What The Heck Is Passive Recruiting?

By Ted Dieck | Employers Intelligence - Pick - Search - Special Report | Oct 28, 2013

Passive Recruiting has gained popularity with U.S. recruiters, because of the nature of today’s markets.  If you suddenly find yourself in a discussion about Passive Recruiting, here’s what you’ll need to know…

“Passive Recruiting” is industry shorthand for “Recruiting Passive Candidates.”

To be honest, it’s actually pretty darned aggressive, if you ask me.

It is used in tight labor markets, especially when classic recruiting strategies are not producing good results.

Classic Recruiting Strategies

Conventional recruiting assumes you’ll be sifting through a large number of candidates, looking for the best-of-the-best to interview and to hire.

But what if you’re not getting any good candidates?

You’re stuck with an expensive and time-consuming strategy that builds on the idea of publicizing an opportunity, waiting for responses, reviewing applications, selecting the best candidates, and then heading into an interview process.  I’m sure you’re totally familiar with some version of that.

Interviews typically carry on with the weeding-out strategy. Candidates are poked and prodded, tested for capability, compatibility, and their overall desire for the position.

Interviewing Conventional Candidates

Interviewing styles can range from the highly polished, to the quirky, and all the way to the bizarre. They are as different as the number of Hiring Authorities in the market.

One reason: We’re talking about people.

Another reason: Nobody wants to think that their techniques could use some improving.

As the power figure in the room, Hiring Authorities already know they control the conversation.  Some will mistake that dominance for skill.

In Debrief conversations, I’ll sometimes discover that candidates didn’t understand the job; employers didn’t learn about the candidate; or somebody came to the interview completely unprepared.

(That “somebody,” by the way, is usually a president.)

People who come to an interview unprepared often turn out to be very intelligent. So intelligent, in fact, that they believe they can fake it.  (And there really is no way to fake it.)

The end result for the unskilled or unprepared: Interviews are used to justify first impressions. Candidates who are really good at interviewing get preference over candidates who are merely perfect for the job. And Hiring Authorities resort to the famous justification: “I know what I like when I see it.”

When Interviewing Skills Don’t Matter

When you have candidates lined up out the door, and down the block, you might not need powerful interviewing skills.

Raw fear may motivate terrified job seekers to say and do pretty much whatever you ask of them, both during the interview and after they’re hired.

Guess What?

This isn’t one of those times.

If you’re looking to hire engineers in the U.S. market, you can basically assume there aren’t any.

OK, they exist, but they’re employed. They’re making good money. And they’re very busy.

That’s where Passive Recruiting comes in.

What It Is

Passive Recruiting takes the grim position that anyone actively seeking work in a tight labor market must have something wrong with them.

Now, let’s not get all bent out of shape about this. Passive Recruiters don’t think their candidates are evil or defective. They just know full well that the applicants don’t match what the employer is looking for.

So, that can only mean that the kinds of people that the employer is looking for… must already have jobs.

Recruiting The Employed

The upside of Passive Recruiting: speed, precision, and control.

Instead of hoping to find the best candidate, it is possible to define the best candidate and then to go out and meet that person.

The process requires more homework up front, because we need to eliminate guesswork. And that’s because…

The downside of Passive Recruiting: Without a coordinated effort and a compelling story, you have little chance of success. Remember, the “passive” candidate is already employed, making money, plenty busy without your interruption, and is probably already regarded as a star performer.

The ugly truth is, that candidate doesn’t need you.

In fact, that candidate won’t even find you interesting, unless you make yourself interesting.

Catching Lightning

This is a collaborative effort.

The person who first reaches out to the candidate has to carry the message that everyone has agreed on.

Once we’ve found a match and we’ve generated a little interest, the employer has to get involved immediately – and I mean within 24 hours.

This is not the time to confuse your priorities, change your strategy, or to go out looking for someone to talk to the candidate.

This is a matter of catching an ember and fanning it into a flame.

Interviewing The Passive Candidate

And now you know why I have discussed interviewing skills.

There’s no room here to run an entire seminar on interviewing the passive candidate.

However, I can offer you some good guidelines…

Let’s include the candidate in our collaborative process.

In the candidate’s mind, then, we are all working together to see if we can create something good.

In reality, the candidate has far more to lose than you do. This is a person who’s already successful, and you’re asking him to bet his career and income on you.

So, I would avoid the conventional interview questions that are designed to filter out candidates.

For example, the question, “why do you want this job?” doesn’t make any sense.

Instead, I would describe a current situation in your company.

I would ask, “Have you ever handled anything like this before?”

Probe those answers for accuracy and depth of experience.

Then, looking into the future, you could ask, “How would you handle this situation?”

Your candidate won’t have access to the dynamics of your organization or even adequate detail, but any Top Performer should be able to lay out a solid game plan.

After that, you’ll need to determine if your Top Performer is capable of delivering on the game plan he describes.

And all of that is a subject for another conversation.

Bottom Line

When you find yourself interviewing passive candidates…

  • Respond quickly.

  • Focus, not on the position, but on what you want the candidate to achieve.

  • Has the candidate been successful at accomplishing something like that before?

  • Can the candidate grasp your problem and envision a workable solution?

  • Do you have reason to believe that the candidate can implement his solution successfully?

Oh, Yeah

After your interview, you still have to move smartly along.

If you think you have a winner, I strongly recommend that you stay in touch, follow-up, and develop an appropriate conclusion quickly, while everyone is still at their peak of enthusiasm.

And now you have a very successful game plan.

  • It gets you candidates when there are none to be had.

  • It builds support on the employer side.

  • And, almost by definition, it lands candidates of extraordinary quality.

Have fun!

— TD