Question

Whatever sources of hires you use, are you more interested in passive or active candidates? By passive I mean people that aren’t actively looking.

Nick’s Reply

sources of hiresFirst, you shouldn’t worry about what any headhunter is interested in. Headhunters are involved in relatively few hires among all jobs that get filled every day. You should be focused instead on conducting your own job search and cultivating good professional contacts. Most hires come from respected sources in your field that know and recommend you.

That’s why websites like LinkedIn and Indeed are lousy sources of hires and jobs. They have no brain! I’ll explain why it’s painfully obvious in a moment, even if employers pour billions of dollars into these third-rate database companies masquerading as second-rate database companies.

Real sources of hires (and jobs)

As a headhunter, I’m not interested in candidates. I’m interested in sources of the best candidates. It’s important to understand this. When an employer posts a job, its HR department looks in the wrong places — the job boards — to find as many candidates as it can. HR likes to say it’s “sourcing” job candidates. But it’s hardly sourcing when a job board runs a program that matches sequences of characters in a job description to characters in millions of resumes.

I’ll jump over the 200 keyword-matched candidates (passive or active) that LinkedIn or Indeed delivers, to instead talk to one or two “shining lights” in the industry or field I hunt in. These respected, successful people know a handful of workers who would be best for my client — maybe you! — and that’s all I need to fill a job. That’s what I get paid for: Having sources who know the best.

So, while I place candidates, I look for good sources first. Then I don’t have to find candidates. (I don’t care a rat’s patootie for database matches.)

What do they know?

The database jockeys behind these job boards will answer that they do recommend the best candidates — the ones with the highest matches! So, why don’t they bill for their services only when the employer hires one? (Check out Indeed sucks on a leading HR podcast.) I challenge any job board to operate under this model: Pay per hire. They’d never risk it because they don’t really know the candidate.
It’s irrelevant whether someone is active or passive, employed or out of work. What matters is what the opinion makers in your field think of you — and I’ve placed some phenomenal unemployed people that most recruiters wouldn’t even talk to. Recruiting isn’t really about filling jobs. That’s not what companies pay headhunters for. They pay us because we are a hub of sources. Good headhunters have good sources — people in a field that others go to for advice like, “Who would you recommend for this job?” Such sources put their reputation on the line every time they make an introduction.

So what matters is not whether the candidate is active or passive. It’s whether the headhunter has access to good referrals, recommendations and introductions in the professional community in which they operate. This is how we find only the few best candidates, whether they’re “looking” or not — and that’s why the headhunter doesn’t need 1,000 keyword-matched profiles.

That’s why job boards are a lousy way to fill or find a job. They deliver massive digital dumpsters full of “keyword-matched” resumes for employers to wade through, because they don’t know anybody so they cannot recommend the best candidates.

My sources need to know you

What makes this good for you is that you don’t need a headhunter (much less Indeed!). You just need to do what headhunters do: Rely on credible referrals.

  • Participate in your professional community.
  • Seek out the most skilled, talented, respected workers — the ones others turn to for opinions, advice and help.
  • Hang out with them.
  • Get to know them.
  • Help them get to know you.
  • (Don’t forget to be really good at the work you do.)

It’s up to you to be known to the sources employers and headhunters rely on. When they’re asked, you’re who they will recommend — because they know you. Then it’s up to you to decide how passive or active you want to be.

If I’m involved in the deal and you come highly recommended, I don’t care whether you’re active or passive. I do care that you’re one of a very few excellent candidates recommended by a trusted source — someone that knows you — for a job I’m working on, and my next step is to get to know you better. The same goes for any good employer (you don’t need a headhunter).

Machines, software, algorithms, databases — it seems to have escaped everyone that they don’t know anybody.

What’s the key to getting hired (or to filling a job)? Just how personal must this be? Are the job boards an adequate substitute for the a personal recommendation from a credible source? Can personal recommendations scale as sources of hires and jobs? (Is scaling even desirable?) These are big questions that database jockeys never ask much less answer. Only you can do that. Please share your answers — and ask your questions.

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25 Comments
  1. If you think LinkedIn or Indeed are bad, I got something worse for you.

    I’ve started getting random texts from bots asking if I’m interested in jobs. Usually, it’s just a title, location, and hourly rate. I’m guessing they scraped my number from a resume somewhere.

    The flip side of finding good candidates is making those candidates feel like they’re valued individuals, not just names and phone numbers in a database.

