Attracting Passive Candidates

If all it took to attract top talent was posting on a job board, staffing firms would be out of business. Recruiters provide value to their clients by giving them access to passive candidates. Candidates that aren’t necessarily actively looking for their next role but are open to the right opportunity if it comes along.

Barbara Bruno, owner of Good as Gold Training, says that across the US, companies spend $2.5 billion on job boards. And yet, those postings only get the attention of 15% of the workforce. A recruiter’s job is to deliver the best of the other 85% to their clients.


Doing that is tougher than ever. Top candidates are growing cynical about recruiters. Endless InMails, emails, and voicemails all pitching the ‘best job’ for them … before even having a conversation with that candidate. These poor experiences have left too many candidates with the perception that recruiters are all alike, they’re not honest, and they only care about filling the job to collect their fee.

Current Candidate Realities

The fix? According to Bruno, it’s better relationships. “Recruiting has been, is, and always will be a relationship building process,” she says. “And you can’t build a relationship through technology alone.”

In a recent webinar presentation to TechServe members, Bruno walked through her recommendations for sourcing, contacting, and building relationships with passive candidates.

Sourcing passive candidates

Bruno doesn’t typically post jobs on job boards, and she doesn’t see the ROI in paid candidate resources. Instead, she recommends techniques that are free, and produce better results.

    • Market research

Meet your candidates where they are. Talk to them to better understand how they’re targeting their searches for new opportunities, and where they go to find them. Get to know what factors excite them about companies and jobs.

    • LinkedIn groups

Join the LinkedIn groups that your candidates are involved in. Once you’re there, engage! Be active on the platform, sharing content that positions you as a specialist in their industry, and a valuable resource to them.

    • Referrals

If you’ve been in the recruiting business for more than 18 months, Bruno says, 40% of your candidates should come from referrals. “If you treat candidates well, and provide value to them, you’ll even get referrals from candidates that you don’t place. How much easier would your job be if 40% of the people you place came from a referral?” Ask every single person you speak with for recommendations.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to ask, Bruno stresses. “If anyone ever tells you ‘I don’t know anyone,’ you’ve asked the wrong question.” The right question: ‘Who is the best [title] you know from your previous place of employment?’ Most candidates are reluctant to recommend current co-workers. Not so with colleagues from previous jobs.

    • Redeployment

For successful firms, 50% or more of their candidates are redeployed after each contract. If your ratio is lower, consider adding steps to your process. Specifically, Bruno recommends consistently contacting every candidate several months before the end of their current contract to help them prepare for the transition and be in position to find them their next opportunity. To act, as Bruno puts it, as their ‘Lifetime Career Agent.’

    • Content marketing

In addition to sharing valuable content on LinkedIn, look to your database of candidates as a marketing vehicle. Share articles with candidates, along with current opportunities you’re working to fill. Candidates will share that information with other people they know, helping position your company as a resource for them in their career, and deepening your candidate pool.

Emails and InMails that get replies

According to LinkedIn, Bruno says, 82% of emails are deleted before they’re even opened. To avoid having your messages end up in the trash, the key is a unique subject line. A generic ‘Job opportunity’ won’t cut it. If you want your prospect to read the content of your email, you need a well-crafted subject line, between six and ten words long, to capture their attention.

Once the emails are opened, a recruiter also needs a message that gets a response from the candidate. Bruno shared two of her top-performing email (or InMail) messages that get replies.

  • Message #1
    In the past [number of months], I’ve helped [number] of [job titles] advance in their career and would love to understand what you see yourself doing next. When would it be most convenient for us to connect?
  • Message #2
    I ask every person I interview who was the best [job title] from their last place of employment, and that’s how I obtained your name. I help individuals advance in their career and would love to learn what is most important to you at this point in your career. When would it be convenient for us to talk?
Voicemails that get returned

According to Bruno, many recruiters default to email and LinkedIn messages because they believe candidates aren’t willing to talk on the phone. Not so, says Bruno. While only about 5% of voicemails are returned, it’s because of poorly crafted messages. During the webinar, she shared her script for a voicemail message that gets a call back.

