Lou Adler’s Winning Formula for Recruiting Passive Candidates

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TrainsIf you’ve been in the industry for longer than 30 minutes, you know that recruiting passive candidates requires an entirely different strategy from whatever tactics you use with active applicants.

You also probably know that passive candidates are important because the best people don’t need to look for jobs the traditional way. Furthermore, when top candidates do happen to be actively looking, they’re only on the market for a brief period of time before some other lucky company snatches them up. How do you find them?

The answer is you probably don’t – unless you engage in proactive sourcing measures.

Proactive sourcing is a real investment, in terms of time and effort, but given the current market conditions, we all need to do it – and we need to do it well if we’re going to have a shot at landing great candidates.

In a recent webinar, recruiting visionary Lou Adler shared his winning approach to proactive sourcing. Recruiters would do well to listen to what he has to say:

1. Get the Candidate’s Permission

Recruiters set themselves up for rejection when they ask questions like, “Do you have a moment to talk about [position] at [company]?”

If the candidate isn’t actively seeking a job, the answer is likely “No.”

A more compelling way to frame the introductory question is by asking, “Would you be open to exploring a position if it were clearly superior to what you’re doing today?” This approach, Adler says, gets candidates to say “Yes” about 95 percent of the time.

2. Put Every Objection in the Parking Lot

You’ve bought yourself at least 10 minutes with the candidate – don’t spend all that time trying to handle their objections. When a candidate has a concern about the company or goes straight to compensation, put it in the parking lot.

Adler refuses to tStreetalk compensation or let candidates steer the first conversation. Instead, he handles objections by telling candidates that in order for this to be a good career opportunity, he has to give them at least a 30 percent non-monetary increase. That includes an increase in job stretch (literally a bigger job), job satisfaction (more work the candidate likes to do), and job growth (the ability to do, learn, and become more, faster than the candidate can at their current opportunity).

Under those conditions, ask the candidate if they’d be open to talking for 5-10 minutes. If the candidate says “Yes,” you’ve bought yourself more time to see if you can actually create that 30 percent non-monetary increase – the “opportunity gap” – you just talked about.

3. Create an Opportunity Gap

Now that you have the candidate’s permission, jump into their LinkedIn profile and ask them a few questions: “What do you like to do most? Why did you change from job A to job B? What have you been recognized for?”

Your goal in asking these discovery questions is to find out whether an opportunity gap even exists.

If it does, now you tell the candidate why your job does offer a career opportunity. Will they be managing more people? Will the scope of the job be wider than the one they do now? Is there more opportunity for growth?

Whatever the case, your job is to show the candidate that the role you have for them offers that 30 percent non-monetary increase mentioned above.

4. Get the Candidate to Sell to You

According to Adler, the key to good recruiting is to create such a compelling opportunity gap that you get the candidate to sell to you. A simple line like, “I’m a little bit concerned the management team might think this role is a little bit too big for you,” is enough to turn the tables and prompt the candidate to start proving themselves to you.

Once you have a passive candidate interested enough in a role that they’re willing to sell you on why they might be a fit, you’ve opened the door to the rest of the interview process.


ForestsDon’t expect this to work in a day. It can take weeks – even months – to build enough trust in you and excitement for your job for the candidate to be ready to make a move. Be patient, and be willing to work with the candidate to build a job that strikes the right balance between company needs and employee ambitions. That’s how you’ll have sourcing success.

Listen to the entire webinar with Adler for more on sourcing passive candidates, as well as the secret to cracking quality of hire through superior interviewing.

Read more in Recruiting Tips

Kiran Dhillon is the content marketing manager at Lever, a San Francisco-based startup that builds software to help businesses like Netflix, Yelp, and Lyft find and recruit top talent.