    • @Chris: Some of the worst offenders are companies that pursue a candidate, not the other way around. Then they treat the candidate like a beggar. I think this happens because the solicitation is really just as “blind” as when a job seeker applies to a bunch of jobs online. Because there’s nothing “personal” about it, the candidate is treated poorly. The employer has no skin in the game, they’re not accountable to anyone, and they think no one notices their rude behavior. After all the candidates are “just names and phone numbers in a database.”

      • I make sure every candidate is treated like his weight in gold. I only bring in candidates from referrals, professional groups, and sometimes from the resume stack. If I were to treat candidates poorly, word would get out and I wouldn’t get quality applicants. Moreover, instead of being the employer of choice, I would just be any one of a number of mediocre employers. Companies that treat candidates like beggars may get someone on the cheap. They may capture their skill but not their enthusiasm.

  2. An aside, going after passive, or “not-looking” candidates is much more difficult.

    The company has to be good for someone to consider leaving a perfectly good job.

    It reframes “Why do you want to work here?” to “This is why you should want to work here.”

    • @Gregory: EXACTLY! How many recruiters or even hiring managers can answer the question, “Why should I want to work here?”

      • OTOH, I always like to get someone who “isn’t looking,” because I was able to convince them of the opportunity. They are more likely to stick.

  3. Hi everyone,
    With regard to the secret of personalization and getting hired…
    I just completed an online job application and was then directed to take a PI Behavioral Assessment. Choose the words that best describe me!
    Well, besides being charming, dignified, popular, outgoing, nice, lovable etc. I indicated that I am the world’s most perfect candidate. I really am not a narcissist! And probably wouldn’t take the job anyway.
    Just having fun with the stupid hiring process.

  4. Nick, I was struck by your list of “what to do” to become a referred candidate:

    Participate in your professional community.
    Seek out the most skilled, talented, respected workers — the ones others turn to for opinions, advice and help.
    Hang out with them.
    Get to know them.
    Help them get to know you.
    (Don’t forget to be really good at the work you do.)

    Of course, this is the advice that I give my clients (job-seeking executives). Not coincidentally, it’s also EXACTLY what I’ve done to build my business as a resume writer/career advisor. These fundamentals get overshadowed by what’s easy (apply online!) and what’s new and sexy (digital solutions! virtual networking!). I do support having a strong, clear, interesting LinkedIn profile, because it’s an important part of expressing value and making it easy for people to learn about you. But putting in the time and effort to really connect with and build relationships with people who will want to help you is the #1 job-search (and business-building) strategy—always has been, always will be.

    • @Louise: I’m with Jason Alba on LinkedIn profiles. He suggests having a solid profile so people can find you, then step away from LinkedIn to focus on relationships in the real world. Thanks for delivering the same message!

      • Don’t forget that getting recommendations (not endorsements) from people who know your work can be very helpful. Four or five recommendations telling of a challenge you faced, what you did about it, and how what you did helped the writer can make a big difference to how easily people find you on LinkedIn.

  5. “Hang out with them …” – Nick, you often write that and it makes me misty for the days when that was possible. I mean, even before Covid, “hanging out” with people was getting more and more difficult. The groups were just gone! After-work hangouts – maybe in big cities or company towns. In suburban metro Boston, that seems unpindownable! Again, even before Covid, it seems like a lot of people with serious commutes were more focused on getting home than hanging out after work, especially as they got married/had kids.

    I often wish you and your readers would talk about how they make that happen – “hang out with people” these days.

    The internet does offer some possibilities to meet people and “hang out” with them virtually BUT it seems like the internet killed off a lot too!

    • I’ve seen events like breakfast seminars or plant tours….which is fine if you’re the big boss and can take off half the morning for that 9:00 AM seminar or cut out for the afternoon for the plant tour. While some employers may encourage that, most don’t, especially any with any type of production/operations going on. Otherwise, you’d have to burn your own vacation time.

      ‘Course, part of me feels most employers wouldn’t look kindly on stuff like this because they’d be worried about employees feeling out other places for jobs…..

    • @Boston: That’s a good question. Virtual gatherings are not as useful (or fun) as doing it in person. The virus has made socializing much more difficult. I wish I could wave a magic wand and get us all out in the real world to hang out. (And you’re right, even before the virus, social media seemed to serve as too much of a substitute for real-world interactions.)

      So that really forces us to consider how we can connect. I sometimes round up a few business friends for lunch or breakfast, and suggest they each bring a friend, co-worker or boss — or vendor or consultant they like. No agenda. We just hang out and talk.