    • Voicemail Script

My name is [name] and my number is [number]. Someone suggested we talk. When you call me back, please tell whoever answers the phone to interrupt me, no matter what I’m doing, so I don’t miss your call. I look forward to our conversation. Again, my number is [number]. Have a great day, thanks!”

There are reasons why this voicemail is returned:

Bruno says that this script works for four reasons. Telling them that you want to be interrupted for their call makes them feel important. The message makes it clear that you’re very interested in talking. It prompts curiosity, making them wonder who suggested that you call. And most of all, the message doesn’t sound like it’s from a salesperson.

Recruiting conversations that get results

When a candidate does call back (or if a recruiter is fortunate enough to reach them personally on the phone), the next step is an introduction that starts to build a relationship. At this point, Bruno stresses, the conversation shouldn’t be about ‘WWD’ – What We Do. The recruiter also shouldn’t promise that they have the ‘perfect job’ for the candidate. There’s no way to know that without first having a conversation.

Instead, the introduction should show the candidate how you’ve helped other people just like them. That kind of introduction opens the door to a broader conversation about their career goals.

Bruno shared three scripts for introduction calls that work.

    • Call Script #1

Good morning/afternoon. My name is [name] and I represent the best IT employers in [area]. In the past few months, we’ve helped several outstanding [job] contractors with similar experience to yours advance their career. They’re doing extremely well, which is why I’m reaching out to you. When would it be most convenient to discuss what’s most important to you in the next contract you accept?

    • Call Script #2

Good morning/afternoon. My name is [name]. I was inspired to call you when I reviewed your [resume/LinkedIn profile]. You have outstanding experience and I’ve helped [number of] individuals with similar experience to you advance in their career. I don’t want to assume what you’re doing is what you want to do next, so when would it be best for us to continue this discussion?

    • Call Script #3

Good morning/afternoon. My name is [name] and I was referred to you by [source]. I represent some of the best IT opportunities in [area]. We always attempt to attract the best talent, which is why our consultants always complete their contract, and trust us to have their next contract opportunity lined up. When I asked [source] for the name of the best [title] at their last place of employment, you were the first person they mentioned. In fact, they told me that you [detail]. I’d love to arrange a time when we can talk, to understand what is most important to you in your next career move.

10 best practices for recruiting passive candidates

Bruno closed her presentation with a list of ten best practices that recruiters can put in place to help attract and recruit the passive candidates their clients need.


  • Don’t assume that what the candidate is doing now is what they want to do next
    • Don’t start the conversation by pitching a job. Instead, ask questions to find out what the candidate’s goals are.
  • Focus on developing rapport with candidates
    • Rapport builds trust. A candidate who trusts you will want to work with you.
  • Make recruiting presentations every day
    • Sourcing candidates on LinkedIn and other sites will only take you so far. Getting on the phone and building relationships with candidates is essential for recruiting success.
  • Re-interview candidates
    • Trust develops over time, and candidates will give you more thorough answers about their goals.
  • Use the six most powerful words when asking for referrals.
    • Who was the best [title] you know from your last place of employment.
  • Position yourself as an expert in the candidates’ profession
    • Show them that you can give them access to opportunities that aren’t advertised
  • Be willing to interview after hours
    • Get candidates’ cell phone numbers so you can contact them when they can speak freely.
  • Work from LinkedIn if candidates won’t send you their resume
    • You can have a thorough recruiting conversation based on the information they’ve got on their profile
  • Update your LinkedIn profile, and request recommendations
    • “When I go to your LinkedIn profile, I should want to contact you,” Bruno says. “I don’t want to read your bio. I want your LinkedIn profile to show me how you’re going to benefit me.”
  • Learn to overcome objections
    • Objections are buying signs, not a reason to give up. Develop scripts to deal with common objections and use them.
Did you miss the webinar?

Barbara Bruno shared a lot more information during her presentation, including a lively ‘ask me anything’ Q&A session at the end. She even shared her approach to providing incentives for candidates to refer others – including an annual grand prize opportunity. If you missed the live presentation, don’t worry. The webinar was recorded, and you can view the recording here.

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