How I Hire Passives – Aggressively!

How I Hire Passives – Aggressively!
May 31, 2016 Michael Skok

A new way to openly source and attract even the best passive candidates that will actually FIT, using great tools you already know, like LinkedIn

We all know that some of the best candidates for our most important roles are not actively on the market. These so called “passive” candidates may be tough to identify, tougher to reach and even tougher to attract. But what if we could turn this on it’s head and find a way to start by attracting them? You can! And you can improve your overall hiring and recruiting in the process with a new technique called Inbound Hiring and Recruiting (iHR) I’ll introduce below.


In March of this year, I published an article on LinkedIn focused on hiring: 3 Steps to Making A+ Hires that Fit. This seemed to strike a chord and generated a tremendous amount of discussion both on and offline.

A huge part of my job as a VC is recruiting. And in preparation for my next Startup Secrets workshop at the Harvard iLab on this very topic on November 7, I have been doing a lot of work to uncover ways to help my companies figure out how to think through not just how they hire, but the process itself.

Surprise – your future potential workforce doesn’t think like you!

I’ve been surprised to find that the state of the art in hiring has changed very little relative to the change in the world around us. The well-worn strategies of “Post and Pray” or “Search and Sink” or “Hire and Fire” still abound. It seems like we’ve largely just improved or automated the hiring processes rather than rethinking (and aligning) the process to today’s world and a new generation of people that views work differently.

By next year, Millenials will make up more than a third of the US workforce. (See Footnote1 for more information) The millennial generation for example wants:

  • To perform in a job and not just function in it.
  • To make not just a product but also an impact.
  • To see a company make a difference – not just a profit.
  • The flexibility to work to live – not just live to work.

Whether you agree with the Millenials’ work ethic or not or whether you’re hiring any other generation, doesn’t it make sense to understand your audience up front and tune your strategies to your needs?

In short, today’s candidates want to find a FIT for their aspirations, not just a job.

Enter Inbound Hiring and Recruiting (iHR)

So I’d like to suggest turning conventional hiring on its head and introduce you to what I call inbound Hiring and Recruiting (iHR). Just like Inbound Marketing, the concept is simple. Understand your audience and establish a clear basis for the right people to seek you out for their reasons, rather than you only recruiting them for your reasons.

iHR Defined

iHR is a continuous process of attracting a pool of talented people to your company who will fit your culture, love what you do and become successful and impactful in your business.

As a super simple example, think of attracting your most evangelistic customer to join your sales team and imagine them becoming your top sales person. It can and does happen, and I’ve personally experienced it. iHR is about harnessing that potential.

iHR requires an upfront commitment to the expression of things such as your vision, mission, culture and values. This should be in clear and comprehensible external messaging and positioning of what you stand for, believe in and deliver as a brand, product or service that potential candidates can connect with – and more importantly – personally relate to.

iHR is about building a relationship between your company and the talent marketplace that establishes trust and credence for potential candidates. That might take the form of a physical connection with your community or it might be a social networking connection and/or anything in any combination in between.

Why is this important?

At its simplest, even when traditional outbound recruiting is successful at bringing in the right candidates, they so often fail during the interview process or worse still in the workplace. Why? Because in many instances they are attracted to the wrong things such as salary or what appears to be a an experience or skills match but ultimately turns out to be a misfit. And that misfit is so often cultural or fundamental at the level that they don’t connect with the company or people they would be working with. So to recap at the highest level, my previous articles on hiring A+ players that fit, I have found the following three questions to be the most important to address in making a great hire:

  1. “Can they be successful at the job”
  2. “Will they really love the job”
  3. “Will they reinforce and add to your culture?

What Makes iHR Different…and How is it Better suited to finding a fit?

Compared with a series of discrete job postings or searches, it is a continuous communication, conversation and ongoing dialogue designed to build a candidate pool of people interested in your company that, at discrete points in time, you will select from for positions as they arise.

Over time, iHR can attract a great pool of passive candidates who may not be actively seeking a new job because they are already successful in their current job, but as they see the culture you espouse, they realize that there is a potential for an even better fit with some of their other interests, beliefs or convictions and are attracted as such.

As a result, when you approach someone attracted to your inbound pool, they are already pre-qualified as interested in your business and are more likely to pass one of the three critical tests of a good hire.

Validating Love for the Job

One of my firm beliefs, born of experience, is that if people love their work, they will take pride in it and the results and rewards will ultimately follow.

iHR does not change the need for a clear job description that spells out the necessary experience, knowledge and skills (EKS) or IQ that may be required to do the job. Instead it exposes the other critical factors that will ensure that if the candidate can do the job, they will also LOVE doing it.

Ponder these questions:

Who knows what the candidate loves better = you or the candidate?

If it’s the candidate, then why wouldn’t you let them pre-screen themselves for the fit? That is one of the key tenets of iHR. It enables the candidate to self serve and self assess their potential fit for the job.

Of course I fully acknowledge that some candidates may not be truly self-aware enough to self assess and there are interviewing techniques to draw that out that I recommend. Regardless, a good starting point is to get people to reflect on their passion and interests by putting up a mirror allowing them to compare with what is important to your company.

