The Adler Group - Performance-based Hiring
Performance-based Hiring - A systematic process for hiring top talent

10 Ways to Increase Candidate Quality in Tough Economic Times

Here's a basic truism that's even more true in tough economic times: hire the best people you can, and don't ever compromise. Ever.  

Hiring top performers should be the ultimate measure of a recruiter's performance, and one of the top 2-3 for a hiring manager. This is difficult to pull off for a number of reasons. For one, candidate quality is not typically measured on an on-going basis, so it's hard to pin down the source or the reasons for success or failure. Worse, in economic slowdowns there are more people looking, and the best who are fully-employed hunker down and are more difficult to pull out of their relatively safe harbors. Regardless, the goal of increasing candidate quality should not be comprised. With this in mind, here some things you can do to improve the overall level of candidate quality, both in good times and bad::

  1. Forget active vs. passive as a measure of quality. There are some great active candidates, and some bad passive candidates, so whether someone is looking or not should not be a measure of quality. Regardless, if you're targeting top active candidates, youre objective is to find them on "day one." This is the day they decided to start looking. If you wait a week or two, or later, it's too late to consistently hire the best of the active group. If you're hiring passive candidates, you must have three things – very strong recruiters, involved hiring managers, and a compelling offer. Without these, don't bother targeting passive candidates, since this is what it takes to hire the best of them.

  2. Implement a "Day One" sourcing strategy to find the best active candidates. The best active candidates looking for high-demand positions typically get a few solid job leads within 2-3 weeks after starting to look. Since it's tough to attract the attention of these people once they get serious about something else, getting to them first is an important sourcing strategy. Proactive networking either through your recruiters or employees is part of this. Good people tend to call their close contacts once they decide to look, so getting them to call you first is vitally important.  The online advertising equivalent to "call me first" is "find me first." This means your ads have to be on the top of the list whether the candidate Googles for a job (e.g., searching on something like "jobs Dallas tech sales") or uses an aggregator like (Check out our free sourcing webinars for more on implementing this type of Early-Bird sourcing strategy.)

  3. Create WOW! job descriptions. Without a great job with strong upside and a chance to make an impact, you won't hire any great people, unless your employer brand is overwhelming. Traditional job descriptions emphasizing skills and experience requirements with a boilerplate description of your company won't attract anyone good in the early stages of a job hunt. If you want to hire the stars in this group you'll need a compelling title and a description of the big job challenges at the beginning of the ad. Then describe the impact the person can make and the importance of the job to the company. To tie the paragraphs together, use words and messages that appeal to your target demographic. Put the minimum level of skills into the last paragraph. This is the type of advertising active candidates need to see first to separate you from the competition. Good people will be attracted to this type of targeted advertising. (Email if you'd like us to prepare a free sample of this for one of your open jobs. Check out our outrageous ad contest details for more examples of great advertising.)

  4. Make your offers visible. Active candidates who are casually looking need to be able to find your ad with minimal effort. This requires Web 2.0 and sophisticated search engine marketing techniques to get your ad to the top of the list. (Here's some info on how to do this.) As part of this consider non-generic titles, appropriate keywords, URLs that can be found, and meaningful meta tags. Next, you'll need to push your ads to the blogs, social networks, and niche sites your candidate is likely to visit. Make sure you don't miss any of our sourcing summit webinars so you can stay on top of these trends. To see where you stand now from a visibility perspective, send an email to is an aggregator of job boards and career sites, and in addition to Google is the starting point for most good people when they begin looking.

  5. Forget the money, sell the opportunity. When you ask top people why they accepted one job over another you'll usually get a variety of factors including opportunity, security, appealing nature of the work, a chance to learn, the team, the manager, the company, the culture, and work/life balance. Rarely will compensation be first. Yet when you first talk to a prospect, whether active or passive, compensation tends to be the primary consideration to even start the discussion. We train recruiters how to smoothly shift the conversation from compensation to career growth in our Recruiter Boot Camp program, but you'll want to check out this article if you want to find out how to handle this right away.

