May 25, 2018

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The 10 Commandments of Recruiting Passive Candidates

Part 1 of 2

During my 25 years of recruiting experience, I've learned a few important principles about how to effectively recruit passive candidates. I would now like to pass these on to you.

Most of these principles were learned by trial and error, and while they might not all be applicable to your specific situation, collectively, they offer a pretty decent road map of what it takes to hire more top passive candidates on a consistent basis.

Your emailed thoughts on the usefulness of these principles in today's market would be appreciated (

Here are the first 5 of my 10 commandments for recruiting and hiring more top passive candidates:

  1. You must know the job and why it's exceptional. Top passive candidates who don't know you will not speak to you for more than two or three minutes, nor give you any top referrals unless you know the job. Top passive people aren't looking, so to get them to look, you must offer instant credibility with a job that offers significant upside potential. I suggest using a performance profile to define the real job. It describes the major challenges and problems required for job success. Recruiters who know the job this way are more confident when calling, and they can use the screening process to create an opportunity gap. This is the difference between the person's current job and the new job.

  2. You must become a partner with your hiring-manager clients. If your hiring managers won't put in the extra effort, if they won't spend more time conducting exploratory interviews, and if they won't fight for a little extra compensation, your success at recruiting top passive candidates will be limited. That's why being a partner rather than a vendor in the process is critical. (See articles on becoming a partner.) Recruiters who are partners have more influence. Managers will then interview candidates who meet most of the requirements of the performance profile, even if they don't have all of the requirements listed on the job description. Bridging this gap is the key to hiring more passive candidates. Becoming a partner starts by preparing a performance profile, developing a mutual agreement, committing to put in the extra effort required to recruit passive candidate, and then delivering top people.

  3. You must limit the number of calls to "unworthy" candidates. An unworthy candidate is someone who isn't competent or doesn't know any good people. A worthy candidate is someone who is a potential finalist or someone who personally knows a top person who could be a finalist. Since each cold-call to an unknown person takes at least 15 minutes (to call, engage, screen, recruit, and get referrals), it takes a lot of time to develop a short list of three or four well-qualified and interested passive candidates. Spending these 15 minutes with an unworthy person is a waste of time.

  4. You must know how to work a cold list. Whether you use ZoomInfo or a Shally Steckerl data-mining technique to find names of potential candidates (my two personal favorites), these are all cold leads, so you don't know if they're worthy or not. When calling these types of lists, it's best to limit your initial calling to the best 10 to 15 people based on titles and companies. Your goal is to call these people and separate them into two pools: worthy and unworthy. Then, only network with people from the worthy list. My experience indicates that for every 10 worthy people you call, you'll get one finalist and six great referrals. This takes about three hours. If you call a random list of cold names, it takes 30 to 40 calls to get one finalist and no referrals.

  5. You must recruit the person directly before getting names. To maximize results, recruit the person directly when you call someone for the first time, rather than using an indirect networking approach. People will be more interested and more likely to call back when there is something in it for themselves. To get them excited, leave a voice mail that clearly indicates you're leading a recruiting effort for a senior-level position in the person's field. When you get the person on the phone, ask her if she would be open to explore a situation if it were clearly superior to what she is doing today. Most people will say yes if you sound credible, confident, and professional. Our statistics show that you'll get two to three times the number of calls back, in addition to in-depth career conversations when the person you're calling believes the opportunity you're representing is a potential new career move for him or her.

... stay tuned next week for the remaining 5 of 10 commandments.

- Lou Adler

Lou Adler ( is the president of The Adler Group, a training and consulting firm helping companies hire more top talent by implementing performance-based hiring. His Amazon bestseller Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 1997, 2002) started the performance-based hiring and selection movement. This was followed-up with the award-winning Nightingale Conant audio tape program, POWER Hiring: How to Find, Assess, Hire and Keep Great Talent (1998). Adler is a veteran recruiter and founder of CJA Executive Search. His early industry career included general management positions with the Allen Group, as well as senior-level financial management positions with Rockwell International's Automotive and Consumer Electronics groups. Adler holds an MBA from UCLA and a B.S. in Engineering from Clarkson University, New York.

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