How to Talk to a Candidate as a Recruiter

Cold calling effectively as a recruiter is about more than just reciting a recruitment script. That’s especially the case when dealing with top candidates. If you call both an A-level candidate and a C-level candidate with your employment opportunity, which one do you think will show a higher level of interest? Which one will you most likely talk with? Which one do you think might hang up on you?

No, grade-A, top-level passive candidates pose their own set of special challenges. However, with the proper frame of mind and a great game plan, you can become “The Best Cold Caller of Passive Candidates.”

(That kind of makes it sound like you should get a trophy, too, doesn’t it, with those words plastered on it? Well, if you’re able to effectively cold call and talk with passive candidates on a consistent basis, then you can buy all the trophies you want.)

Knowing how to talk to a candidate as a recruiter requires an understanding of psychology

Knowing how to talk to a candidate as a recruiter is a subtle art. When it comes to cold calling passive candidates, you need to focus more on the psychology of the call as opposed to the script that you have in front of you. Heck, you might have a killer job opportunity for them, but you can’t even focus the majority of your energy on that.

You must get inside the head of the person with whom you plan to talk. That’s right: you must employ some good, old-fashioned psychology. As a recruiter, you should be no stranger to psychology. Even if you didn’t take any psych classes in college, if you’ve enjoyed success as a recruiter, then you’ve used psychology.

You might be thinking, “Wait a minute! I don’t use psychology on candidates. I simply show them the value of considering the employment opportunity that I’m presenting.” Uh-huh. What’s important is the way in which you show them that value. To be most effective, the conversation between recruiter and candidate should employ a healthy amount of psychology. (Or a lot, depending upon the circumstances.)

4 ways that passive candidates are different from active job seekers

Why must we go to such measures when contacting candidates about an employment opportunity? Because as we mentioned, we’re contacting grade-A, top-level passive candidates. They’re different than your run-of-the-mill, garden variety candidates. Below are four main ways they are different:

1—They get contacted about openings ALL the time.

Depending upon the industry in which they work, they could be getting contacted on a daily basis by recruiters about job openings. That means they have plenty of experience when it comes to the cold calling game. They’ve heard good cold calls, and they’ve heard not-so-good cold calls. As a result, unless you bring your “A-game,” they will shut you down in a heartbeat.

2—They don’t necessarily like being contacted at work.

Well, who does, really? But we’re talking about candidates who are top employees at their current employer. More than likely, they’re in positions of importance within their organization. They’re extremely busy and probably highly engaged during the work day. Not only that, but they’re also concerned about confidentiality. In other words, they don’t want other people at their place of employment knowing that they’re fielding calls from recruiters.

3—They know how good they are.

Unlike the average candidate, they’re not flattered that you called to talk about an opportunity. In fact, some of them can be borderline annoyed, making the call that much more challenging. However, since we’re dealing with the subject of psychology, you can use this knowledge of themselves to your advantage. Not all of these candidates are cocky, per sé (although some of them certainly are), but they know they’re a top employee and a top candidate. The key is discovering what matters most to them.

4—They know why they would consider making a move and why they would not.

This is the information that you must extract from them during this phone call. Even if they’re not interested in the opportunity that you’re presenting, find out what would make them consider a new opportunity. That way, when that particular opportunity comes across your desk in the future, you’ll know exactly who to call about it. That’s good for two reasons. First, that second call will not be a cold call, and second, you’ll be calling about the exact opportunity for which the candidate said they would make a move.

Okay, so we’ve established that cold calling top-level, passive candidates is challenging for a number of different reasons on a number of different levels. So how the heck do you do it? More specifically, how the heck do you do it well?

6-step approach to calling passive candidates

Below is a six-step approach for cold calling passive candidates and maximizing your results.

Step 1 – Conduct extensive research . . . and then connect the dots.

They’re not conducting a job search right now? Then do it FOR them. You know everything about the job and the company, so find out everything you can about the candidate. Perhaps they’re in your recruiting database. Maybe they’re on LinkedIn. Take the information you have and combine it with the information you uncover and build a solid case for why considering this opportunity would be a great move for them. Then, armed with this case, make the call. You may not use all of your talking points on the initial call, but it’s better to be prepared.

Step 2 – Do NOT lead with the job.

Why? Because they’re not looking for a job! If you lead with the job, then you just gave them a great reason to get off the phone. Even if the job that you want to present better than the one they have right now, it still won’t fly. Just the idea of another job is enough reason for them to at the very least interrupt you and make the call more difficult going forward. The #1 goal within the first minute of the call is to spark a conversation. You can’t do that if you immediately hand them a reason NOT to have a conversation.

Step 3 – Make immediate deposits into their “ego bank account.”

No, we’re not stroking their ego here. It’s not about that. What we don’t want them to do is say, “I’m not interested in making a move” and then hang up. Say something along the lines of, “Jim, I’m calling because you’re doing some great things and you’ve impressed a lot of people in the industry.” Or you could say something like, “Joan, I’m calling because your name keeps coming up as somebody I absolutely had to call because of the great work you’re doing.” Who’s going to hang up on somebody who’s saying such things about them?

Step 4 – Strike a consultative approach that emphasizes their career.

We already established that they won’t be immediately interested in another job. But they are immediately interested in their careers, specifically the growth, enhancement, and enjoyment thereof. Whatever you say about the opportunity during this cold call should be presented within the framework of their career. Tie the opportunity to what it means for that career. Anybody can say, “I’m not looking for a new job.” Nobody is going to say, “I’m not looking for a great career.”

Step 5 – View it as the first step in a process, not as a single phone call.

When fishermen are catching “the whopper,” the huge fish that will give them story fodder for the rest of their lives, how long does it take to bring the fish in? Five minutes? Ten minutes? No and no. Sometimes it takes hours of reeling that huge fish close enough to the boat to bring it in. The same goes for top passive candidates. With the first cold call, you get the hook in them. Then you start reeling them in. That might require additional phone calls. If that’s the case, then great. If you push too hard during the initial call, they might wiggle off the hook. Then they’re gone, and all you have is a “tale of the one that got away.”

Step 6 – Make sure you do NOT come away from the call with nothing.

This is a top candidate, a highly place-able candidate. If you haven’t set up another call to discuss their career and/or the opportunity, then at least cull information about what would motivate them to make a move. (Wrangling the name of another top candidate from them would be a bonus.) If handled properly, a cold call to a top passive candidate should yield some sort of valuable information that will either help you with your current search, a future search, or both.

The bottom line of knowing how to talk to a candidate as a recruiter is to be intriguing with what you present. People don’t want to be sold, even if what you’re selling is a new job. However, they do want to be intrigued. Presenting a new employment opportunity to a grade-A, top-shelf candidate is about a lot more than money, common employee benefits, and a company credit card. It’s about intrigue.

When you intrigue somebody, you create a compelling atmosphere. And when somebody is compelled, they usually take action. The best way to turn a passive candidate into a compelled candidate who wants to talk and take action is NOT to hard-sell the opportunity.

The best way is to pique their interest by weaving an intriguing story of career success . . . with them as the main character. And then convince them to allow you to help write a great ending.