Standing out in a Crowded Candidate Market

By: Taylor Huebner

Author

Picture this. You have a role, an opportunity, a need, and a chance to change someone’s life. You’ve defined the seat; you know your company has a great culture and you’re intentional about the growth and development of your people. You also have a vision and can offer the candidate the ability to be part of something bigger than themselves.  

You’re not alone. There’s a wealth of other companies out there who believe they can offer the same if not better; something unique, potent, and impactful. 

Then there are the candidates. During your interview process, you are likely going to interview candidates that can offer the same to you but the other way around, candidates who can offer you the opportunity to grow and expand your business, amplify your culture, and who’s character, skill, vision, and ability are going to be key components in the next chapter of the life of your business. 

Everyone is looking for the one. In a crowded candidate market how do you stand out, and one step further, how do you make sure you are attracting the ONE, not just anyone, especially when a candidate is receiving 5-7 messages per week, and they are hearing how special they are from everyone. 

Here are top tips for starting the hiring process strong. Here’s a secret, it doesn’t start with the interview, it doesn’t start with the resume, and it doesn’t even start with the posting of the role, think of that as phase three or four.  

 

Phase One – Define the Seat 

Everybody is a genius.But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein. 

Knowing what you need and why is half the battle. If it’s a new role, why are you looking, what do you want this person to achieve and what will the impact be on your organization. If the role is open because a candidate is being promoted or replaced, what do you need for the new person coming in to be successful and to learn from any situations that led to the candidate vacating the role. There is a common phrase, right people-right seats, but if you don’t have the right seat defined how can you predict whether the candidate will be the right person (think Einstein’s tree climbing fish). 

So, what are some steps that help define the seat and which lead to dynamic and enticing sharing of an opportunity. 

A-Players are motivated by three elements: Purpose, Impact and Growth. Knowing these aspects of the role is going to directly impact how you share about it, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 

  • Replace “Do” with “Achieve” – It’s all about impact. Job Descriptions are out, Performance Profiles are In. To do something can be a little sterile, to achieve something, now we’re talking. I can do the dishes, but I can achieve a clutter free environment, and peace of mind… 
  • Define the Must Haves and Nice to Haves. “Must Haves” are the deal breakers. Must Haves highlight what the candidate needs in their arsenal to cope with the challenges of the job? Do they need to be able to code? Do they need to display a series of PubMed published research papers? Do they need 5 years of experience. Do they need a degree?  Nice to Haves are those elements that might be additional sweeteners to the deal. During the hiring process there may be some interchanging of these elements, but a search will typically go more smoothly if there is clarity on these components. For example, 5 years of experience only tells you a candidate did something for 5 years, what they achieved during that time is another matter. Another candidate may have achieved the same in 3 years, and if so, you would want to talk to them. 
  • Career Path. Where can the candidate grow with you. When discussing this area, it can also be helpful in charting where a candidate has grown and what they have been through to get to you.  
  • How is Performance assessed? Being able to give candidates a clear picture of what success looks likes can be inspiring, especially if you can communicate that they have the freedom to achieve it in their way (where flexibility and culture impact allow; beware the lone wolf). Psychologically speaking one of our main questions as people is “did I do well/am I doing well”. By giving definable metrics to that you can deepen your engagement with a candidate and see what is possible for them to achieve (which is exciting to an A-Player) 
  • EVP – What is your Employee Value Proposition? What are you offering the candidate in terms of connection, reward, growth, company values, alignment with personal motivation and future opportunities. What is their horizon and what is their experience of the journey? 
  • Exorcise that post and pray approach, you won’t need it and you don’t want it. By defining the role and the impact it offers you won’t need to post and pray the right person comes knocking on your door. If you want to drastically improve your chances of filling the position with the right person you need to go looking for them and to do so equipped with a story and opportunity that is going to wow them. So, where do you find them and how do you woo them (without creeping them out)? We’re glad you asked. 

 

Phase Two – Source the Right Candidates 

  • Create a targeted shortlist based on must haves (this would be deeper and more specific depending on the industry) 
  • Do your research. Does the role you are looking to fill go by any other names? For example, Glassdoor has some great resources on what candidates put on their resume in terms of keywords so you can use those specific keywords.  
  • Build a Boolean. Boolean searches are those keyword searches that might include everything from skills to competitor organizations to achievements, from job titles and qualifications to groups they are a part of initiatives they follow. 
  • Look at location. If you’re looking to fill an onsite or hybrid role, then this is going to be essential. Look for candidates who may also gone to college in the location as there may be willingness to relocate. 
  • Look for mutual connections. If you’re utilizing platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook, you can see mutual connections or degrees of separation. These can be great talking points or connection points and if you have referral contacts then it can remove several barriers. 
  • Keep the initial list short and manageable. It’s not uncommon to build out lists of hundreds of candidates and though there is some truth in it being a numbers game (kind of) you are looking for the one. if you’ve done your homework and created a specific Boolean search you may only find a handful of candidates and that’s a good thing. It’s easier to expand than to pull back and managing a smaller list of candidates enables you to get more specific. 
  • Explore the groups they are part of. If your lists are looking a little thin or if you’re role is incredibly niche and you’re looking to fill a role where your company is the only company that has this job (it does happen, we’ve worked on them). Groups can be a great place to start. If you’re working for a faith based nonprofit or a specialized SEO marketing role than Groups might be your saving grace, and a potentially strong place to look for referrals. 
  • We don’t hire from the resume. LinkedIn resumes and other online tools only tell you so much. It’s the initial conversation that is going to be the most important conversation of the whole process. Here’s how you get there 

