Recruiting Passive Candidates-Networking With LinkedIn for Great Referrals
I’ve just written a recent companion piece on ERE (July 30, 2010) on my top ten favorite networking techniques for recruiting passive candidates. There were actually more than 20, but here are the next five. Caution: there are two prerequisites when using any of these techniques. First, you must get the candidate to agree to enter into an exploratory career discussion as a condition for beginning the conversation. Second, with this permission granted, give no more than a 20-second overview of the position, and then immediately ask the prospect to provide some preliminary background information. (We cover exactly how to do this in our Recruiter Boot Camp training.)

These two steps are both essential. They establish the recruiter as the buyer, giving you the option to determine if you’re interested in pursuing the candidate. If you’re the seller, the candidate makes this call, preventing you from getting referrals. With this opening requirement in mind, here are some referral generating techniques you can use the next time you’re on the phone with a top passive prospect.

Lou Adler’s Favorite Passive Candidate Recruiting Techniques – Numbers 10-15

  1. 1.The Cherry Picker. Once you determine the candidate is not suitable for your opening, it’s time to shift the conversation towards getting referrals. One way to get referrals is to just look at the person’s LinkedIn connections and ask the person who’s the best on the list. Cherry-pick a few of them based on title and company and ask the person to rank the person performance-wise. This is a great way to get a list of highly qualified referrals. Even if people are willing to provide referrals, most of them can’t think of anyone unless you remind them by mentioning specific names.

  2. 2.Network with Networkers. I like to talk to sales and business development people who might have sold products or services to potential candidates. These people are very willing to provide names since they might get new customers. For example, I’ve called software sales reps to find senior level IT people who had buying authority. This same technique can be used by contacting the target candidate’s likely customers, consultants, or those who provide professional services (e.g., lawyers, CPAs).

  3. 3.The Backdoor Approach. This technique involves finding people from other departments who would typically have worked with the target candidate. For example, people in sales and marketing always work with those in product development and finance/accounting. Calling these people and asking for the names of the best people they worked with at prior companies is an easy way to get some great referrals. You can combine this with the LinkedIn Cherry Picker technique to leverage these efforts.

  4. 4.The Slowdown. You don’t need to get referrals on the first call. If you’ve conducted a short evaluation of the prospect and have developed some reasonable rapport, you can call back sometime later to get referrals. One way to do this is to tell the candidate you’re a little concerned the person is too light (or too heavy), but want to review the person’s background with the hiring manager. When you call back, offer a nice pat on the back, with a solid reason why you can’t move forward at this time. Then immediately switch the conversation towards getting referrals. You can also combine the Slowdown with the Backdoor Approach to get referrals of people your prospect has worked with in other departments.

  5. 5.Pay It Forward. You need to nurture your network to keep it warm. One way to do this is to send a link to some professional article, offer interviewing or career advice even if you’re not working closely with the person, or offer to call the person if you hear about a job the person should check out, even if it’s not yours. If you keep this up, people in your network will soon go out of their way to provide you with some great referrals.

Getting high-quality referrals is the key to finding and placing top performers. LinkedIn and its corporate Recruiter version provide access to millions of names. To some degree this gives an advantage to those with access to the most of them. However, this advantage is short lived if you don’t make a point of expanding this network by getting more top referrals on every call. Calling a pre-qualified top person who will call you back is the real secret to recruiting passive candidates. My suggestion is to get 2-3 top quality referrals from every person who isn’t a serious candidate for the current search. Then spend most of your time calling these referrals, rather than calling people cold. This idea, in combination with the techniques presented here, will keep you at the top of any recruiting leaderboard.