5 Ways to Dramatically Upgrade Candidate Outreach

As a business leader, it’s probably obvious that the Field of Dreams adage “If you build it, they will come”, while one of the most recognizable movie lines of all time, is very much a dream. Having a valuable product or service is not enough without a way to get it in front of the people who would be interested in the value it provides.

The same holds true for the opportunities you offer as an employer. You could have the most outstanding company culture, offer unparalleled benefits or pay 3x the salary of your competition, but if the people who you want to hire don’t know about the role, the results you see in terms of engaged applicants are going to be underwhelming at best.

Sourcing great talent is one component in what I call the 5 Components of High Performance Hiring, and it’s one to which most Employers dedicate insufficient attention & resources.

Download your FREE 5 Components of High Performance Hiring Cheatsheet

No matter the job market conditions, direct outreach is a critical Sourcing sub-component. If you want to hire people who are bright, hungry self-starters, and can make an impact early on, you’re going to be looking for people who are already gainfully employed and either passive job-seekers or not even thinking about new opportunities.


Implementing the following 5 Practices will dramatically upgrade the engagement you’ll see when you reach out directly to A+ Talent.
(Note: These practices & strategies are excerpts from my new book Hack Your Hiring: The Tactical Playbook to Find, Evaluate, and Hire A+ Talent, available now on Amazon.)

#1: Target Candidates Who Know a Colleague

When sourcing leads for recruiting outreach, target candidates who are connected on Facebook/LinkedIn/etc. to a current member of your staff.

In HIRED’s 2018 Employer Brand Survey, 45% of candidates said a primary reason they’ll engage with a company is if a friend or former colleague works there6t. So whether your colleagues put in the effort to provide referrals or not, it should not deter you from focusing your efforts on people they know and/or have worked with previously.

#2: Send Prospects a Free Gift

Empower Recruiters, Recruiting Researchers, & Recruiting Coordinators to send something of value to passive talent to get her engaged in the recruiting process. It can be something as simple as a link to an interesting article, video or product related to her discipline or area of expertise.

A-Players are already gun-shy when it comes to recruiting outreach, and it’s not surprising as to why. Most Managers and Recruiters initiate outreach the complete wrong way: By focusing on themselves. This “Look at me and my great opportunity” approach is a big turn-off to an uber-talented person who gets hassled about new opportunities on a weekly or even daily basis.

The gift you send does not need to be expensive or even have any material cost, as long as it provides value.

In addition to breaking the pattern of bad behavior and thus immediately getting her attention, you may trigger a concept known as The Reciprocity Principle. The Reciprocity Principle is a well-documented principle of persuasion. Simply put, people are obliged to give back to others when they receive a gift or service first to ensure the interaction is balanced.

#3: Send a Personalized Message

When initiating Outbound contact with a Prospect, reference specific details about her work history, current role or interests. Ask a targeted question about one of these areas that will entice her to reply.

Recruiters & Hiring Managers have a tendency to play the numbers game when it comes to candidate outreach, relying on templates and form letters for the bulk of their communication. In a candidate-driven market, the key to grabbing an A-Player’s attention is to make her feel special, like she’s not just another number. If you can convey to her that you did your homework and that you want to learn more about her unique experiences & interests, she’s far more likely to engage.

#4: Focus on HER Interests, Not Yours

When Sourcing passive candidates, spend the majority of the time asking about their current challenges and career goals, and then genuinely listening to their responses.

Everyone loves talking about their favorite subject: Themselves.

By asking simple, targeted questions about a job-seeker’s current & desired career conditions, you get them to open up and connect with you. Now that you’ve established a genuine connection, she’s more likely to become and stay engaged in your recruiting process.

NOTE: This is a great strategy for outbound sourcing, when candidates haven’t yet indicated interest in your or your opportunity. It can, however, also be useful with those who have already applied for the role.

#5: Share Salary Up Front

Whether it’s posted with your position description on job boards, or you keep it handy when having initial conversations with potential candidates, be transparent in letting them know what the salary range is for the role, as well as additional benefits the company offers (both material & intangible).

Compensation is consistently rated as one the top 3 reasons people decide to look for new opportunities. HIRED reports that 62% of candidates said a primary reason they’ll engage with a company is when they get the salary range up-front.

By sharing compensation details (salary, benefits, perks) early in the process, job-seekers will be able to decide if the salary range is aligned with their expectations.
Employers who go out of their way to obscure salary set themselves up for failure from the start, as they waste time evaluating candidates they can’t afford. And since platforms like Glassdoor allow current & former employees to submit their salary information that will then be shared publicly, why try to hide it?

I know from years of experience how frustrating it can be trying to fill open positions with awesome, talented people. My years as an executive — constantly dealing with the needs of a growing business and backfilling outgoing team members — served as an outstanding education.

Hopefully you’ll start to implement practices like the ones above and create real transformation in your hiring efforts. These practices are literally just the tip of the spear. You’ll get over 15x additional value when you pick up your copy of Hack Your Hiring on Amazon. Until then, Happy Hunting and Happy Hiring!

Lessons From HIRED on Candidate Outreach

The first week of October came and went, recently, and with it Austin Startup Week 2018. In years past, I was so hyper-focused on the responsibilities as an employee in the Austin startup scene that I rarely took advantage of the hundreds of panels, speakers and events that were available.

