Engaging Passive Candidates and Building a Talent Pool and Pipeline

Unless you’re running a team at a company like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Tesla, or SpaceX, one of your biggest challenges is most likely going to be finding, attracting, and recruiting the best people to help grow your company. I’ve heard it countless times over the past five years that the war for top talent is only getting tighter and much of it has to do with employee satisfaction being at all-time highs.


According to Inc.com, 88% of employees surveyed in 2016 expressed that they were satisfied with their current employment situation. The results indicated that this had more to do with how employers are treating their employees rather than compensation or benefits. So how do you get the really good people that don’t want to move from their current jobs to engage with you?


Being Proactive

It’s essential to be proactive when trying to hire top candidates. Sitting back and relying on inbound leads via job postings might field you some good people, but does little for your long term candidate pool or pipeline. For the most part, truly great, Grade-A talent isn’t surfing job boards when they go home. They’re doing things that they’re passionate about outside of the work place.

And that’s not to say you can’t find good candidates on job boards, but it’s essential to continue pursuing and building relationships with candidates that aren’t particularly active in the job market. It will pay dividends in the long run when you finally get a message saying “I’m ready to talk” or get an out-of-the-blue referral from someone you impressed.



Typically I spend most of my sourcing efforts on LinkedIn looking for profiles that I know will excite the hiring managers I support. Once I’ve identified an A+ candidate, getting a dialogue started is usually the toughest part. These candidates stay busy because they’re top performers and keep their activity up while also being very ambitious individuals that complete tasks above and beyond what is required of them. They’re also most likely being contacted by multiple recruiters, so we need to get their attention and have a compelling outreach message.

At this point I’m prone to do one of two things like sending an incredibly simple message like, “Hi John, thanks for connecting with me, how’s everything at Company X these days?” This approach has generated responses like “I love your style” and “Your approach is a refreshing change of pace” because it’s passive in nature, just like the candidates’ approach to finding a new job.

The other introduction I practice is sending an incredibly detailed and customized message explaining exactly why I’m interested in having a conversation. I express genuine interest in learning about their goals and reveal some insight into how we help our employees advance their careers, while referencing specific roles from their background. In addition. I articulate how I think it could translate well and let them know that my leadership team would be extremely excited to meet with them and why.


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I’ll also sometimes include some information about the culture and ask if they’re open to having a pressure-free introductory call. Here, I make sure to say something like “Even if you’re not looking to make a move right now from your current position, would you be interested in talking some time because there's always room for someone with your talent/experience/expertise, etc.. here?”

Don’t be afraid to include things listed on his/her profile that might not be work related likes hobbies, travel locations, languages, and even shared connections when reaching out or responding to an initial reply. We want to create a unique experience for these candidates and make sure we’re leaving an impression worth remembering while separating ourselves from the average recruiter.

I rarely include a job description and avoid phrases like “I think you’d be a great fit for this role.” In reality, you can never tell if someone’s a great fit for a role by looking at a resume or LinkedIn profile. It actually gets under my skin when I receive one of these messages without having ever been engaged or talked to by this recruiter before. Use better phrases; tell them you love their background because people have come from similar backgrounds and THRIVED at your company. It will be received much better by the candidates. More importantly, they will appreciate that you took time to closely review their backgrounds and put some honest thought into your outreach.


"[...] recruiting a rock star is very much a courting process and you don’t want to turn off your prospect by being pushy or desperate in the moment. No one wants to be sold." 


It’s natural to want to fill a position as quickly as possible, but recruiting a rock star is very much a courting process and you don’t want to turn off your prospect by being pushy or desperate in the moment. No one wants to be sold. Think back to a time when someone tried selling you on a product that you didn’t want. They start naming off all the features and benefits yet haven’t taken a single second to ask you what you find important or why you’re looking at all in the first place.

A good sales person knows to listen intently and understand a customer’s needs before pitching them, and the same goes for recruiting. Have a conversation with a candidate as a person and determine together if it’s worth pursuing the position for both of you before pitching the company and job. Once you have a conversation scheduled, qualify them because not everyone is going to be a fit. Find out what’s important to them, why they’d be willing to make a move, what they like/dislike about their current jobs on a scale of 1-10, and what they would change to make those jobs a 10/10. Even if their profile screams "rock star," their motivations might not align as the right fit in the present moment. It’s not worth wasting your time, the candidate’s time, or the decision maker’s time by trying to force a square peg into a round hole. However, you’ve once again had a positive experience with a good candidate that could benefit you at a later date.


What If They’re “Not Interested”

Don’t let it discourage you. I was once told that in the staffing and recruiting industry “'No' means 'Not Yet.'” Leave a good impression and circle back to them in 6-12 weeks and make sure to keep in touch. We live in an age where there aren’t many people that stay with companies for 10, 15, and 20 years anymore. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average tenure of salaried employees is down to 4.2 years from 4.6 years in 2014 (down to 3.7 from 4.1 in the private sector).

It’s okay to ask them again if they’re open to a conversation; I usually get a positive response with this approach. Don’t be afraid to offer yourself as a resource as well. When one candidate isn’t the right fit for me, I offer to make introductions to people I know that might be able to help in hopes that they’ll do the same for me.


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In Conclusion

I don’t care if you’re an engineering manager, C-Level executive, or a recruiter; we’re selling the idea of having a conversation with the hope that we can eventually close this candidate on working for our company. I’m most successful in getting to this point by selling a conversation on the front end and do so by keeping my introductions either very simple and passive, or very specific and targeted.

Recruiting is very much about building relationships to generate talent pools, networks, and pipelines. Someone who is not looking right now might be ready for a change in a few months. So if you have a positive interaction with someone, have strong organizational skills, and keep track of your candidates with detailed notes and a specific follow up plan, it will pay off for you in the long run. Create calendar reminders to reach out to these candidates every few weeks or months so they don’t fall through the cracks and continue to build up those relationships.


"The most efficient recruiter is the best recruiter and the one who is always going to win the talent war."


Attracting good people can be a delicate process and you want candidates to know that you’re not just trying to pull them from a company that they might really like just to hit your own quota. Show them you’re more than a hunter looking to fill a seat and they’ll appreciate you for it. If they’re not the right fits for the particular roles you’re trying to fill, you’ve at least made a good impression on a good candidate and opened the door for future possibilities like being able to fill a future role with this person, as well as possible referrals from them.

Not every candidate is going to be able to fill the role, the variables that could derail you are endless (pay, location, skills don’t match 100%, not enough relevant experience, etc.). Stay organized and keep detailed notes. The most efficient recruiter is the best recruiter and the one who is always going to win the talent war. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but continue doing what’s brought you success. For me, this is it.


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