7 Simple Ways to Improve Passive Candidate Response Rates

If you’re a hard-pressed recruiter, there are some less-than-sunny statistics out there about passive candidate engagement.

LinkedIn puts typical response rates to InMail around 20-25%, which sounds like a decent benchmark. But is hearing from (not converting) 1 in 5 really good enough?

To us, the idea of honing your longlist of 50 prospects, in the cold knowledge that you won’t hear a word from 40 of them, is demoralising. We aim for deeper candidate engagement and we think you should too. That’s why we’re sharing our top 7 tips for maximising response from passive candidates.

1. Tailor your method to candidates’ behaviour.

Call, email or InMail? Your first big decision may be your most important. But in our experience, there is no one magic method for successfully engaging passive candidates. Your choice is dictated by the cultural and working habits of your target audience, e.g.

  • In India, we find it can be tricky to get past reception but people typically respond well to email/InMail.
  • Bankers tend to be too busy to respond to InMail but may well be at their desk to take a brief phone call.
  • In the UK Auto industry, people are rarely at their desks, so no one is even picking up the phones.

Use what you know about the role and the people you’re targeting to determine your method of approach.

2. Time your approach to perfection.

If you are emailing, avoid work hours. Hit inboxes when candidates have time to take in your offer. Research puts 6-7am and 8pm as the best times of day to be received, read and responded to.

3. Don’t be a recruiter. Be a networker.

‘Cold-calling recruitment consultant’ is not top of many people’s list of dream phone calls. If you’re phoning, subvert expectations up front by stressing that this isn’t a recruitment call; you’re following up a referral with an exploratory call. If their contacts are your contacts, you’re well connected and worth knowing.

4. Make every word count.

Don’t overload your approach with preamble – you’re just giving a candidate more time to prepare their ‘no’. While you won’t get a ‘yes’ on the first call, you can get a ‘hmm, interesting’. And ‘hmm, interesting’ is an itch that has to be scratched. So find the itching powder in your role. Distil its key selling point into an offer they can’t refuse. And only ever provide enough information to tantalise them into responding. Know when to stop.

5. Always be polite and personable.

It’s hard to connect with a cautious stranger, so get to know someone before you contact them. Use LinkedIn profile details like age, career history, places they’ve lived etc. to get a sense of the person behind the passive candidate. Knowing who you’re talking to, and taking an interest in what they say, makes a big difference. Politeness costs nothing, but it pays dividends.

6. Follow up, follow up, follow up.

Persistence pays too… up to a point. That point is usually* a clear and definite ‘no’. Until you get that no, the opportunity is still alive. And never forget that it isn’t just your opportunity. We recently dealt with a C-suite prospect who only agreed to a further talk incredibly reluctantly, but ended up taking a career-defining role. It took a big push from us to get him where he wanted to be.

(*Why usually? Because in Hong Kong banking, an initial ‘no’ isn’t always final. Cold calls are treated with suspicion, but a candidate often warms to you by the second or third call. Yet again culture is key… and knowledge is power!)

7. Be bold and make a date.

Your initial approach has one purpose only: to secure another opportunity to talk. If you’ve pitched it right and got your ‘hmm, interesting’, simply propose a time to discuss things further. Never end an email with a limp ‘Let me know if you’re interested’. Nail things down with ‘Can I call you at 7pm tomorrow to talk in more detail?’

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