Say Anything: What the 80s Can Teach Us About Candidate Engagement

I_Love_80s-FrontalYou’ve finished a thorough intake with your hiring manager.  You’ve done your homework, and you’re aware who you’re competing against, how much they’re paying and what companies you should be targeting.  You’ve even developed a short list of prospective candidates to target after a couple quick searches.  Nice.

But if you think you’re done with sourcing, think again.

You can talk the talk.  You even have the audience you’re talking to.  But can you get them to listen – and actually respond?

The one lesson I probably picked up on the fastest when I first started sourcing is that finding talent is really only half of the battle.  It’s engaging that talent and actually converting your prospects into candidates that’s the real deal breaker.

To be great at sourcing or recruiting, you’ve got to think like a marketer.  In marketing, the only metric that matters is conversion.  In recruiting, conversion means hires.

It’s really that simple.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. But I’m not going to get up on my soapbox and delve into the “theory” behind this statement.  I want to take a step back and look at the basics of candidate engagement.  Because we can all agree, you can’t hire people without actually talking to them.

Careless Whisper

whamThe templates sing like sirens on the rocks – calling out to you, begging you to give in and take the easy way out.  It’s tempting; you’ve got like 15 reqs you’re working on this week alone, which means a whole lot of candidates and clients to juggle, a whole lot of processes to manage and even more pressure to get the roles filled and filled quickly.

But even when you’re too busy to breathe, and the concept of a lunch hour has become completely alien to you (along with your social life) – every recruiter has had those moments – even then, please.  Avoid sending bulk e-mails in masse or similarly targeting your network with whatever spam technique you can think of (like always). Don’t be that guy.

I know. Your inner recruiter is telling you that you don’t have time to do anything but the bare minimum, and that these kind of tactics might not be the most effective, but they’re better than nothing.  The thing is, the easy road does not lead to greatness.  Those messages you keep sending out are awful.

Not that anyone’s actually reading them to know better – which is probably a good thing, since it avoids pissing everyone off by actually hitting their inbox. Instead, even the most outdated and ineffective e-mail client (looking at you, Outlook) will immediately relegate these messages straight to a spam folder, next to e-mails from Nigerian Princes asking for bridge loans or ads for generic Viagra written in Russian.

A few, unfortunately, slide by – and if you’ve ever made the mistake of opening one, you know that they read about as well as instructions from Ikea or the user manual for your SonicCare toothbrush. I’d venture to guess that the only people who even open these sends that somehow snuck past the junk mail filters are just as junky as the copy inside.  The kinds of candidates so desperate for a job they’ll do anything – including reading your spam in the first place.

This begs the question: is that really the kind of candidate you want?

Don’t You Want Me Baby?

Human-League-Dont-You-Want-MeHands down, the best way to actually connect with a candidate is to do so directly, with a message that’s customized and targeted specifically for them, and actually speaks to their professional expertise and experience.  The best way to do this, of course, is by doing something that’s kind of revolutionary for recruiters.  It’s called being interesting.

You’ll never hear back if you’re boring.

Your candidate communication has to be attention grabbing. They have to be compelling. And they have to say just enough to leave the candidate wanting to know more. It’s a whole lot harder than sending spam, sure. But it’s a hell of a lot more effective.

Let’s start where your candidate does: at the subject line. A great subject line is key. It’s got to say something to speak to the prospect’s background, experience or personality – the kind of stuff you can clean from viewing their resume, social media profiles or even a blog post or publication they’ve written.

Don’t overthink it – just do it. Start writing.

Here are some sample subject lines to show you what I’m talking about:

“Let’s Book A Little FaceTime to Talk About Tech.” for a target lead who works at Apple

“Saw your code. You’re doing some pretty amazing stuff.” for a candidate sourced from Github

“Congrats on the New Gig. How’s It Going?” for a recent hire who be second guessing their choice

You see where I’m going. Actually say something a real human would respond to. Weird, right?

Let’s take it to a whole other level. Here’s a crazy idea – people like jokes. You should tell one. Here’s a real one I sent in a message to a developer (who, by the way, got back to me):

Subject: What’s the best way to pay a Product Manager?
Body: Amex. They love taking credit for things.

Boom! Get it? Come on, it’s not so bad – or maybe it’s so bad it’s good – but either way, assuming they’re not looking for a PM job, then they’re going to at least remember you when you follow up with a call, like all good recruiters do. Most (from my experience) will actually respond to your original message. As hard as it might be for most of you to believe.

But that’s not the point right now. The point is to just get them to click “open” instead of deleting the message entirely. You can’t read what you don’t open, so do whatever it takes. Be cheezy. Be witty. Be self-deprecating. Just be authentically you (unless you really drink your company Kool-Aid or think your company’s recruitment scripts really work. Then you need a full reboot altogether).

Tainted Love

There are a few recurring, common mistakes that virtually guarantee your e-mail will get red flagged as recruiter spam – so use these tips to avoid getting sent straight to the junk folder:

  • Make sure the account you’re sending the message from has a full first and last name
  • Avoid overly complex HTML or any graphic-based templates whenever possible
  • Include a signature line with your name, title and a real, direct phone number.

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This

sweet dreamsOnce you get the prospect to open the e-mail, good news – you’re halfway there. Start off by apologizing for whatever cheezy subject line you used; you’ll always win points when they realize they’ve gotten trapped into reading a recruiter message. Then, try on one or more of these on them – they work like a charm.

Flattery: Start laying on the superlatives about their stellar background, superior skills, and all around awesomeness. The fact that you are reaching out to them is a big deal – you’re like nervous you’re such a huge fan of their work. They rock.