  6. Don't sell the job, sell the next step. For a top person with multiple opportunities, it takes days (sometimes weeks) to properly evaluate all aspects of the job. When targeting top performers who are passive, recognize that changing jobs involves a multi-factor decision process addressing all of the short- and long-term factors noted in the point above. To meet their needs, hiring managers and recruiters need to work in tandem, providing candidates a means to collect this information in a series of phone calls and meetings. This could involve exploratory discussions, a few phone calls, or even a preliminary screening interview. It's much easier getting a candidate to say "yes" if you're asking the person to spend 30-45 minutes to determine if your job opening represents a significant long-term career opportunity, rather than if they want to be an assistant controller in Iowa for a grain company at $95k. Unsophisticated recruiters push the end-game too soon, forgetting that it takes a series of information gathering discussions before a good person will get serious.

  7. Implement "just looking" opportunities. Information gathering is the first thing most top people do when just beginning a search for an opportunity. Unfortunately, most job boards and career web sites require candidates to formally apply before any serious discussion can begin. Breaking this paradigm and offering prospects a chance to "just look" will result in a huge increase in candidate flow. This requires a sequenced series of steps that allows candidates to engage more deeply with you and your company at each step. Some of these initial steps might include an IM chat with a recruiter or hiring manager, a 20-minute "no-holds-barred" discussion, or an online webinar. Eventually, you'll want to implement a formal process addressing each step in the process from first contact to offer presentation and close.

  8. Overcome early resistance with preplanned rebuttals. All good candidates, whether they're active or passive, all want to know about the money, the location, the title, some of the project details, the benefits package, and the chance for growth before they get interested. Good recruiters need to flip this around and get them interested first. This is what applicant control is all about, and you won't hire many top people if you don't know how to maintain applicant control throughout the hiring process. Part of pulling this off requires that you be vague about the titles and compensation, and use the idea of getting information about potential career moves as the draw to maintain interest.

  9. Get the candidate to sell you. You'll never increase the quality of the candidates you hire if you're trying to sell them. You might get a few by paying unnecessary salary premiums, but this should not be a long-term solution. Instead, you need to get candidates to sell you on why they're qualified for the career opportunity you're offering. This is why our Two-question Performance-based Interview is so useful. Most people mistakenly think the primary purpose of the interview is to assess competency. While important, when targeting top people, the main purpose of the interview is to look for voids and gaps in the candidate's background. If these voids and gaps aren't too big, then they represent great career moves and can be used to offset the need for a significant salary increase. For example, suggesting to the candidate that she is a bit light on management and team development skills because your department is bigger will require her to convince you she's got the right stuff. In the process of convincing you, she's also selling herself (and her advisors) on why your job represents a great career move despite only a modest increase.

  10. Get 2-3 prequalified referrals per call. If you do everything suggested here, you'll be able to finally accomplish the absolute best way of increasing candidate quality – getting highly qualified referred candidates. You'll get more callbacks if you mention the person who referred you, and if you limit your calls to only top people, you'll waste less time. Getting great referrals is both art and science, and without a strong relationship you won't get a single decent referral. Many of the ideas presented above describe how to engage with people, keep their interest, and share information. If the candidate is not a perfect fit, then ask her for the names of some of the best people she's ever worked with in the past who might be worth talking to, whether they're looking or not. Once you get the name and title, make sure you find out why the referred person is top notch. Then when you call these people mention the referrer's name and ask them if they'd be interested in exploring an opportunity if it was superior to their current situation.

As long as you follow the rules described above, you'll capture your candidates' interest, keep them engaged, and either present them as a potential candidate, or get more top referrals. (We offer a training program describing how to do this.)

Hiring top performers requires that you first understand how they look for new opportunities, gather information comparing opportunities, and then how they decide to accept one job or another. With this information you can then design every aspect of your recruiting and hiring processes to address these needs. Being first to find them and allowing them to just look are essential components. When you make hiring the best the foundation of the rules for hiring, rather than the exceptions, you'll be on your way to increasing the number of top people you hire, whether the economy is in the tank or growing like wildfire.

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