Recruiting Pro Stacy Zapar Shares 6 Tips for Reaching Out to Candidates

March 9, 2016

Stacy Zapar has been in recruiting for 19 years. She started as a coordinator at an agency, where she quickly worked her way up to a full-on recruiting / sourcing role at companies like Qualcomm and Intuit. And, for the past three years, shes been running her own recruiting consulting firm, Tenfold.

Over the years, one of her biggest strengths has been her ability to build candidate pipelines, which often comes down to one thing: getting a prospect’s attention. During a session at Talent Connect Anaheim this past year, she shared six tips she uses to consistently get great prospects to respond to her InMails, and ultimately build the sort of talent pools hiring managers drool over.

Her tips proved popular, as her Talent Connect session was the top rated of the conference. So, without further ado, here are Zapar’s six tips to sourcing and engaging candidates, listed in chronological order:

1. “The Red Pen” – It starts with getting on the same page as the hiring manager.

The key to sourcing well is truly knowing what the hiring manager wants. The best time to do that is at the initial intake meeting with the hiring manager, where Zapar always recommends bringing the proverbial red pen (or any pen, or a laptop) to really dissect the job posting.

Zapar schedules an hour for that meeting and goes through the job description line by line with the hiring manager. The goal is simple: clean up the job posting, make sure it accurately describes the role and find out what the hiring manager really cares about and what they don’t, marking it all down with her trusty red pen.

Specifically, she loves going to the requirements section of the job description and asking this question: “So, if someone doesn’t have (this particular keyword or skill) listed on their LinkedIn profile, you don’t even want to see the profile, right?” Often, the hiring manager will backpedal a bit and only say “yes” to a handful of requirements, leaving the rest as “strongly desired” or “nice to have,” Zapar said. This clarification greatly changes her Boolean search strings (where the ANDs become ORs).

Additionally, she uses that time to find out what the hiring manager cares about that isn’t in the job posting. Do they want someone who has worked for a startup? Is agency experience a plus or a minus? Does education / pedigree matter to them? Are they sensitive to job hoppers? Now’s the time to find out, not after weeks of trial and error.

Bottom line, each hiring manager has their own expectations for the role and their own set of biases, and it's critical to find that up front, Zapar said. You can’t be their eyes and ears out on the web if you don’t know EXACTLY what you’re looking for.

2. “The Don’t Ask, Do Tell” – Take advantage of the team’s network.

At the end of her intake meeting, Zapar will ask the hiring manager if she can attend his or her next staff meeting. There, she introduces herself to the rest of the hiring team and asks them if they would be okay with connecting on LinkedIn so she can search their first-level connections to identify targets who fit the job spec.

If they say yes – and almost everyone does – Zapar will go through each team member’s LinkedIn network and send each of them the link to three prospects’ profiles who best fit the job description. All she asks of them is for a quick thumbs-up or thumbs down. She’ll then write a quick note, forward it to the hiring team member and ask THEM to reach out to their first level connection. This tactic not only fills the pipeline with warm, vetted leads, it also drives the response rate WAY up - typically upwards of 90%.

Instead of asking people who they know, Zapar tells them who they know. She said this is far more effective than just asking for referrals and leads to a sizeable talent pool of warm lead prospects who already have some relationship with the existing team, i.e. prospects who are likely to respond to an InMail, more likely to interview, transition smoothly onto the team, have higher performance rates, lower attition rates, etc. Additionally, Zapar will pay a referral bonus to the employee if one of his or her connections is hired, making everyone happy and more engaged in the recruiting and referral process.

3. “The Cyrano” – Send InMails from team members, not recruiters.

Cyrano de Bergerac, for those who don’t know the tale, was a talented and poetic man who was not gifted in the looks department. When he fell in love with a beautiful woman, he felt insecure about his looks so he helped a handsome young man court her through eloquent language that expressed his own feelings.

Zapar believes that story can apply to recruiting. When reaching out to prospects (whether they’re warm leads via the method mentioned above or cold prospects), she doesn’t contact those people herself. Instead, she’ll send the InMail copy to the hiring manager or another hiring team member and ask them to send the InMail to the prospect.

Who is a prospect more likely to respond to: a recruiter they’ve never heard of, or a peer in their field? Sometimes it isn’t the content of the message, it’s the sender.

4. “The Ice-Breaker” – Make InMails focused on the prospect and keep them short.

When Zapar does write an outreach InMail to a prospect, she has a goal: “to treat them like the special snowflake they are.” In other words, she writes a personalized InMail that focuses on THEM and their career, instead of HER and her req…a mistake all too common in recruiter outreach messages.

For example, if she sees someone worked on projects similar to what is expected in the job she’s filling, Zapar will mention how the position offers a perfect chance for them to continue to hit the ground running and expand that skillset. She also stressed putting the candidate’s name in the InMail, spelling it correctly and keeping the tone conversational. It’s much easier to ignore a spammy, generic message than one where the recruiter built some rapport and came across like a real person.

One thing she cautioned against though was making the initial InMail too long by posting every detail about the job or linking out to the job posting. Instead, keep it high level to pique a prospect’s interest, as that encourages them to respond to find out more, she said. The goal of the initial outreach message isn’t to sell them on the job; you just want to get them to talk to you.

5. “The Three Step” – Don’t give up after just one InMail.

If Zapar does InMail a prospect and they don’t respond, she doesn’t give up. Three or four days later, she’ll send a follow-up message (often varying the medium, perhaps via phone, email or social media) that reads, “My hiring team is still really interested in speaking with you and we are starting to move forward with interviews. I would hate for you to miss the bus. Please let me know if you have a few minutes to chat this week.”

You’ve made it clear that this wasn’t some bulk message and that you are interested in speaking with that person specifically and the response rate on this second message is often much higher than the initial InMail, Zapar said.

If they still don’t respond, Zapar will send a third, very short sign-off message to thank them for their time and encourage them to stay in touch down the road. This not only gives the candidate one more chance to respond and also makes it clear that your outreach wasn’t a series of bulk messages, but a highly targeted outreach. The response rate to this third message is even higher and has consistently led Zapar to an 85% response rate when sourcing candidates.

6. “The Exploratory” – Don’t always schedule 30 minutes for every phone screen.

Say you do InMail a candidate, they respond and it is time for a phone interview. Zapar said there were too many times in her career where she would schedule a 30-minute phone interview with a prospect, only to find out they weren’t a fit within the first few minutes and essentially waste the rest of the half hour interviewing a candidate that she knew wasn’t qualified .

To combat that, Zapar instead sets up “exploratory” calls with prospects, where she’ll ask a prospect for 5 - 10 minutes to “get to know them.” In that time, she’ll keep the conversation high level and ask all of her knockout questions up front (availability, relocation, salary history / expectations, citizenship, communication skills, etc.) and assess if they are a viable candidate or not.

If they aren’t, she wraps up the call after 10 minutes and thanks them for their time, letting them know that she’s taken some notes and updated their information in the system so that the recruiting team will have more information for upcoming openings. The recruiter gets 20 minutes back on their calendar, the prospect doesn’t need to be signed off later and leaves with a positive impression of the company.

But if they ARE a fit, she’ll ask them if they have a few more minutes to chat, mentions the specific role that may be a match and conducts the rest of the phone interview asking req-specific questions. The prospect at that point goes from being a lead to a candidate.

It’s basically a way for recruiters to better manage their time while preserving the candidate experience, Zapar said.

*Image from LinkedIn

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