How to Win Over the Passive Candidates

6 min

There is tremendous worldwide competition for tech talent right now, and the shortfall of qualified candidates keeps escalating. Unemployment in the industry now is at its lowest rate in decades. Active recruitment mode, which has never been that efficient for hi-tech, now seems to have gone to the dogs. 99% of candidates for job posts are reported to be irrelevant, and the ‘right’ ones are like medieval knights who once existed but vanished, and recruiters can just tell legends about them, suspiring after good old days. All IT recruitment turned to be passive by definition, and unless you work for a highly recognizable brand, potential candidates generally see your outreach as a cold contact or spam.

To attract top tech talent in such a competitive marketplace is a kind of ‘mission-impossible’ task, and one of the ways is to increase the passive payoff by paving the way with a long-term relationship.

Passive recruiting means courting potential candidates who are not currently looking for a job. Some companies and recruiters view it as a waste of time, but those who consider it as an investment can get high ROI. Because if they do not apply organically, that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in moving. They may not be available immediately, but someday the knight may rise like a phoenix out of the ashes and ask if you have an opening for them.

But how to architect a strategy to win over the passive candidates? What is the secret?

Here it is like with the magic secret-ingredient soup of Panda Kung Fu’s father, where there is no secret ingredient. All candidates are different, and approaches should vary and be tailored for every particular case. But there is something every company and a recruiter can do… and should as it might serve a profound foundation for successful passive recruiting:

Step 1: Provide a superior candidate experience

A job change is traditionally known as a particularly not a pleasant experience, even for in-demand tech talent who seem to be able to call the shots. The biggest frustrations usually mentioned are:

  1. Surface-level job descriptions
  2. Templated outreach
  3. Lack of response (‘radio silence’)
  4. Lack of feedback
  5. Floppy on-boarding etc.

However, the key ingredient for hiring success is the best-in-class candidate experience.

Candidates who are happy with the ongoing engagement are more likely to stay in touch for along (and if they end up elsewhere, provide future referrals and help spread a positive buzz with your company). Also, it goes without saying that content candidates are more apt to be content employees. Conversely, when a candidate’s experience with your company falls short of expectations or is even downright bad, you ruin any possibility of revisiting turned off candidates in the future as they simply wouldn’t like to hear from you. Plus, it can harm your brand in the outside world — whether that’s by word of mouth in their professional network or on recruiting or industry sites.

This is also one of the reasons, apart from universal humane, to hold juniors-tolerant attitude. One day they will become seniors, whom you would like to hunt.

So, start by eliminating ‘the biggest frustrations’, and this can already work wonders. Also, adopt an empathetic approach, develop a partner relationship with candidates throughout the interview process and establish a healthy line of communication. And it is not that difficult to do, as may seem, at least not more difficult than prowl the wides of the Internet in search for the right talent.

In the candidate-centric era of recruiting we live in, recruiters have to keep the right candidates constantly engaged and, without‌ ‌doubt, must rethink their roles and differentiate themselves by bringing a human touch back into the recruiting process.

Step 2: Make easy and personal outreach

In the outreach phase alone, passive candidates are already overwhelmed. The most in-demand talent get six messages from recruiters a day. Also, the average InMail failure rate is 75%, let alone standard LinkedIn messages, which are perceived as spam already. With such a low proportion of messages getting through, it is complicated to find a way to “sell” your opportunity to candidates to make them care, or pay attention at least.

Some recruiters decide to follow the path of the least resistance and fill people’s inboxes with lots of templated messages. No wonder they come across as pushy or spammy as the quantity will never compensate lack of quality. And this is terrible for the candidate, terrible for a recruiter, for the brand and terrible for hiring in general.

Nowadays, the quality of interaction matters as never before. Most messages candidates get are more pitch-oriented, and offer one-sided scenario. So, why not to make them more candidate-focused and personalized? Why not write honest and simple messages different from “I checked your LinkedIn profile and think you’d be a great fit for the role…”?

Start the conversation by referencing some personal details about candidates that other recruiters ignore (and I do not mean sending them Horoscopes for the day or discuss their Spirit Animals), it should be a blend of personal and professional and only staff publicly available.

This is where a little candidate research comes in handy. See what types of activities they’re engaged with; there might be others in your organization who have similar interests (bike riding to work, for example) that you can reference. Or look at trends that are affecting the role that you’re hiring for, or the types of content that the candidate might enjoy, even industry jokes that they might find funny (though be careful here!), whatever. Just go deep on their social footprint and give it a thought.

Show people that you care and that you’ve taken the time to read up on them, and recruiting passive candidates becomes a whole lot easier.

Step 3: Build trust

Well, it is pretty obvious, but still … Trust is built only by being honest in passive recruiting. Do not give a rosy, ‘selling’ view of the company. Also, approach people only with useful information. It’s nice if you can write a friendly and interesting email. But, ultimately, passive candidates will consider changing jobs if they have a clear, trustworthy picture of what you can offer them. No matter it relates to a company’s culture and values as well as perks and benefits or salary. Candidates usually also want to know about the job expectations, workload, and how taking on a new role will impact their career. Salary transparency is also one of the top reasons for tech talent to start negotiating with a company.

So, don’t oversell. Find a compromise, the golden middle of what’s going to make both you, and the candidate happy. Such an approach will help build and nurture long-term candidate relationships, a cornerstone of recruitment. But be careful as they can also collapse as easy as a house of cards.

Try also connect as an industry expert rather than as a recruiter. In its essence, the recruiter’s job is to help professionals find an opportunity that is going to be the right fit for them. Even if it is not within your current company. Playing the role of a career coach or career advocate and steering the conversation towards the work that the candidate will do each day and how that aligns with their goals (or not) or recommending other job openings that might interest them will also build trust, loyalty and integrity.

Step 4: Manage a pipeline effectively

Even front-line recruiters face serious challenges filling critical roles, and much of the problem stems from an inability to establish, nurture and grow a sustainable talent pipeline. As it is pretty hard to maintain involved communication with past candidates and stay up-to-date on all promising candidates.

Well, it is obvious that your pipeline should be automated. However, it is not enough. You can easily search for Java or SEO, but empirical skillsets and experience don’t always tell the whole story. The information stored in a database is usually a resume-like, explaining what the candidate has done in the past, and doesn’t give insight into what motivates the individual, what career aspirations each one has and the intent behind ‘considering the current opportunity’. The deeper you go in understanding what motivates each candidate, the faster and more predictably you’ll be able to move them through the candidate lifecycle to employment.

So recruiters should take active steps, use established tools and best practices, change the mindset to build predictability and usability back into their candidate pipelines. The more personal details, thoughts and observations you’ll include into profiles, the better positioned you’ll be to engage in a transparent and successful negotiation with your passive candidate.

So, get in gear with an active pool of vetted candidates; drill down into more than just attributes to determine the right fit; engage candidates with a more meaningful recruiting experience, add transparency into your process, and you’ll become a better practitioner of shaping and aligning passive recruiting activities.

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