      Easier: reconnect with people you worked with years ago that you like and meet one on one to catch up. Openly suggest that you bring one another up to date on your work projects, and serve as a sounding board for one another to get a different perspective.

      Does your biz or field have any good online discussion forums where people talk shop? Do you belong to an association that meets via Zoom? If not, see if you can find these.

      Sometimes the phone is best. About once a year I make a point of e-mailing past clients I haven’t seen or heard from in a long time. I rekindle things by suggesting we catch up by phone. These calls can go an hour! I always ask who they’ve met in the past year that impressed them, and that leads to introductions.

      Humans are very social animals. We’re also lazy! There are ways to connect if it’s important to us, though it make take a special effort.

      • Thanks, Nick! That makes good sense! Most appreciated!

  6. Before I forget it, on your bullet
    Help them get to know you. I thought you were going to say ..Help them… Yes to get to know you, but also simply help them out when they need some help.

    LinkedIn. I joined back in the day when it 1st appeared on the scene. I think I’m considered a “premium? member as I was in that pile among the 1st 100K members. It still has it’s uses. Continuing to date myself, I think the original LinkedIn was a different animal than now. I’d joined it before I was a recruiter, but when I became a recruiter I did use it as a source. Back then not many recruiters were doing so, at least not the ones sitting around me. And as such, I got some interesting leads.

    I say leads, because you hit the nail on the head with the emphasis on sourcing. It seems over & over from a lot of narratives, job seekers seem to feel that the shortest distance between their search is a straight line. From them to a job application, and the flip side belief, that a recruiter goes from a search directly to a targeted person. With both sides kicking key words down an employer’s field hoping to score a goal before the competition. Rather than to a source that identifies perhaps several steps removed, to an interested and interesting person.

    Spot on that the mother lode isn’t a person, but a good source for finding them. In my last job I was brought in to help install a recruiting process. When I arrived they were doing the typical job board route..for a cost. I brought in FREE Sources. this was one of my 1st and best contributions.

    I’ve mused that a productive role HR could play, since they carry the word “Human” in their title is to invest their time into being the company’s networker by locating and vetting good sources for new people, and when found, invest time to connect the hiring managers to them. Get them directly involved. Sort of cut to the chase.

    I & later, my HR boss, managed to do that with one of the sources (a superior volunteer run (and FREE) job fair) This proved to be extremely effective.

    I find that when you advise people to do as you recommend, e.g. hang out with them, etc. an aspect of networking..you very frequently hear “I don’t have a network”. Everyone has a network..starting with friends, neighbors, co-workers. It’s just an undeveloped network. And those people know you.

    Hanging out can be physical sure, but electronically as well. I have a saying “Never assume” and it definitely applies to what you’re talking about here. You can’t assume that your dentist doesn’t know someone who’s a player in your field. Or a co-worker isn’t active in their profession. Or the janitor doesn’t know major players of interest.
    One thing is sure, they can’t read your mind. Unless you invest some development time in relationship building and do some win/win collaboration for mutual benefit.

    • Don – I always enjoy your posts and this is absolutely NOT a complaint or criticism!

      Nick recommends getting to know people in a field one would like to be in, in that “professional” community. Those aren’t conversations that tend to be profitable with my dentist, janitor or any random person because – much as they may like me – they have no way to tell how good I am at my job!

      “Seek out the most skilled, talented, respected workers” and “Hang out with them.” — how does one do that in 2021, especially if one is looking to get into a new field? (I’ve looked for groups online and off in my current field, and they are all totally moribund – they exist but there is little to no activity at all! Very discouraging, actually!)

      Sure, one can ask everyone one meets. But how many times could a seeker ask before unrelated-to-work people start to give them a very serious swerve!

      There are a lot of smart, experienced people here and I was hoping some might have ideas for connecting that don’t depend on dead groups (in person or online) or endlessly squeezing the same friends, neighbors & co-workers!

      • @From Boston: Yes, I agree with you, that it IS much harder to find groups and “hang out”, even before COVID took its toll.

        If you’re a college (and that includes community college, vo-tech schools, etc.) graduate, you can join your school alumni/ae network. If your alma mater has a good career development office, they may have lists of alums in the field you wish to join who are willing to be contacted. That might be a place for you to begin. Alums who are willing to be contacted can give you the skinny on the field (and employers) you’re hoping to enter, tips, and other information that you may not be able to get from others.