Commonality: Mention common connections, hobbies, volunteer affiliations, that you went to the same school (even if you actually didn’t). Anywhere you find common ground, stomp on it. It means that you not only took time to read their profile, but you’re like them – and you’re not just a recruiter, but a real person who’s like them, in some weird way.

Draw Them In: When it makes sense, subtly lay in a few lines about the creative and kick ass stuff that your company’s currently working on.

Then, do what you do best. Somehow, let it out there that you’d like to have a conversation about what they want out of a job (not about what you’re looking for to fill your job).  Ask them about their background, tell them you think that there might be something there, praise their accomplishments while peppering in a few of your company’s.  Make it mutually beneficial.

Keep your message short and sweet. The only goal is to get a response. Even if that response is that they’re not interested (right now), you still win, because if you can successfully start a conversation, you’ll not only make a new contact, but possibly, a new referral source.

Don’t Stand So Close To Me

dont standOne short caveat – don’t ask for referrals right off the bat during any initial contact. Trust me, if they take the time to read about the job, and they know someone who’s a fit who’s looking for a job…THEY WILL LET YOU KNOW. But now is not the right time – wait until you get to know them a little better – and they know you well enough to know they can trust you.

Why would you ever refer someone you know to someone you don’t?

Stupid, right? Yet, that still doesn’t seem to stop recruiters for asking for referrals from people they don’t know – which might, in fact, be even dumber. Here’s a trick that I’ve used that seems to work well for me – I ditch my company account and e-mail potential candidates from my personal Gmail.

Chrome extensions like Connectifier, Connect6 or Prophet make it much easier to grab personal e-mails straight off of social profiles.

That way, instead of some formatted Outlook e-mail with an overly elaborate HTML-only e-mail signature, you’ll send a personal e-mail to another person’s e-mail. Just like in the olden days, when we were still actually excited to get a message in our inboxes or before Grandma started tagging you in every Facebook post she ever put up. Just go with me here. Old school still works. Especially when it comes to candidate engagement.

Again: when using personal e-mail, you’ve still got to have some sort of signature. For example, think about including URLs to your LinkedIn or About.me profiles (both networks offer DIY signature tools). Include your name, your title and your direct phone number. It’s important to immediately show that you’re a “real person” with real credentials. Which always comes in handy later on.

867-5309 (You Got It)

jennyAnother idea: step away from the screen and pick up the phone. Enough with the e-mails, the instant messages, the texts, the DMs, take out the whole heap of digital garbage. Roll up your sleeves and actually call some folks.

I know what you’re thinking: yeah, right. No candidate wants to get a phone call. News flash: you’re wrong. Actually, these days, most people don’t even expect you’ll ever try them on the phone – and will actually be more likely to be receptive when you do. This works to your advantage, because once you can connect with a candidate via voice, you’re light years ahead when it comes to building a relationship.

Relationships are what recruiting and sourcing are all about – and always will be.

OK, so they might not pick up the phone the first time. But leave a short voicemail, and try them again – if the first call was at lunch time, maybe you’ll have better luck when they first get into the office at 7:30 (9:30, if they’re in tech).

If that still doesn’t work, try calling around 10:30 or 2:30, which is normally right around when meetings are wrapping up and they get a chance to get back to their desks for a quick breather.

Another great time to try on the phone: 6:30-7:30 PM. This is when most people are starting to leave the office or stuck in traffic on the way home. Hell, they may be on the train or headed to the gym or even for a quick drink after a particularly lousy meeting with their boss. This is, in fact, often when they’re their most receptive – and this is the real power of mobile recruiting.

Heck, you can always try a Saturday. Yeah, it sucks, but you can be sure your competitors aren’t calling then – or if they are, and you aren’t, you lose. It’s a good way to get your boss to give you some flexible working hours during the rest of the week, and most will let you try it for a week or two. It works, so if you’re not seeing results for a couple of weeks, don’t worry.

Weekends are one of the best times to get through the noise and actually connect with a candidate

Let’s Hear It For The Boy (or Girl)

hear itAlright, so you’ve tried everything. But you still haven’t heard back after your highly targeted e-mail,the couple cold calls and voice mails you left, and maybe a tweet for good measure. By the way, don’t overdo it – 3 contact attempts should be about as many as you should try if you don’t want to come across as some sort of psycho. No recruiter wants a restraining order (though many deserve one).

If they don’t get back to you right away, don’t worry. Your day will come. Maybe it wasn’t the best time. Maybe your message got lost in a spam folder or accidentally archived.

But some day, the candidate will decide that they’ve had it with their crappy job and annoying boss, and they’ll search through their contacts and inbox to see what recruiters have contacted them.

They’ll even look for those robo-recruitment messages. But your message, brimming with personality, your contact details, and sent by an actual person, are bound to stand out. And you’ll be the first call they’ll make.

Or maybe they won’t even call. Maybe they’ll see that link to join your talent network next to the copy of the (no longer) open job you originally e-mailed them about. And they will engage with you. You know they will.And you’ll be waiting – and you’ll actually connect with a candidate.

That’s what it takes to be a winner in recruiting. Only losers use spam.

23a2306About the Author: Nathan Vance is a talent acquisition strategist, sourcer, and blogger who believes everyone has the right to follow their passions and have meaningful careers.

Ever since he faced down the washing machine in his Japanese dorm armed only with a pile of laundry and a Kanji dictionary, he’s been tackling tough problems in innovative ways. His nine-year career in Talent Acquisition began at an internet start-up. He has gone on to use his customer-focused approach and marketing savvy to advise major tech, telecommunications, and aerospace & defense companies on how to identify and engage with top talent.

He currently sits on the Programs Committee for the Chicago USBLN and volunteers for The Lakeview Pantry.

Follow Nathan on Twitter at@nathansourcesor connect with him on LinkedIn.




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