The big hunt
actively searching for passive candidates helps organizations target superstars
BY KATE ROCKWOOD
When organizations need to find project talent, sometimes it pays to be the aggressor. Digging through the résumé slush pile or searching the company's application-tracking system doesn't always reveal the right fit. That's when looking for candidates who aren't looking can be the answer.
Like other program, portfolio or human resources leaders, Jennifer Gance, PMP, human resources director, Destination Hotels and Resorts, Denver, Colorado, USA, takes a multipronged approach to chase passive candidates—people who might be open to a new position but aren't actively searching.
In addition to a company referral program, she finds passive candidates by networking at PMI chapter meetings and association gatherings for other professions. When she spreads news of any job opening via a LinkedIn post, she also asks her 50 managers to share it across social media.
“We go to passive candidates when we're looking for someone with very specific skills and we're not finding that talent in our applicant tracking system,” says Ms. Gance.
As the global economy has stabilized, the employment malaise has lifted. That means the best project talent might not be on the market. Nearly three in four CEOs worry that a lack of available talent with key skills will threaten their organizations’ growth prospects, according to PwC's 19th Annual Global CEO Survey.
“Those people that are not actively thinking about changing their job at the moment may actually be those that you need,” says Daniel Mylnikov, head of solutions delivery and talent acquisition, eWave, Sydney, Australia.
Communicating with people who aren't looking for a new position requires more finesse than reaching out to someone who's applied for a job opening. Recruiting passive candidates often starts with making a personal connection, says LaDonna Tucker, director of talent acquisition and mobility in North America, Schneider Electric, Carrollton, Texas, USA.
“Every person has probably received cold emails or LinkedIn messages that look like a form-letter introduction. Those are what people respond less to,” she says. “I'm encouraging my team to be more creative, to think more like a salesperson or marketer, trying to attract passive candidates to our brand.”
To strike the right tone, Ms. Tucker recommends gathering intelligence on potential candidates before making contact. Scanning an individual's social media profiles can help a recruiter customize his or her introduction and name-drop any shared connections. These tactics make a response more likely, Ms. Tucker says, and can open the door to a conversation about the organization.
Just as a personalized message will yield more ROI than cranking out form letters, having longer, more meaningful conversations with a handful of people at an industry event will do more to build a lasting network than blanketing the room with business cards.
“We go to passive candidates when we're looking for someone with very specific skills and we're not finding that talent in our applicant tracking system.”
—Jennifer Gance, PMP, Destination Hotels and Resorts, Denver, Colorado, USA
“I think quality is far more important than quantity,” says Elizabeth Harrin, director of the project management consultancy Otobos Group, London, England.
It can be helpful to scan speaker and attendee lists to find high-potential prospects in advance of a conference, and to prioritize events that focus on the core competency in question. For example, attending a select number of industry gatherings focused on project management might yield more exposure to worthwhile passive candidates than filling the calendar with events only tangentially related to the open project role.
After meeting a strong prospect, Ms. Harrin is diligent about following up. “I use a networking notebook organized by first name, as I can never remember surnames when I need to look someone up.”
“Acquiring good talent into the organization and onto the project teams is really the job of everybody.”
—LaDonna Tucker, Schneider Electric, Carrollton, Texas, USA
A HEAD START
Whether it's online or in person, organizations should “play the long game” if they want to stay competitive, Ms. Tucker says. Cultivating a passive talent pipeline can help human resources teams respond quickly to fill talent gaps—and reduce the drag on a project team's productivity.
“We're very active about building relationships and keeping candidates engaged, even when there isn't an active opening,” she says. “The passive candidate is what most organizations, including our own, are targeting. That's become our primary focus.”
Online networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus have made it easier for organizations to reach passive talent, but social media is not the be-all and end-all for strategic talent acquisition, Ms. Tucker cautions. Industry conferences, networking events and PMI chapter meetings can all spark brand interest for someone who might not otherwise consider the organization or its openings. And that's a lesson for both human resources professionals and project practitioners. “Acquiring good talent into the organization and onto the project teams is really the job of everybody,” she says.
Poach-Proof Top Talent
High-performing project talent is a hot commodity. But top team members aren't just selling their skills to the highest bidder—they want to work for an organization that has their interest at heart.
These three treat-them-well strategies will help keep poachers at bay without breaking the bank:
1 LIGHT THE PATH FORWARD. Defined career paths show project professionals they're an important part of the organization, and can help improve retention in a competitive job market, says LaDonna Tucker, director of talent acquisition and mobility in North America, Schneider Electric, Carrollton, Texas, USA. Highperforming organizations—those that complete at least 80 percent of their projects on time and budget and within scope—are significantly more likely to provide a defined project management career path, according to PMI's 2015 Pulse of the Profession® report.
2 KEEP THEM INTERESTED. Boost job satisfaction by providing mentorship programs, ongoing training and the opportunity to work on stretch projects. One in three people who are highly satisfied in their current position say feeling challenged is a main driver of their satisfaction, according to a CareerBuilder survey.
3 SHOW MORE THAN THE MONEY. Offer creative compensation, such as schedule flexibility or additional paid time off. For instance, 42 percent of U.S. employees say having workplace flexibility reduces the likelihood that they'll look for another job, according to a 2015 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.
Ms. Gance encourages employees to hand out the business cards to any potential candidate they encounter. Last year, as a way to solicit passive candidates or unearth hidden talent gems, she customized her business card to include an offer for a 20-minute interview to anyone who's interested—no strings attached. So far, the business-card offer has led to several interviews and potential candidates.
“They might not be looking now, but if they're at all curious, they can come interview,” she says. “I may not hire them right away, but they may make a great future hire. Talking with passive candidates plants the seed for future cultivation.”
“In the absolute majority of cases, the best hires we've done are through our networks and connections of our connections.”
—Daniel Mylnikov, eWave, Sydney, Australia
At eWave, the management team encourages everyone at the organization to make talent acquisition a responsibility. When there's a project opening, the hiring manager makes sure everyone understands exactly what the position entails and what type of cultural fit the company is looking for.
“The best performers always know other good performers,” Mr. Mylnikov says. “We'll ask our customers, colleagues, supporters, suppliers: Who are the best people you know and have worked with? Then we get in touch. In the absolute majority of cases, the best hires we've done are through our networks and connections of our connections.” PM
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