How to Engage Passive Candidates on Your First Exploratory Call


Research has found that in today’s candidate market, 75% of the talent pool is passive. And if you are looking to hire for a critical position, 95% are passive.

This means that when you’re trying to make your next hire, sending out an introductory email, even if personalized, is often not enough to convince, let alone hire top talent for a high impact position. All the email does is invite an interesting candidate to a discussion. Once the candidate replies and expresses any level of interest, whether it is an enthusiastic “Yes, let’s talk” or a lukewarm “Sounds interesting, maybe”, it’s going to take a really great first conversation to take it forward.

Here are some important pointers to engage with candidates on that first call, and help move them to the interview stage.  

Context is king

As soon as the candidate responds to the first email reachout, waste no time in Googling them. In today’s world, nothing you offer - be it an air cooler, vacation or a job - is relevant without context. You need to find out who the candidate is, beyond their CV or LinkedIn profile.

When looking for information about a candidate - say a Front End Engineer, you should check out their profile on online communities like GitHub, StackOverflow and BitBucket to understand the kind of projects the candidate has worked on and the work they are passionate about. To take it even further, checking out their profiles on Quora and Twitter helps you understand what other topics interest them. See if they have written any blogs, published papers or own patents that will give you insights to their particular fields of expertise.

In the short time you have them on phone, it's details like these that keep the candidate hooked and willing to continue the conversation.

If you are hiring through Belong, you’d have noticed that many of these key insights are already part of the personalized reachout mail sent to the candidate. However, the social dashboard in the candidate profile gives you a deeper look into the candidate’s accomplishments, interests and aspirations.

Once you have a fair idea of who the candidate is, it’s not only easier to tailor a personalized pitch that appeals to them, but also have an insightful conversation.

Understand the opportunity, not the job mandate

Unsurprisingly, one of the most common questions from passive talent is - ‘What’s in it for me?’ And when relying solely on Job Descriptions to understand the role, it places serious limitations to how you describe the role to candidates.

Candidates want to understand the role, but more importantly, want to understand their impact.

Even on this first call, passive candidates need to be convinced of the opportunity and will inevitably have multiple questions about the role that you need to be well prepared for.

Instead of a Job Description, ask your Hiring Managers for an Opportunity Description with questions like the following.

  1. What is the opportunity for broader impact - How will they be making a difference in their industry or in the way the world works?
  2. What will the candidate be working on? What is the problem that they will be solving?
  3. How will their work impact the team’s success? How will their contribution align with the company’s vision and objectives?
  4. What is the growth potential for this role?
  5. What will make this person successful and what are the metrics on which they will be evaluated?
  6. What are the tools, programming languages and software the candidate is expected to work on?
  7. Is there a preference of profile? What kind of work should the candidate have experience in?
  8. What are the salary constraints?

These questions will help you have a much more constructive discussion with the candidate while setting expectations clearly. It will also help you eliminate candidates who don’t quite fit in.

Prepare a personalized pitch

Based on the above two points, prepare a pitch about the role as well as your company that would have the most effect on the candidate. Even when introducing the company, personalizing can help the candidate stay engaged.

Instead of using heavily templated language that the candidate might tune out - be razor specific in details pertinent to the candidate.

Using the information about the candidate’s skills and experience, be armed with answers about the tech stack currently used by the team that the candidate will be working with. It’s also important to have information about products that the candidate will be working on, or products in the pipeline. If you’re hiring for a startup, you should have information about the founders and the company’s funding on your fingertips as well.

We’ve demonstrated the difference between what can usually be a regular exploratory call, and what can be a highly engaging, personalized pitch below:

Generic Conversation:

Pooja the Recruiter: Hey Rajiv. This is Pooja. Thanks for replying to the email. I just wanted to check if you are interested in the SDE position at XYZ Infolabs.  

Rajiv: Uhh...hey. Yeah, can you tell me more?

Pooja: Sure. So XYZ Infolabs is the tech wing of the luxury brand Sivogy that specializes in high end apparel like clothing, watches and so on. We are building an ecom platform..

Rajiv: I am sorry to interrupt, but my friend John used to work there before. I already know what you guys do. Can you tell me more about the role? What project will I get to work on?

Pooja: Okay, so you will be working with a team of 5 who are building the maps feature for the mobile app...

Rajiv: I’ve already built and implemented a Maps project, it is featured on GitHub. What am I learning here?

Pooja:...Uh sure, so…the maps feature is going to be built from scratch, so your expertise would be very valuable.

Rajiv: Okay Pooja, thanks for giving me a call, but I don’t think a move at the moment will be great for me. I will pass. Sorry.

Pooja: Okay, thank you.

Personalized Conversation:

Pooja the Recruiter: Hey Rajiv. This is Pooja from XYZ Infolabs. Thanks for replying to the email. Is this a good time to talk?

Rajiv: Hello. Sure, it is. How are you?

Pooja: Fantastic! I’d love to discuss the recent Leicester City victory since I know you’re a fan, but how about we talk about the opportunity? I know your friend John used to work here. Has he told you about the work we do?

Rajiv: Based on my conversation with him and going through your site, it seems like you are building an e-com platform?

Pooja: Spot on! We are the tech wing of luxury brand Sivogy and we’re trying to redefine how luxury products should be sold. Our mobile app will combine the recommendation intelligence of traditional ecommerce, a non-traditional UX and deals based on location.

Rajiv: Wow, that sounds like a lot of different problems being solved by a single solution.

Pooja: Which is why we need people like you onboard! We loved your Maps project on GitHub, the value someone like you can add to the team is immense.

Rajiv: Ha ha, thank you!

Pooja: You will be working to build the Maps project ground up. Then your team will work with the data science team to implement various features like event invites and deals based on location. Why don’t you pop in for a visit next week for a quick chat?

Rajiv: That sounds pretty interesting. I think I will!!

Pooja: Excellent. I will shoot you a mail with the date, time and location. 


Taking it forward

If the call goes well, send across a quick recap of the conversation - a profile of the company with relevant social links (including awesome Glassdoor reviews), the description of the role as well as any material or information requested while on the call. Also outline the interview process - the various rounds they can expect, the team members they will be interacting with and how they will be evaluated. We’ve written an entire blog post about how to prepare a candidate for their job interview here.

Handling rejections

Rejections aren’t talked about nearly enough, despite playing a big part in candidate experience.

Recruitment is a long term investment, and even if the candidate is currently not open to new opportunities, that doesn’t mean that they will never be.

Connect with them on LinkedIn, try to keep in touch. These are the candidates that make up a curated top of the funnel, and can seriously cut down the time taken for your next hire.

This first call is crucial for more reasons than one - it is a continuation of the great impression set by the email, just much more personal. This ten minute conversation could be the difference between getting a candidate who is exploring to interested, or dropping off altogether.

We’ve created a downloadable checklist to help you easily prepare for exploratory calls - including what you need to research before the call, questions to ask the hiring manager, and the steps to follow up after every call.

Download Checklist →

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