The Best Questions You Can Ask to Effectively Source and Recruit People by @GlenCathey

Oct 13, 2014
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Businessman in classic superman pose tearing his shirt open to rOver the years, I’ve had to develop and present sourcing strategies for a number of positions and projects, and what people seem to be looking for is a list of sites and sources (social networks, online communities, associations, user groups, conferences, companies, etc.) where the right talent is likely to be found, and the Boolean search strings, networking and phone work it will likely take to surface them.

However, I’d argue that while it’s important to know where and how you are going to try to find the right people, you must first truly understand not only what the right people look like, but perhaps more importantly, why they would consider leaving their current position and employer for yours.

I’ve always believed that sourcing/recruiting strategies begin with the intake meeting, and I was pleased to see Stacy Zapar write on the topic not too long ago. In fact, it inspired me to write this post, because I don’t see enough written on this critical subject matter. Thanks Stacy!

You can be the best Boolean string slinger/phone sourcing ninja/referral recruiting wizard in the world, but you can’t find and recruit the *right* people for a specific position, group, project, or manager if you don’t really know and understand what would constitute the right match in the first place.

As Stacy pointed out in her article, you first have to review and vet all required and desired skills, education and experience with the hiring manager/team, as it can be drastically different than what is listed in the job description.

Next, I recommend you ask the following 3 critical questions:

1. What can you tell me about the specific work this person/these people will be performing and who they would be working with?

Understanding what the person will be doing beyond the surface level of the job description, which unfortunately is typically high level boilerplate content from the HRMS/ATS, is absolutely critical in enabling you to find the right match, earn a higher response rate to your outreach efforts, effectively recruit passive talent, and elicit more referrals. In my opinion, required skills and experience coupled with a nonspecific overview of responsibilities tells you significantly less than half of the story you need to be able to tell people for them to give any serious thought to making a change from their current situation.

For example, if you were working on a position for a software engineer that required 4 years of experience in full life cycle software development using Java and Oracle, what would you be able to tell people when they asked you, “Can you tell me a little bit about what I’d be doing?”  How do you think potential (and passive!) candidates would respond if you paraphrased the job description (see actual example below)?

What could you say in your messaging about the opportunity that would make you stand out and earn a response from people that don’t need a job? In many cases, the people you’re messaging and trying to engage and recruit are also being messaged and recruited by others, and people who aren’t actively looking to make a change from their current situation don’t respond to every sourcer/recruiter who tries to contact them. Armed with only standard job description information that everyone uses, what could you say that would help them pick you out from all of the others – to know that your opportunity might actually be worth responding to?

If you asked the hiring manager/team about the specific nature of the work the person would be performing, you might be able to find out what the software they were developing was going to do and why it’s being developed (its purpose, the problems it’s going to solve, etc.), who was going to use it and why.

This may not seem like much, but in my career, I’ve found that having this level of information about any job was very helpful in crafting effective messages that stood apart from the generic majority, converting passive talent into interested candidates/applicants, and eliciting referrals. In a way, I’d say this level of information adds the 3rd dimension to many opportunities – it makes them more “real” – and it can really help you stand out from other recruiters and companies vying for the same talent who can’t tell people much beyond the job description in their system and/or a high level, generic description of the work from the hiring team.

Furthermore, the more specific information about the nature of the work associated with the role that you have, the more precise you can be in your sourcing efforts. For example, using the Java/Oracle software engineer example above, if you were able to discover that the team the person would be joining is responsible for developing next-generation biometrics solutions to be used by the TSA and FBI to identify possible terrorist threats, you could ask the hiring team if finding people with prior biometrics experience would be desired. If they answered, “yes,” then your initial sourcing efforts could be focused on people with prior biometrics experience – people who not only would be able to join the organization and add value to the team from day 1 due to their highly specific and applicable experience beyond the basic, high level requirements of the role, but also people who would be highly likely to respond to your initial outreach efforts and be interested in your opportunity simply because of how closely it aligns with their specific experience (software solutions leveraging biometrics). You likely already know the match for any position goes well beyond the generic job description and list of skills/experience needed – so make sure you extract the level of information you need to fully understand what would constitute the best match before constructing any sourcing strategies.

