. I’m happy where I am.
  2. I’m not interested in leaving.
  3. I don’t like (pick one: The title, the compensation, the company, the location).
  4. I wish you had called me sooner.
  5. I just accepted another position.
  6. I’m involved in a critical project I must complete.
  7. I don’t talk to recruiters.

Since 80-90% of candidates for most high-demand positions are passive, recruiters need to get beyond these barriers in order to have meaningful conversations. Here’s what I suggest.

1. Don’t sell the job - sell the conversation.

By definition, passive candidates are not looking for another job, so stop selling them something they don’t want. Instead ask them if they’d be open to have an exploratory career conversation about if one of your current or future opportunities represents a good career move.

2. Don’t ask questions that can be answered by a ‘no.’

It’s hard to say no to, “Would you be open to exploring a senior financial management position if it were superior to what you’re doing today?” It’s easy to say no to, “Would you like to discuss an amazing cost analyst position at our Oshkosh plant?”

3. Remove the hustle by focusing on the future.

Try this: “We’re now doing our workforce planning for next year and a few senior positions are being created. Would you be open to chatting for a few minutes to see if one represented a strategic career opportunity?” Adding a delay into your opening is a great conversation starter.

4. Use referrals to turn strangers into semi-acquaintances.

Conversations with people you’ve worked with in the past tend to be informal, open and exploratory. Cold calls are stiff, narrow and perfunctory. Mentioning a referrer’s name is the best way to have a natural conversation.

5. Use an attention-getting mechanism.

When a prospect says she’s “not interested” before knowing anything about the job, say “That’s exactly why we should talk.” Neither comment makes much sense so this is a great way to reset expectations.

6. Use the parking lot.

When someone asks, “What’s the compensation?” say, “If the job doesn’t represent a career move, it doesn’t matter what we pay you. Let’s first see if the job is a career move, and if so, we can then determine if the pay is appropriate.”

7. Shift the focus to career strategy, not tactics.

I said this when a candidate almost took a job for all of the wrong reasons: “You’ve just made a long-term career decision using short-term information.” The person realized a big pay increase in a dying industry was career suicide.

8. Reframe the risk in changing jobs.

Try this with a candidate who’s not interested or quite happy: “Time is your most valuable asset. Whatever you do in the next 2-3 years will affect the next 5-10. Sometimes there’s a bigger risk in staying in the same role rather than changing.”

9. Become someone worth knowing.

It’s hard for a candidate to say no to, “I focus exclusively on placing top people in (types of positions). If the current opportunity isn’t a good career move, we can at least network until something more appropriate develops.” People want to work with people who can help their career growth.

10. Anticipate the concern in order to neutralize it.

Hiding a problem is ill-advised. Something like, “While our Glassdoor.com rating has taken a nosedive, the current role involves turning things around,” will at least get the conversation started.

Recruiting a passive candidate always starts with an exploratory conversation. They never start by trying to hustle someone into an open job you’re desperate to fill. Overcoming the barriers to these conversations requires a different mindset. With this different mindset you actually might find a bunch of people you talk with who find the job you’re desperate to fill a great career move. 

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