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Semi-Active Candidates are Best Bets

Lou Adler

Recognize that there are four types of candidates. Each is
motivated by something different. That's why you must
understand the needs of your target audience to get them to
apply and then keep them involved:

Active candidates: These are the homeless. They'll do
anything to get a job. If you attract a lot of the homeless,
you know your boring advertising works. It's too hard to find
the best in this group.

Semi-active candidates: These are the under-employed
candidates who have jobs but want something better. They
look for new jobs on an irregular basis, usually when things
get tough at work. There are some great people in this
group. You can find them as described in this article.

Semi-passive candidates: These are top people who have
pretty good jobs, but also feel the pressure of downsizing.
They look very irregularly, but are hoping some recruiter will
call with something better. You find these candidates by
proactive networking (how you get them is revealed in the
offer below).

Passive candidates: These are the people who have very
good jobs and have to be lured away. The cost to attract
this person is too high and not worth it if you can find
someone equally good using some easier sourcing technique.

Semi-candidates only look now and then. They are strong people
with jobs, but are getting ready to jump if something better
comes along. They don't have the time to hunt down you job. You
must stick it in their face whenever they go online. You want to
hire these people, but you'll never get the chance if your current
recruitment advertising and applicant processing techniques aren't
designed with their needs in mind.

Why Does the Job Title Have To Be the Title of the Ad?

Now look at your current online advertising and the ad copy. Who
are you targeting: those who have nothing better to do then hunt
your ad down, or those discriminating semi-candidates who look
now and then?

Ad titles have to stand out. This is the first secret of attracting
the top semi-candidates. Look on Monster, Dice, HotJobs, and
CareerBuilder. Ninety-five percent of the ads are boring and
buried. They'll be read if they're alive and visible. Corny and long
helps. Here are a few titles we've used recently with great
success in attracting the discriminating semi-candidate:

"The Customer Service Manager's Job is for the Dogs" (This
was for a pet food distributor.)

"CEO — An Email from Your Staff, 12/31/2003" (The ad was
a future thank-you from the team for doing a great job.)

"Yeah, Baby, Yeah! This Entry-level Sales Job is Shagadelic"
(Used the day the Austin Powers movie "Goldmember"

You have to have guts to do this. Run blind ads if you want to
test the concept out. Compare the quality of the candidates from
a dull, boring ad and an exciting, compelling one. You'll have all
the proof you'll ever need to forever change your ways.

Engaging the candidates is the second step in semi-sourcing. You
don't want them to opt-out before they have a chance to apply.
Discriminating semi-candidates always have excuses: the job's not
me, not big enough, not compelling, wrong industry, wrong title,
etc. Your advertising and applicant processing methods must
anticipate and prevent these excuses from forming; otherwise the
best candidates will eliminate themselves from consideration.

Approximately 60% of you who started reading this article are
down to this part, because it held your interest. It appealed to
something you hoped would make you a better recruiter. If part of
your job isn't trying to source top candidates, you probably opted
out at the first paragraph. The article actually is more about
understanding human motivation than developing sourcing
strategies, so those readers who did opt out missed a great
learning experience. Too bad.

Some of you were about to opt out until you read that last
sentence. That's another important part of advertising. You must
keep the semi-candidate's interest throughout the recruitment
advertising piece, and then offer something the person will
respond to. For candidates, it's getting them to apply online and
fill in all the dumb forms and take the dumb screening tests. The
only candidates who do this willingly are the ones you don't want
to hire. The best candidates will only do it if it's worth it to them.

Treat semi-candidates the same way you want to be treated —
with respect, with understanding — and then make the
relationship fun. Treat semi-candidates as valued customers, not
as an annoyance. The best candidates don't need a job, they
want an opportunity. Describe the opportunity in the title. Then
make sure that 75% of your job description describes the
opportunity rather than listing skills and requirements. Boring ads
that are hard to find and simply list skills and requirements will not
attract top semi-candidates.

You must get these people to respond to your offer, so make sure
the application process is easy. The best is a minimalist
approach — just a name, email address, phone number, and a
pasted resume. Your ATS should then be able to rank order the
best candidates by reading the resume and using some algorithm,
bringing the best to the top (email me at
for help on this). Then make sure you call all of the hot
semi-candidates the same day they apply. If the job is compelling,
you can add some online screening (questionnaire, testing,
interviewing). But before you do this, start tracking your web stat
trends at each step in the process — read ad, read job
description, applied — so you can see the affect of any changes.
The opportunity represented by the job must always be greater
than the cost of applying, so you'll need to keep this in balance.
That's why the metrics are important.

Ninety percent of your sourcing programs should be targeting
semi-candidates. You'll attract their attention with great
advertising that's highly visible and compelling. Since they look
irregularly, you'll need to make sure your ads are always at the
top of page one on every job board. It's worth paying extra for
this. Make sure your systems are designed to put this candidate
at the top of the resume heap, and then you must call the
candidate within two hours of applying. Your ad copy must
describe opportunities, not list requirements. This is the only way
they'll even apply.

Evaluate everything you're now doing. How much is designed to
go after the active candidate? You can eliminate 50% of what you
now do if you redesign your hiring processes around the needs of
semi-candidates. That's what semi-sourcing is all about.


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