Would you rather go after the best candidate even if they’re not looking? Or would you rather hire a mediocre candidate because they need a job?

Which would you rather make: The hire right now? Or the right hire?

The answers to all the above questions are obvious but sometimes at odds. Of course, we want the best candidates. And of course sometimes we need them right away as it really can be as simple as getting ‘people in seats’ to fill non-critical positions. But if the positions are critical, and the long-term hires need to be ‘A’ players to win, then remember the old adage:

“A players attract and hire other As. B players hire Cs…and so on.”

It’s a slippery slope. So when you know ‘A’ players are out there and you need to attract them, don’t start the conversation with a cold call the day you need to fill the position. Engage your iHR program well in advance. It will lead to the right hires at the right time.

The iHR and Marketing

To keep the analogy with Inbound Marketing, think of the process in a similar manner and make your iHR consistent with and reuse your Inbound Marketing work in areas such as positioning and messaging what your company stands for. Just, take care to specifically package and deliver it in a digestible form to expose your job opportunities in a manner that will attract the right potential candidates.

Work the iHR funnel

To make this a frictionless process, one can apply many of the same approaches as you do for sales & marketing. Start by setting the right expectations for candidates up front with good communication. Keep them informed during the process and then apply specific touches at each point. For example, at the Top of the FUnnel (ToFU), get creative on candidate sourcing (see below), Middle of the FUnnel (MoFU), use scoring of matches of their experience knowledge and skills (EKS) and then nurture candidates that you may not have a role for now to stay in your pool. And of course at the bottom of the FUnnel (BoFU), apply finer and finer filters transparently.

One key to getting your iHR to work for you is to create a great experience for the potential hire throughout the process so that even if they are not hired, they become (as one of my CEO’s use to say) “raving fans” of the company and spread the word for other potential candidates.

Openly Source, Attract pre-qualified passive candidates

Get creative about it. For example, think about attracting from:

  • Candidates who, as customers, own, use and rave about your products and services. Tap your Social networks, CRM systems and other tools.
  • Potential customers who give the best, most thoughtful feedback about why they have NOT bought or won’t use your products and services. Consider leveraging community feedback forums such as GetSatisfaction.
  • Engage with customers who engage regularly with your help desk or call center because they are really using your products and services and care about them. Think of connecting with products like Zendesk for sourcing.
  • Partners who share your convictions and spread the word about your company because they believe in it.
  • Suppliers who really understand your overall value chain.

The possibilities for this approach are really endless if you think about the community around your company. Think of it as “Open Sourcing” passive candidates.

Tools and Approaches that Work

The good news is that many of the tools exist to do all this in a way that simply wasn’t possible in the past. You’re using the best one (imho) as you read this – LinkedIn – and there are many others such as Facebook, Twitter, Viadeo, XING, and Google+. In addition, there are increasingly specific social recruiting players like Jobvite.

Whatever tools you choose, and some are just plain common sense, such as creating employee referral programs, your goal with iHR should remain the same. Create a ready pool from which you can draw the best qualified candidates. Do so by messaging, informing, engaging, connecting and qualifying potential candidates in your ecosystem. All the while, think about how the potential candidates can see this as a great way to listen, learn, engage, inquire, experience and select from your opportunities to qualify their fit before they join you and grow to be your greatest source of referrals.

Reality Check

iHR is not going to solve your hiring overnight and, just like Inbound Marketing, it’s not suited to every situation or open position you may have. In fact, it’s hardly conceivable that it would be anything other than a part of the hiring mix that you create. But in time, I have experienced how it yields better quality candidates that fit, impact and succeed.

In the comments, please share what you’ve experienced and how you think we all could hire more effectively. Also, for more on how to attract a mutual fit, please see this related article.

*Thanks to the many entrepreneurs, HR people and recruiters I spoke with for this article. I’d particularly like to acknowledge the help of Russ Campanello and Brent Kleinman.

Footnote 1: 45 percent of companies experience high turnover with millennial employees (ages 18-32) by a two-to-one margin versus older generations. iHR is about pre-qualifying before engaging in an expensive recruitment cycle that ultimately disappoints both parties when things don’t work out. Read more:

Footnote 2: Hiring people with the right attitude, aptitude and athletic abilities to jump to new solutions is a key part of my interviewing. See slide 11 of Hiring Questions for the Perfect FIT:

Case Examples

Unidesk – Building a Founding Team

Unidesk – Building a Founding Team

Related Articles

7 Ways to Avoid the Biggest Hiring Mistake Most Entrepreneurs Make

7 Ways to Avoid the Biggest Hiring Mistake Most Entrepreneurs Make

3 Steps to Making A+ Hires that Fit

3 Steps to Making A+ Hires that Fit

Hiring Success! The Final 2 Steps to a Perfect Fit for your Startup

Hiring Success! The Final 2 Steps to a Perfect Fit for your Startup

How I Hire: I Don’t! Attract a Mutual Fit

How I Hire: I Don’t! Attract a Mutual Fit

How I Hire Passives – Aggressively!

How I Hire Passives – Aggressively!