I’ve also found you can more effectively elicit referrals when leveraging this level of information, as you typically earn the respect of the people you’re trying to recruit due to the level of specificity/relevance to the potential candidate. It feels great when people say “I can see why you called me about this specific opportunity,” and if they aren’t in a position to make a move at the time, they are more likely to take efforts to help you find the right people because they trust that you know what you’re doing and believe you could actually help someone in their network.

I’ve given you the starting question – you will need to follow up with several other similarly open ended/exploratory questions based on your specific positions to really get at the heart of the opporutnity and help you understand what kind of experience you’re going to be looking for when sourcing for people, what information you can leverage when messaging people, how you can paint a clear picture for potential candidates to increase your chances of recruiting passive candidates who don’t need to make a change, and increase the probability of getting referrals because people would have a real sense of what they would be referring people for.

2. What does the future look like for this role/opportunity?

Changing jobs and employers is a major life event for most people and it can be quite stressful. This is especially true for people who don’t actually have to make a change, which I might remind you is the majority of the workforce. In order for people to even consider making a change, beyond getting a good sense of the current role you’re sourcing/recruiting for gained from question #1 above, it helps people to know what the future can hold for them once they’ve taken the leap of faith.

For example: What’s the typical career path for people in this role? What opportunities are there for advancement for people who perform very well? What does the future of the project/group/department/company look like in the next 1-5 years? If you can gather some statistics (e.g., “42% of the people we hire in this role typically move on to _______ within _______”) and real examples (e.g., “The last four people we hired into this team have been able to __________”), then you’re armed with even more powerful information.

When you’re predominantly engaging people who are already employed and likely to be (relatively) satisfied with their current situation, being able to paint a picture of what the future could hold for them if they were to consider making a change is very helpful in gaining the interest of passive talent.

3.  Why would someone who’s currently employed and doing a good job at another company consider leaving the comfort of their current employer and position to work for 1) you, 2) this role, and 3) this company?

I saved the best for last – this 3 part question is remarkably powerful. If you’re not already asking this question during your intake sessions, a couple of things might happen once you start.

First, you might not get very good answers when you ask them (or awkward silence!), simply because no one has ever framed up sourcing/recruiting this way for the hiring manager/team before. You may have to work with your hiring team to get them in the right mindset and understand that they need to help you construct a picture/story powerful enough to get people who aren’t looking to make a change to consider making a change for their specific opportunity. We’ve all heard how people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses – people want to work for good leaders, so your hiring manager/team could be a powerful reason why someone would want to come on board. Of course, if the hiring manager isn’t a good leader – you’ve got quite a challenge on your hands. 🙂

Second, you might get compliments (e.g., “Wow, those are some great questions!”). Yes, that’s happened several times to me and to the team members I’ve trained to ask those questions. Sure, it’s always nice to get compliments, but you’re the sourcing/recruiting professional, and you should be asking questions like these to help your hiring teams understand that in many cases, their company name and reputation isn’t enough to catch the interest of the best talent, especially those people who are already engaged in doing good work and getting paid well to do it a some other good company.

To be sure, some of the answers to question #3 might have already been answered when you asked questions #1 and #2 above, but certainly not all of them, and the more information you can get along these lines, the more effective you will be in getting responses, recruiting candidates, and eliciting referrals.

The real reason that these questions are so powerful is because they essentially answer the “why?” of your opportunity. Why should someone bother to respond to you when they don’t need or want to talk to a sourcer/recruiter? Why should they respond to you vs. all of the other people trying to recruit them? Why should someone consider becoming a candidate/applying for the position when they are already gainfully employed and enjoy their current role/employer? Why should someone would go out of their way to help you identify someone who could be qualified and interested (referrals).

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of all of the additional and critical questions you can ask during an intake meeting, but I do believe they are among the most powerful questions you can ask that will enable you to not only find the right people, but also successfully engage and recruit them, as well as generate more referrals.

Do you have some great questions that you use during your intake meetings to help you more effectively find, engage and recruit the right people? If you do, please share!

image credit: bigstock

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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