When everyone has the same tools, uses the same job boards and has access to the same candidates, everyone will get average results. I contend this is the underlying reason for LinkedIn's recent dramatic price drop. On top of this, consider that despite all of the new hiring tools developed in the past 10-20 years, overall quality of hire has not improved. Under conditions of universal sameness, the determinates of which company hires the strongest people will be driven by the skill of their recruiters, the quality of the positions being offered and the engagement level of the hiring managers involved in the process.

The big problem in all of this is that too many companies focus on hiring only active candidates who are skills and experienced qualified. At best this represents 10-20% of the total talent market. Yet these same companies contend their quality problems will end by hiring move passive candidates. However, to reach the passive talent market you can't use the same processes as are used to attract and hire active candidates. I refer to this dilemma as the Staffing Catch-22 Spiral of Doom. To recruit passive candidates you need to convince someone who's not looking that what you have to offer is better than what he/she is doing now. This is not easy to do.

Hiring passive candidates starts by recognizing these fundamental differences:

Passive Candidates are Not Interested in Lateral Transfers

To attract passive candidates you first need to fully understand the work that needs to be performed since the best passive candidates are not interested in considering poorly designed jobs. The passive candidate pool can be dramatically expanded by shifting to a performance qualified attraction and assessment process. This is what esteemed Harvard Professor Todd Rose describes in his new best-selling book, The End of Average, as the key difference between hiring average people and hiring remarkable ones.

Passive Candidates Need to be Recruited, Not Just Identified

The best passive candidates need to be identified, attracted, performance qualified, wooed and nurtured. The best way to find these people is to get referrals. This way you only need a short list of strong prospects to start with to find 4-5 strong finalists. The key to this is overcoming their initial concerns and then convincing them that the job you're offering represents a career move (see below). This is how you improve quality of hire.

This is an entirely different process than sourcing active candidates. In this case a wide net is used to find as many skills and experience qualified people as possible. The weakest are then screened out, the rest are filtered on compensation and the remaining few are urged to accept an ill-defined lateral transfer. If this doesn't work the net is expanded and the process repeated until a hiring manager reluctantly agrees to hire someone. This is why quality of hire doesn't improve.

Creating the Career Move Requires a Consultative Process

The short definition of a career move is a job that offers more satisfaction than the compensation. To make this case, recruiters need to convince passive candidates that their opening offers a 30% non-monetary increase. This is a combination of a bigger job, faster job growth and increased job satisfaction and requires a consultative recruiting process similar to the one used to sell complex custom products. This takes time, a few hours spread over a few weeks, but it's how you improve performance, satisfaction and retention.

Hiring active candidates is more transactional and commodity-like with speed and cost being the drivers of success. This is how you hire good people for ill-defined lateral transfers and wonder why they become disengaged within months after starting.

Technology is Just a Starting Point, Not the End Game

Obtaining prequalified referrals is at the core of passive candidate recruiting. A strong full-cycle recruiter only needs a starting list of 15-20 people like this to generate 4-5 high-quality serious candidates in a few days. LinkedIn Recruiter is a key part of this, especially when viewed as a network of 400 million people rather than just a database of names. All the recruiter needs to do is proactively search on his or her connection's connections to find some top people. Then get the referral. All that's left is to convince these people your opportunity represents a true career move. Too many talent leaders think technology is the solution for better hiring. It's not. It's just a starting point.

Make Sure You Have the Right Talent Strategy

Being more efficient doing the wrong things is why quality of hire has not improved. Reversing the trend starts by recognizing you can't use a talent strategy designed to weed out the below average to attract and hire the above average. As Prof. Todd Rose says, you need one designed to maximize individual performance.

Published on: Mar 2, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.