Most people don’t know how to fish for talent that’s not looking for a hook. These elusive prospects are known as passive candidates. Headhunting is the process of finding people who are not overtly looking for a job. Your starting point is to know what you’re hunting and as much as possible about its habitat. Think about what the ideal person looks like. What experience do they need to have? What kind of job are they doing now? Which companies must have good people doing this job? Start building a profile. The key to sourcing is figuring out what you’re hunting and where it lives.
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The Hunting Grounds:
• Mature companies: You’re looking for established companies doing a great job at what you’re looking for (eg. selling to SMEs, content marketing). You’re looking for people trained by the best, whose options have vested, who are ready to move on to a new exciting gig.
• Vulnerable companies: Startups are volatile. When a company experiences a shakeup, there’s a window of opportunity. Signs to look for include the departure of a leadership figure; ventures which have gone 18 months with no follow-up funding or rumours of lay-offs. You’re looking for drift and discontent where the talent works so mine the industry reports (CrunchBase, Mattermark, CB Insights, Owler) and listen to the gossip.
• Events: Where do the best people on your shortlist hang out? Think about what kind of events they attend and make sure you’re there. These settings give you the chance to meet people who you may want to approach in the future. When the time comes you will have less cold calling to do.
• Universities: The very best talent are only truly unemployed once in their life: right out of college. Universities have structures that help you identify this top echelon. They’re at careers fairs, on internship programmes, or even doing work experience that contributes course credits.
PRO TIP: Look for companies 6-12 months after a seed funding without followup.
Make A Shortlist And Lean In
Now that we know what to search for, all these sourcing tools ￼(LinkedIn, TalentBin, GitHub, Sourcing.io) actually become useful. Start browsing profiles and make a long-list of prospects. Prioritise people who you can reach out to through your extended network. If you can’t get an intro, then see if you can engage them on social media (Twitter) or engineer a chance meeting.
PRO TIP: Attend startup community meetups, design conventions or hackathons.
A courtship doesn’t begin with leaning in, it starts with people getting to know each other. If you do this well the prospect will have already gotten to know you before the conversation turns to a job offer. These are people you may not hire today, or even one year from now. They may also be the key to introducing you to your best hires in the future.
This is where you turn when you’re short on time or confidence to follow the steps above. They can be a fantastic shortcut. It might look simple but there are a couple of things to bear in mind. Look out for recruiters who have hired for small companies before and have a track record of placement in the role you’re looking for. Most startups use contingent recruiters whom you pay only when they deliver someone you hire (typically between 15-25% of the hire’s annual salary). The upside is that you only pay for what you get. The downside is that your aim and the recruiter’s aim are not the same. You want to hire great people. They want you to hire someone. This subtle difference can lose you time dealing with uninspiring candidates.
PRO TIP: Don’t squeze your recruiter for every penny. They’ll think twice before referring the next high-quality candidate to another competitor or well-funded company.
A Nod To Ethics
You need to be competitive. You also live in a community. Getting the balance right can be as simple as being mindful of basic good manners.