I hope you take my humble ramblings as a little reminder that talent acquisition is not as straightforward as one could think…
Know the difference between a job description and an advert
I am so glad I was taught this at the very beginning of my career.
There is a fundamental difference between a job description (often long, prescriptive… and boring) and an advert – usually sharp, quirky, and ultimately, meant to make candidates feel ours is the place they want to work at. The biggest mistake we can make at the beginning of any hiring process is using a job description as an advert; spending some time ‘translating’ the description into something more attractive (and, why not, SEO friendly) will pay off, so try and make sure you work on that immediately after the brief with your hiring manager.
Mind your window shopping
Presentation is key, and I am not only referring to the careers page: other than keeping your adverts neat and tidy (obviously), make sure the company’s social presence is adequate and reflective of what you are trying to sell: I would not talk about that “amazing tech team working on cutting-edge projects” when your GitHub repository is empty (or nowhere to be found), nor would I oversell my company/client as it takes seconds to have a look on platforms like Feefo to get a less biased picture.
A good browser (i.e. a passive candidate, who ‘by definition’ is in no hurry to change their status) will do their due diligence – best to have them in mind when you sort everything out.
Make your advert stick
How do I make my adverts more attractive, then? First off, I suggest you look up “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath – their tips on how to make any idea one worth remembering are perfectly adaptable to advert writing. Make sure your posting is simple, unexpected (e.g. challenge the status quo by, say, describing what is not involved in the role rather than the BAU), concrete, credible, emotional (let candidates know they can and will make a difference, but mean it!), and most importantly, tell your audience a story (bullet points are fine, but a bit of narration does not hurt).
Know thy potential candidate
Recruitment is not just about a nice shopping window, though; sometimes you need a bit of work to proactively engage with potential candidates too. And that’s a bit like dating: it can be long, competitive, and first impressions are key. And especially with the proliferation of dating apps, a simple “hey what’s up” (yep, guilty) it’s not the best way of chatting your potential date up as they will be very selective as to who they reply to.
Similarly, in recruitment (and especially headhunting) you want to impress from the very first message you send through. But how? Simple: do a bit of research. Read their blogs, see what they usually tweet about.
Be smart with your content - don't spam
Yes, you are right: headhunting is often a numbers’ game, and while we all hate spamming the same message to hundreds of people (right?), writing personalised messages when you need a shortlist of 3 by yesterday and know you have to approach dozens of potentials as the response rate could be as low as 10/20%, can be hard and daunting. And it’s easy to resort to templates.
The thing is, you don’t need to write a whole email from scratch every time you approach someone – and as I will explain later, it’s not like you have to write a poem!
Exploit the primacy and recency effects and write a nice, personalised intro with an equally non-standard ending, perhaps including a specific call to action that will most likely prompt an equally specific response, e.g. “are you free for a quick chat at 3pm?”
Those will be the two sections readers will focus on the most; you can then use the middle bit to actually describe role, team, and why they should come and work with you, and that can stay the same.
Mind your subject line
Never forget the most important picklock of them all: your subject line! In fact, that’s the one thing that actually prompts someone to read your messages Avoid words like “job” and “opportunity” and focus on something they talked about in one of their social networks. I once came across a guy who had “ask me why I season my chicken” in the contact section of his website. I did ask in my subject line, and he came back within minutes.
Be mindful of timing
Think about this: when and how are you most likely to open up an email that’s not work-related? I have a feeling your answer would be along the lines of: either before or after work, quite possibly while you commute to/from work, and on a mobile device. Why would you think others would act differently? To maximise response rate, then, try and keep your messages short and sharp enough (see, no poems) to be read on the go and on a small screen, and since we all appreciate it could be a bit of a stretch to send messages at 7 or 8 in the morning and we all want a bit of downtime after a hard day at the office.
Now, I know I said recruitment is very much like dating, and in dating the so-called “double message” is often a no-no as it makes you look desperate. Fortunately, that does not apply to headhunting – what if they got interrupted mid-message by the guard telling them there was a signalling problem at Clapham Junction and lost every will to read on? How can you tell whether they are genuinely disinterested? Don’t be afraid to follow up after a day or so, it won’t do any harm.
You probably noticed I have mostly focused on good old emails, as that’s usually the medium that gives you appropriate room to convey your message. That does not mean you should not look at other channels, too – especially if, as I mentioned above, you need to follow up. Have their telephone number? WhatsApp/text them – I just don’t like cold calls, I am sorry, so best to have one arranged beforehand if you want to chat. Do they tweet regularly? Find one you can relate to and reply. Do they have their Skype details available? Probably because they use it often.
Once again, do your research, and you will know where’s best to get their attention and engage them.