Inside the Brain of the Passive Candidate: Candidate Response Rate

June 30, 2015 at 12:30 PM by Vivek Reddy

candidate response rate

Since starting Entelo, we’ve had hundreds (probably over a thousand by now!) of conversations with people about how they recruit. We’ve heard all sorts of interesting stories and a lot of great ideas. A recent conversation with a recruiter spurred something that’s been smoldering for a while here at Entelo.

To this recruiter, the hiring industry was getting it wrong, and that with a quick shift in the team's mindset, recruiters would find more qualified people and companies would be satisfied with their hiring team. The missing piece boiled down to one metric: the candidate response rate.

Companies in fast-growth mode attempting to fill in-demand roles in tech, sales, and marketing, to name a few, can’t simply wait for the right candidates to come to them – they need to proactively find their talent. In the industry, this is referred to as passive candidate sourcing (a somewhat weak phrase for a critical company activity, but that’s a topic for another day). Facebook does this. So does Google.

The number of responses you receive from candidates is a function of two variables:

  1. The number of candidates you contact
  2. The percentage of candidates who respond

Let’s break down each element.

The number of candidates you contact

Theoretically, this number is unlimited. The major limitation here is your time as a recruiter. However, there are two schools of thought.

School #1: Recruiters should aim for volume, trying to mass-message as many people as possible. This is one of the benefits people find in tools like LinkedIn Recruiter. It allows them to mass-message more efficiently, thereby increasing the number of people who have been contacted.

School #2: Mass-messaging candidates is not efficient. For starters, it’s not ideal for candidates to receive dozens of generic messages in their inbox each week. Many of the opportunities might not be right for them, either because these candidates aren't interested in a new job, or worse, the role is irrelevant to their skills and experience. Many candidates view these messages as spam, which both annoys them (to the point many folks have stopped checking their LinkedIn InMails) and likely reflects negatively on you and the company.

The number of candidates who respond

Sending customized messages to candidates is often best (we take you through a step-by-step guide here). Personalized messages involves doing homework on potential candidates to assess fit and crafting messages specifically for each candidate. This process makes for a much better candidate experience, and most people are thrilled to receive messages from recruiters who clearly took the time to understand their work and expertise. The response rate from custom messages is significantly higher than that from mass-messaging.

But thoroughly researching candidates and crafting custom messages is hard work – it takes significant time and effort to study people and to draft a custom message. Realisitcally, you’re only going to be able to send a certain number of messages per day. Therein lies the rub and the crux of this series of posts.

If you’re limited in the number of messages you can send per day, then one of the most important decisions you’ll be making as a recruiter is which candidates you choose to message. This decision will be a critical factor in determining your organization’s success.

For many open reqs, there are more than enough quality candidates. If you’re looking for a Ruby on Rails engineer in the Bay Area and there are 10,000 Ruby on Rails engineers in the area, you can’t message all 10,000 of them in the appropriate fashion. You must choose your battles wisely. How do you do that?

Identify which passive candidates are actually more likely to be open to new opportunities.

Length of time at existing company

You can think of this like a bell curve. People that have been at their job for only a few months aren’t likely to be looking for something new at this point. Even if they are, it raises a red flag that they might be a job hopper and even if you could hire them, you may not want to. On the other hand, people who have been at their jobs for, say, 10 years, are also unlikely to be randomly looking to leave their company after all that time.

You want to focus on the “most likelies”, which includes people who have been at their job for anywhere between 10 months to 4 years. It breaks down like this:

  • 10-month mark – If someone is miserable early in the lifecycle of their job, they will often look to wrap up in a year and may be looking for their next gig around the 10-month mark. Also, employees may have a one year cliff for stock options that they want to hit before leaving. If they are looking to leave after one year, they’ll likely start poking around for new stuff around the 10-month mark. If your message is sent then, the timing could be perfect.

  • Two-year mark – As with the one-year mark, the two-year mark is also significant. It often will mean employees are 50% vested in their shares and two years at a company usually looks better than a one-year stint. Similar to the above, you may want to reach out to them two to three months in advance of their two-year anniversary.

  • Four-year mark – This is the point at which many people become fully vested. If things have gone really well for someone at a company, staying four years is usually pretty common. Very few people would fault an employee for leaving after four years.

So the sweet spot for recruiting passive candidates is usually between 10 months and four years with “spikes” at 10 months, 21-22 months and around 45 months.

What to do: Looking specifically for people who have been at their company for 21-22 months is hard. However, this general thinking should guide you when looking at a candidate. Someone who looks great on paper, but has only been at their company for five months is typically not as good a candidate as someone who looks slightly less ideal but who has been with their current company for 23 months.

Social networking activity

If you’re looking for the top leading indicator of a career change, you’ve found it. Most people don’t change their social networking profiles very often. They may be undertaking a lot of activity on a social network (e.g., posting status updates to Facebook) but actual profile changes are rare. When they happen, more often than not, it’s because people realize someone will likely be viewing their profiles soon and they want to make sure their profiles looks as good and accurate as possible. Sound like a job hunt? :)

  • Profile updates – This is the obvious one. When people change certain things on their LinkedIn, Twitter, Github and other profiles, it is highly correlated with their starting to look for a new career opportunity. Of course, this isn’t true 100% of the time. But once again, we’re looking for positive correlation, not perfect correlation.

  • Uptick in activity – A recent uptick in activity is another important indicator. Did someone who never used to go to Meetups all of a sudden start attending them frequently? Or perhaps you see someone on Github who has committed a lot of public code very recently. These things can often be highly correlated to someone looking for a new job.

  • New membership on social sites – Engineers know GitHub is the new resume, motivating those who don’t already have a GitHub profile to create one before they begin a new job hunt. The same is true for many other sites. There is a challenge here in many sites don’t make it easy to determine when a profile was created, but if you are able to figure that out, it can be helpful.

  • Connecting with recruiters – If you notice someone you are connected with starts connecting with recruiters, that’s often a sign they’re looking to make a move. In addition, if you see a lot of back and forth on Twitter between a candidate and a recruiter (even if it’s just friendly banter and not related to work) that can also be a leading indicator.

  • Adding recommendations on LinkedIn – This is probably the biggest giveaway someone is looking to make a move. After all, almost no one thinks about asking for recommendations when they are happy at their current job. LinkedIn lists the date the recommendation was posted. Looking for the addition of new recommendations when you’re looking at a candidate’s profile could give you a leg up.

  • Sentiment analysis on Twitter – While it’s possible someone’s “mood” on Twitter can indicate their potential willingness to make a career move, this is tough to get right. There are too many factors here to consider and so much noise vs. signal for most people. Sure, if you see someone say “I hate my job and my boss is a schmuck” on Twitter, that person might be open to a new career opportunity. (But this may not be the person you want to hire anyway).

Being deliberate and thoughtful about your approach to recruiting candidates is key to improving response rates and increasing the chances they'll want to hear more about the role you have to offer. Keep in mind, engaging people is a multi-touch process – build the relationship to build the interest. 

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