When Talent is Scarce, This is Where Recruiters Should Focus Their Efforts

When it comes to a recruiting strategy, I usually advocate a 40-40-20 sourcing mix. This means spending 40% of your time networking, 40% searching for candidates online and using campaign marketing to get them to respond to your messaging, and 20% of your time creating compelling job posts that are reverse engineered to be found by those who are looking.

However, in a talent scarcity situation – when the demand for talent exceeds the supply – this should be shifted to a 50-40-10 mix. That means more time networking and less time on job descriptions. Why do this? Because this is how you get referrals. 

Why recruiters should focus on referrals when talent is scarce

I was discussing this mix idea with the CEO of a small staffing agency in the UK the other day and asked him how his recruiters now spend their time. He told me it was more like 10-70-20 (less networking, more job posts). I told him he would either have to reduce his fees to stay in business or present too many candidates to get a person hired.

My contention is that the best candidates are those who have been referred – especially when talent supply is low. I call these people recruiter’s gold. Here’s why:

  1. They call you back 100% of the time.
  2. The call is more natural since the person is connected to a common acquaintance. Your first degree connections’ connections are referred to as weak acquaintances. Mining these weak connections is the sweet spot for top talent.
  3. You’ll only call people who are prequalified.
  4. You’ll only call people who are in the budget range.
  5. The person would see your opening as a career move by asking the referrer if the person would find the job a good move.
  6. The hiring manager is more likely to hire the person if the referrer is a trusted person in your company.

Given this extraordinary bundle of benefits, you need to ask yourself why a recruiter wouldn’t spend most of his/her time getting these types of referrals. The typical excuse is they don’t have enough time. The real reason is probably a lack of confidence or call reluctance.  

Regardless of the reason, here’s what I told the staffing agency CEO his recruiters need to do to get on the phone and start getting referrals.

1. Know the job

The job is what a person does, not what a person has in terms of skills and experiences. The difference in your opening and what the candidate is doing now represents the career opportunity. If you don’t know the job, you can’t figure this out.  

2. Partner with the hiring manager

If the person who first talks with a passive or referred candidate hasn’t personally met the hiring manager, the likelihood of convincing the prospect to seriously consider what you have to offer is unlikely. That’s why sourcers and recruiters need to be SWK – Someone Worth Knowing.

3. Be proactive about getting referrals

Cherry pick your connections’ connections using Clever Boolean to identify 2-3 top people. Then ask your connection if these people are as strong as they appear. Then mention the referrer’s name when reaching out to the prospects.

4. Sell the discussion, not the job

It takes hours over weeks for a passive candidate to decide if a job is a true move. The process starts by just exploring this possibility, not hustling your open job as an “awesome” opportunity.

5. Position a career move as a 30% increase

A career move needs to provide stretch, growth, improved satisfaction and more impact. Using this measuring stick as the basis of the discussion is a great way to focus on the future rather than the compensation.

6. Conduct discovery during the first call

When reviewing the candidate’s profile look for the 30% growth opportunity.

7. Set up a 2nd call to validate the 30% increase

Once I find 3-4 factors that could indicate a career move I describe these as reasons to have a second more in-depth call to validate them.

8. Use the goldilocks reposition to get more referrals

I tell candidates who are too strong that the open job is beneath their ability. I tell those who are too light that the job is too big a stretch. I then connect on LinkedIn and search on their connections for perfect referrals.

I can understand that cold calling is not fun. But calling referrals is not cold calling. While it’s not the same as a warm call pitching a job to someone you know, it’s darn close. More importantly, by spending more time with fewer high quality, referred candidates you’ll save time in the long run and improve quality of hire. In my mind, getting referrals is how all recruiters should be judged. This is the essence of recruiting and also it’s future. 

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