This year, being self-employed afforded the opportunity to grant myself permission to fully participate. In addition to (hopefully) providing value in my own talk — Engineering Excellence: Best Practices of High-Performing Teams — I got to spend at least a little time attending a handful of sessions.

One of the sessions in the HR and Culture track was especially attractive, given a focus & obsession I have to help growing companies attract, acquire & retain the type of talent they need to grow and succeed. It was a panel discussion titled Your Employer Brand: Strategies that Attract Top Tech Talent, hosted at Walmart Tech and sponsored by HIRED.

The supplemental materials provided by the sponsor included their 2018 Global Brand Health Report, a 51-page booklet where “Tech workers reveal the companies they want to work for and what they value in a job offer.”

The Report, while brief, provided a ton of useful data and insights. What follows are just a few takeaways that could be valuable for any employer, regardless of size or industry.

Prologue: We’re [ALL] Hiring

It’s safe to say that nearly every organization has one or more open positions at the moment. If your company is growing, you’re hiring. If your growth has leveled-off, you’ve probably lost a couple team members to new opportunities, so you’re trying to backfill those positions. If you’re in the uncomfortable position of being a business on the decline, you could very well have the most urgent hiring needs out of anyone.

At last measurement in September, unemployment in the U.S. was reported at around 3.7%. Rather than get into how unemployment rates, inflation, wage hikes and other factors all impact one another, it’s best to understand that 3.7% unemployment is the lowest rate in nearly 50 years.

Point is: The Job Market is TIGHT, which means you as an employer need to at least consider anything that can provide a competitive advantage. While I knew some of these things at the time, I wish I’d had all of this information when I was fighting the good fight as a hiring manager.

Insights for Successful Outreach (AKA “Outbound Sales for HR”)

Due to these “Full Employment” conditions, any company who is aggressively staffing-up must be reaching out to job-seekers in a variety of ways if they hope to be successful. So what contributes to successful outreach? Some of the things that make candidates most likely to engage with your company include when:

  1. You disclose Salary information up-front
    More and more employers provide some level of transparent compensation data to their employees, so why not extend that information to job-seekers? There are dozens of websites reporting industry averages and even reported salaries from your company’s current and former employees across a variety of positions. A lot of times, that data is outdated or even simply inaccurate. You might as well set the record straight with potential candidates. At best, they find the transparency refreshing and the salary range attractive enough to engage. At worst, you lose the interest of someone who would eventually turn down your opportunity on the basis of salary, and you’ve just saved a bunch of people hours of their time.

     Reach out prepared with the full package of compensation and benefits, so the talent you’re so interested in has a fullunderstanding of what you offer.

  2. You clearly communicate work experience expectations
    There’s a reason the term “Passive job-seekers” exists: They’re not engaged in the time- and focus-commitment that’s required of actively considering new opportunities. So when they are attracted to a new opportunity, they want to be as confident as possible that they’re a fit on paper. Does “5–7 years Java experience” really mean 5–7 years, or is it negotiable if they have some other valuable and hard-to-find expertise?

     Before contacting talent, get crystal clear with hiring managers on what skills (and skill-levels) are completely non-negotiable, and where there might be some wiggle room. Also, work with hiring managers to better describe the degree of expertise they want for each skill. If you’ve ever met someone with 10 years experience who reallyhad the same 1 year of experience for 10 straight years, you’ll know what I mean.
  3. They receive a personalized message
    I’ll keep saying this to anyone who’ll listen: Recruiting and Dating are basically the same thing (Seriously, the parallels are astounding and a little bit depressing). And, as it is in Dating, nobody wants to feel like another faceless name — or is it nameless face? — in some soulless numbers game. They want to feel special, like they’re the prettiest girl at this dance. The least you can do is communicate with them like they’re a human being.

     Do your research. At minimum, find out one or two remotely interesting things, even if it’s just about their alma mater, the length of tenure, or the series of promotions they received at their current gig. Ask them a question outside of whether they’re “currently considering new opportunities.”
  4. They recognize the company name
    In another post, I’ll outline a few turn-offs that revolve around company product & mission. For now, though, it’s a pretty low bar for a candidate to say, “I’ll talk to you if I’ve heard OF the company.”

    RECOMMENDATION: Increase company visibility in the local community and on social media. Sponsor industry and community events. For a few hundred dollars you could overcome the most basic of hurdles that could keep a job-seeker from engaging with you.

  5. They know a friend or former colleague who works at your company
    That we live in the most connected time in history should surprise no one. And in a tight job economy, the best talent is only going to leave the comfort and security of their current job if they greatly minimize their own risk. Part of the research they do on a new suitor (that’s you) is going to include tapping their network for the inside scoop on your organization.
    RECOMMENDATION: Focus the bulk of your efforts on talent who has some kind of connection to your company, even if they’re 2 or 3 degrees from Kevin Bacon himself.

In summary, there are a lot of wrong ways to operate as an employer, staffing firm or recruiting agency when it comes to candidate outreach. Perhaps, if you can focus first on doing the things that talent likes, you won’t have to rely so much on the cringe-inducing tactics that make candidates want to avoid “playing the field” for the rest of time.