Actively recruiting can be better than referrals
This article is based on one I originally published in BusinessWeek on Dec 9, 2009.
Hunting for the ideal job candidate? Ask any hiring managers and they will very likely give you a ranking system for would-be hires. Lower on the list are those actively looking for a job. High on the list are employee referrals.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to elicit employee referrals on a broad enough scale. First, employees know only so many quality candidates. Second, if you have a very rigorous hiring process, employees will be loath to refer people unless they are sure that person would get strong consideration.
What's a hiring manager to do, then? One way to get a steady flow of high-caliber applicants is to actively seek them out. Instead of only relying on employee referrals and active job-seekers, companies should spend more time identifying, nurturing, and recruiting so-called passive candidates, people who are perfectly happy in their current job but would move to a new company if they felt there was higher growth potential. While these candidates might not have the same qualifications as employee referrals, they can be found on a wider scale.
Recruiting passive candidates can be an involved and difficult process. Because passive candidates are not looking at job boards such as Craigslist and Monster.com, you need to think of creative ways to reach out to them directly.
Web Recruiting Strategies
My hunch is that at most companies, the mix of job applicants is something like 80% active candidates, 10% passive, and 10% referrals. A better mix would be 30% active, 60% passive, and 10% referrals. Here are some strategies for boosting your pool of passive candidates, using the Web and social media:
• Seek great people. Companies can seek out great people on sites such as LinkedIn, XING, and other professional social networks. These sites house millions of passive candidates and include tools that let would-be employers search for candidates by geography, skills, interests, and a host of other criteria. It may be time-consuming to message each person you consider a good candidate, but it is among the most effective strategies.
• Advertise to candidates. Instead of posting a job announcement that will only get read by active job-seekers, try to find passive candidates while they are surfing the Web. Google famously posted a candidate-seeking math puzzle on a billboard alongside the 101 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Those who don't have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on a billboard can advertise by purchasing keywords that possible candidates might be searching for online. For instance, my company, Rapleaf, is always looking for people who are interested in Hadoop, an open-source software framework that supports applications running across multiple, distributed computers. So we purchase ads that will appear when people search for keywords associated with Hadoop. The approach has helped us find qualified candidates.
• Continually remind great people. Once you find people and drive them to your careers page, you'll want to continue to remind them about your company. That's because most passive candidates who visit your careers page will only be browsing and won't submit a résumé. A great way to continue to remind passive candidates is through retargeted ads—ads that follow the passive candidate wherever she or he goes on the Internet (like on the Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, and CBS Sports). Rapleaf uses Retargeter.com, which helps you deliver ads to your site visitors as they navigate to other sites. It has huge reach because it works with Yahoo's Right Media, Google's DoubleClick, and Fox Interactive. (full disclosure: I am an investor in Retargeter.com.)
• Encourage others to refer candidates to you. Ask all your employees to put a footer in their e-mails reminding people that their company is hiring. My e-mail signature says "Note: we're hiring amazing engineers, BD people, and a star Ops person … refer a friend and get fully paid trip to Hawaii for two." Another great tool is to have employees use their status lines on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, and other social networks to let friends know their company is hiring. A great status update might be something like: "I love my job: come work with me" with a link to your careers site.
• Stay in touch with past applicants. You may also want to consider sending occasional newsletters or other communications to people who have applied in the past but, for one reason or another, didn't get the job. They may be just the right fit for a new opening, or they may at least know of a qualified candidate.
Ultimately, a company's best asset is its people, and filling open positions with top-notch people gives your company the best chance to continue to grow and innovate, which is especially important during these down times.
(special thanks to Michael Hsu for his help writing and editing this article)