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Be Aggressive About Passive Candidates

To win the war for talent, rethink this and other key aspects of the recruitment and hiring process.
Talent tips from GE Capital
photo by Ray Bodden



Your employees are the lifeblood of your company, and while the current unemployment rate may make it seem to be a buyer’s market for talent, competition for the best job candidates is as fierce as ever.

Therefore it’s important that companies of all sizes become more sophisticated in the ways they recruit potential hires. Companies can no longer simply post an opening and sift through the resulting pile of resumes. To win the war for talent, executives and hiring managers should work closely with human resources departments to take advantage of a number of innovative techniques for reaching and ultimately hiring the best people available.

Be Aggressive About Passive Candidates

For starters, be proactive. Don’t begin your search for talent when an employee gives notice, or when the company creates a new position, but well before. Cultivate a roster of potential hires by devoting time to your personal and social media networks. Embrace the practice of “passive” or “continuous” recruiting, whereby companies initiate and maintain connections with people who are not actively seeking new positions but might be open to talking.

This can be a great way to become acquainted with promising candidates over a period of many weeks or months. For growing companies it can serve to create a pipeline of talent that can be hired fairly quickly in times of expansion. Companies that want to develop more bench strength in specific areas, such as engineering or finance, also find it useful. And passive recruiting is a great way to stay in touch with valued employees who have left, or past applicants who may not have been right for a previous opening but might be ideal for another.

Promote Your Brand As Well As the Opportunity

Job postings remain a viable way to attract active candidates, but the key is to craft them with an eye toward attracting the best talent rather than simply screening out weaker job seekers.

The hiring manager should craft a job description that does two things: (1) clarifies performance expectations and (2) underscores the appeal of the company. It should also provide a clear picture of the company’s values and work environment, since you will ultimately be evaluating candidates on a combination of their skills and experience. The more information you provide, the more you will help them make an informed decision.

Employee referrals also play a very useful role here, since current employees can provide an invaluable insider’s perspective to would-be applicants and vouch for their suitability to a hiring manager. Consider creating YouTube videos that provide an inside look at your organization. If you work with outside recruiters, make sure their approach is in synch with your emphasis on job performance and your desire to find people who are likely to succeed in your organization.

Become an Ace Interviewer

Once you have a list of finalists to be interviewed, consider asking different kinds of questions, and avoid some common practices that can impede making the optimum choice. Recruitment expert Lou Adler cautions that, “More hiring mistakes are made in the first 30 minutes of the interview than at any other point in the process.” Too often the hiring manager quickly decides whether or not she likes the candidate, and that judgment shapes the rest of the interview. This can result in quick judgments that can lead to poor hiring decisions.

As for what questions to ask, “behavioral interviewing” is very useful: Ask for an example of how the interviewee dealt with a challenging situation, what specific role they played as the situation unfolded, and what they learned from it. A single, open-ended question that lends itself to follow-ups can reveal a lot about a candidate.

Kevin Morrill, CTO and cofounder of Referly, a social shopping platform, relies on an interview technique he learned while at Microsoft. “I ask candidates to explain something to me in five minutes,” he says. “It can be anything at all. One person explained how to play poker, and another summarized a book they had just read.”

The goal is to see how well the interviewee can communicate something reasonably complex, and whether he or she can can stay on target. Morrill (@MisterMorrill) will sometimes interrupt to ask a tangential question. He’s hoping the interviewee will find a graceful way to deflect the question rather than become distracted by it. The ability to remain focused is what counts.

As for the people who don’t get the offers, treat them well. Let them know what the winning candidate possessed that made the difference, and stay in touch with them (particularly the finalists, who may be ideal for another position). When candidates are left with a positive impression of your company they may act as ambassadors for you, encouraging friends and colleagues to consider the opportunities your company may have for them. Yes, even the manner in which you say no to a job candidate can help you win the war for talent.

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