 

Phase Three – Effective Messaging 

You only get one first impression. According to socialtalent.com’s article on passive candidate approachesYou only get one opportunity to make a first impression, and when you are approaching a potentially cold candidate, i.e. someone who doesn’t know you from Adam and is likely to receive many approaches via LinkedIn and other social networks (hey, their skills are hot, that’s why you’re reaching out to them!), you need to make sure that you grab their attention and give them a really good reason to call or email you back. 

This is where effective messaging comes in. There are a few schools of thought on how many touches it takes to get a response from candidates. Some sources say 3 is the magic number, other sources say it can be as many as 9. Whatever the number you can guarantee you aren’t the only person reaching out to the candidate, so those messages need to count. Here are some tools to make your messages pop along with a strategy to get results. Just like sourcing the right candidates it takes research and planning. The more you can do on the front end, the greater your chances of success during the outreach process. 

  • Compelling copy that says enough to intrigue. inspire and illicit a response without giving too much away. PIG – Purpose, Impact and Growth. Lou Adler in his Performance Based Hiring approach suggests instantly shifting to a career-based discussion. Would you be open to explore a situation if it put you on a better long-term career trajectory?” is a much better question to ask than asking if the person is interested in considering your ill-defined, awesome job. Most passive candidates are willing to casually discuss potential career moves but few are willing to consider some short-term job change. Messages that can help the candidates feel like you are speaking directly to their character, values or that triggers connection will get responses. Why is it that people like things like Strengths Finder or the Enneagram? They appeal to our desire to be known and yet to be unique. If your message can connect with a candidate on that level, you will set your messages apart. If you can tell a story or make that heart connection as opposed to selling a role, you’ll be headed in the right direction. 
  • Make them feel special without getting too creepy (the more targeted the list the more space you have to get specific). The benefit of using small, targeted lists means you can spend time on crafting personalized messages that may include information on the candidate’s LinkedIn, awards they’ve won or questions about achievements they have shared will show your commitment and investment in them. People like to tell stories about what they’ve achieved. Give them a reason to respond by asking a question that shows curiosity and intent. 
  • The perfect message isn’t one message. Patterns of 3 are powerful. In sales there’s an unspoken rule that 3 objections = an argument. Your first message outlines the opportunity and invites the candidate to respond. Message 2 might play on that sense of loss and competition. You let the candidate know you are in the process of connecting with others but that they are the one you really want to connect with. Message 3 is the one that gives the candidate an out without giving them the chance to say no. 
  • There’s a fine line between persistence and harassment. Effective sourcing is the difference maker. If you’re research has led you to this candidate then what you have to say is valuable, and whatever information gleaned is valuable. If this is a truly superior opportunity than the candidate will want to know about it, they just may not know that yet. If the candidate is misaligned and you keep messaging them then you aren’t doing anyone any favors and may harm your strategy (and waste your time). 
  • How many words should it be? According to Salesforce’s insights into 6 Rules for more Engaging LinkedIn InMails – LinkedIn says mails under 100 words are 50% more likely to get a response. And for extra points, remember to fit the important stuff in the first 255 characters as this is what the recipient sees in their notification email. Keep it short. Think of it like the beginning of a conversation and you are talking directly to the candidate. You don’t want to talk at them, but you want to give them enough information to get curious and enough inspiration to respond. 
  • Remember it’s a continual invitation – In your pursuit of candidates it is all about getting to the next steps and it can be a little like that game of chutes and ladders. The right move can accelerate the process and the wrong move can send you back to square one. Keeping the candidate engaged and asking questions is key to getting them invested. They are likely going to do their homework by looking at Glassdoor and your company’s website so including those links can help establish quick trust. The goal with messaging is to connect with the candidate on the phone/Zoom for an initial conversation. From that point the decision to make the process a little more formal will ensue. 

Hiring strategies are just that, strategies; fluid, process driven and flexible approaches that need to be nurtured, tweaked, and continually assessed. If you can lead your candidates on the journey of exploration and to help them picture themselves walking through the process, then you’re on a great path.  

More than recruiters, Titus Talent Strategies are a team of Talent Optimizers who genuinely care about the work we do. We empower companies to put the right people in the right seats through informed, connected strategies that combine data with an empathetic understanding of what makes people tick. We recognize that our partners are investing in us and that results mean more than just people placed in a role. It’s about impact and connection.   

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