        I, too, find it difficult–those who are working and who are married with kids are often still doing the juggling the kids as schools are not all open for in-person classes (and now, with it still being summer, some schools haven’t begun yet for the new school year), and with some folks working from home, finding the time and space for other things can be tough. Kids and spouses and other matters often take priority.

        It is true that your network might not include people who work in the field you hope to enter. But perhaps one or more of them might know someone who works in that field, or knows someone who knows someone. Yes, it makes it more tenuous for you, because the connections are further apart, but perhaps that’s where you might ask to be introduced. E.g., your dentist or hair stylist or the janitor doesn’t work in the field you want to enter, but maybe your hair stylist has another client who does work in it. Perhaps your hair stylist could introduce you to the other client. We’re getting into 6 degrees of separation/Kevin Bacon stuff, but that might be where you can begin. And it may not happen quickly. Persistence….and hang in there!

      • @From Boston.

        Thanks for the reply & kind words.

        I didn’t intend it to sound so serendipity. Let me tell a story. Years ago when I was taking one of my Outplacement tours a speaker told us a true tale (I believe it was) of an executive grinding away on a search who happened to tell his tale of woe to a building janitor…Whose brother was amid setting up a start up that needed an adult to help make that happen. they connected & lived happily ever after.

        I do believe the homily about people being steps removed. It is a small world.

        I didn’t mean hang a sandwich board and flag down passersby, but don’t run the people you know through a filter assuming they can’t or won’t help because they’re not in your field, paygrade etc.

        As to the real point of your original input…I do think you’re on track that the rules of engagement & means to engage have changed and may never return.

        LinkedIn or horrors, Facebook do have a grouping feature. Groups are as only good as their members. Look for groups in your field or in its twilight & if you can’t find one, then create one. and use it’s mint condition to start recruiting people into it, which will possibly appeal to people with the very same concern. In so doing you’ll start meeting people who know people who know people

        ditto with Podcasts. Or a blog.

        There’s no such thing as original thought, so my guess is you’re not alone with the very concerns you’ve expressed, & by people in your field. It’s likely then, that you’ll finds some people to salute.

        • Don – Thanks for your thoughtful and most appreciated reply!

  7. Scammers love Linked In. The reason I know this is because the emails that I get from them begin “Dear Redacted”. (I posted a redacted resume taking off company names to encourage unrestricted conversation. After all, just because it’s true that the guy who fired me in 2010 got fired less than two years later for sexual harassment doesn’t mean he won’t get mad and set a court date for us.)

    Even when I had an unredacted resume, I got only one legitimate inquiry for employment, though Linked In is nice about letting me know when I’ve been “searched for” on any given week, but by company name only (no contact info).

    Old postings on Career Builder (are those guys still around?) and Indeed yield “work from home” offers (often written in bad English or Olde English (Get thee to the Library!), and whatever I had posted on my old AOL searches bring out cyber terrorists demanding money from me (usually in Bitcoin) or they will reveal the embarrassing things I do in front of my computer camera to my friends, family, and authorities. (Of course, the only thing they might have on me is looking stupid while trying to decipher their instructions.)

    As for “endorsements”, I never understood how anyone could just click on my profile and “endorse” me for certain skills or abilities if we never even met. (Or did I accidently let them in? Enquiring minds want to know!)

    • If memory serves me right, back in the day, LinkedIn showed you WHO checked you out. they still toss in teasers. But that morphed into Premium, where you now pay for what used to be basic.

      • I was a “Premium” LI member for about six months. I decided to pay in order to find out who was checking out my profile. It turns out, though, that there are Super-Secret profile viewers that even Premium members aren’t allowed to know about. What a racket.

  8. As a source of job leads, LinkedIn is less than useless. But, I do find it good for keeping in touch with ex coworkers. What tickles me is the number of requests to join my professional network I get from Asian college students probably because I have a number of Indian and Chinese professionals on my network. All in all, I have never received a legitimate job offer or even an inquiry through LinkedIn.

    • Once upon a time, LI used to have job listings that were allegedly /only/ being made available for LI members. Those days are /long/ gone. I’ve received the same stuff from LI that Indeed and the others were sending me. Nothing exclusive about LI listings now.

      I have had a couple of recruiters contact me about jobs through LI but not as many as I would hope having been a member since ’09.

  9. I found Indeed useful for job search because it was pretty good at finding postings. I had to sort though many jobs that were not relevant, but it found most of the ones that were. I would then go to the companies website to apply. I think I found my current federal job on Indeed. I would keep a close eye on individual company’s job boards, but Indeed found almost all of those anyhow.

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