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Starved for workers? Resurface your top candidates from past job openings

We’re in a tight talent market and many employers are finding their candidates per hire plummeting. This means we need to look at fresh sources for potential new employees, and promoting job openings to them. Turns out that one of those sources is right in your own backyard: candidates from past jobs in your company.

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

Passionate about human resources, employment, and business management, and an expert at sharing that expertise.

Consider this scenario: you had a job opening a few months ago that attracted 30 solid candidates. Five of them made it to the finish line before you made that job offer to one lucky finalist.

It was a tough decision in the end, of course, but that now means you have four high-quality candidates that you could consider for another, similar role in your organization.

The benefits of resurfacing past candidates

The value of resurfacing past candidates may be already clear, but let’s quickly walk through those tangible benefits one by one:

1. Candidates are already pre-vetted

The candidates in your system have already been evaluated – especially the finalists – even if it was for another, different job. Your hiring team is already familiar with them – and notes can be shared with new hiring team members. In short, these candidates are already pre-vetted, enabling you and your team to get a head start on evaluating them for a new role.

2. Your time to hire is quicker

Because candidates come pre-vetted, the time it takes from that first application to the first day of the new job will be markedly shorter. You may not even have to post the job ad again – just start reaching out to those past candidates and close the loop on the whole process.

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3. It can be a better candidate experience

It’s a great experience for candidates, too. Jobseekers who are contacted for new opportunities with you will be encouraged to know that they won’t have to go through the whole evaluation period again from scratch. That’s very attractive to candidates exploring multiple opportunities or are weary of the job search.

Plus, it’s always nice to know you’re wanted. That’s a powerful message to a candidate.

4. It saves time and money

The recruitment process can be time-consuming and expensive. All the costs associated with posting a job ad and other tangible expenses, combined with the number of hours invested in the process by members of the hiring team, can add up.

You’ve seen our tutorial on how to calculate the ROI of an ATS. Some of those expenses can apply here as well to show the ROI of resurfacing past candidates. There’s a huge amount of time and resources saved by recontacting candidates you’re already familiar with.

5. You know they’re interested

These are candidates who have already gone through the process with you. They’re already more familiar with your company now, and if you’ve communicated your side well, they clearly want to work for you. Otherwise, they wouldn’t apply, right?

The risks of resurfacing past candidates

With every new solution, new challenges arise. There can be risks in reconnecting with past candidates. Let’s go through those risks one by one.

1. Reconnecting can be awkward

It’s just like when you break up with someone – and then you text them later to check in on them and see about going on another date. Awkward, right?

The same applies here. The ego of a rejected candidate may be bruised and they may feel put off by the fact that you’ve just contacted them again for another role.

Fair enough. Put yourself in their shoes. You’d feel like you were the “second choice’ because the other person didn’t work out or something like that. Not good for a candidate experience, and doesn’t bode well for your employer brand.

2. The new job is ‘less’ than the old one

It’s possible that the new opening you’re reaching out to candidates about is at a lower pay grade or requires less experience than the original job they applied for. That’s not a great message to send to a candidate: “You’re not good enough for that role, but perhaps this lower-paid, less interesting job in the same company will be a better fit for you.”

Would you go for an opportunity like that? Probably not.

3. There are data privacy issues

Thanks to social media, outbound marketing efforts, and other developments, data privacy legislation – and awareness – is popping up everywhere. At best, people can be wary and feel invaded when contacted out of the blue. At worst, they may be suspicious as to how you got their contact information and challenge you on that point even publicly. Again, not a good look for your brand.

The best practices of resurfacing past candidates

OK, now that we’ve been through the good and the bad – let’s go to the best practices. How can you do it in a way that wins the best candidates to your team? Let’s start:

1. Preempt the potential awkwardness

Every interaction with a candidate – even though they’re not yet an employee – impacts their impression of you and your employer brand. Everything counts – your timely messaging, your friendly, engaging manner, the time in between stages, setting expectations, the whole bit.

Making a strong positive impression on the candidate may actually increase their willingness to work for you. If you end up selecting someone else for the job, the candidate may be disappointed but responsive when you tell them you’d love to keep their resume on file for potential future openings with the company.

2. Clarify that it’s not a “rejection”

No one likes to feel rejected – whether you’re turning down an expression of affection, a project proposal or, of course, a job application. It may be a candidate market right now, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting when you tell a candidate, “Sorry – you were great, but we went with this other person instead.”

It does matter how you do it. You can outright reject the candidate, and they’ll walk away in a huff, and you’ll never hear from them again. Or you can turn it around and explain that they aren’t actually being rejected – it’s just that they weren’t the right fit for this specific role that you’re hiring for. But you would love to keep their application on file because your company will be opening up more roles very soon (see above).

Related: Learn how to reject candidates without burning bridges

3. Allow candidates to self-select in

When you’re hiring at scale or turning away dozens of candidates in the screening/first interview stage, you may not have the time or opportunity to engage each and every one of them using the above two tips.

That’s where you can include an option in the application form giving candidates the opportunity to self-select in for future opportunities with you. This can be a checkbox, a verbal agreement, or something else. Note that this may be a requirement in some jurisdictions due to privacy laws.

4. Look at notes about candidates

A good practice for members of the hiring team is to keep clear and consistent notes on candidates after an interaction with a candidate be it an email, interview, screening call, or another form of communication. If those notes are comprehensive, that’s where you should look to get a good understanding of whether candidates are interested in a specific role with your company or in being part of your team overall.

Read more: How to document interview feedback for your hiring team

Maybe you’re looking to fill a similar role (i.e. another opening in sales) or you’re hiring in another area altogether – one way or another, these notes will help you hugely in predicting their interest in pursuing a new opportunity with you.

5. Engage only the top-shelf candidates

Finally, you don’t want to give false hope to those middle-of-the-road candidates who probably wouldn’t have gotten the job anyway. If you do that, you’re wasting their time – and yours as well. That leads to a poor experience and could reflect badly on your brand as an employer.

It’s better to only reach out to those star candidates who you sincerely think will be great fits for the new role. When you’re looking at those resurfaced candidates, ask yourself if you’d hire them on the spot. If the answer is yes, reach out to them. If it’s no, then move on.

6. Set clear messaging and expectations

This best practice is probably the most important. You don’t ever want to send a clumsy message to a jilted candidate and leave them with even more questions than answers. It’s worse if you skip over the reality that you rejected them the first time around.

Instead, be clear in your language so the candidate has all the information they want and need. In a friendly email, you can cover the following points, for instance:

  • Your previous relationship – include quick details about the previous job, who they communicated with, and the conclusion of that process
  • Why you’re reaching out to them now – include information about how they opted in for future opportunities and that you have a new role they might be interested in
  • Details about the new job – include job description, who the position reports to/works with, salary (if applicable), and other related details
  • Why they’re a great fit for the new role – this one is especially important. This is also your opportunity to address issues around lower pay grades, different responsibilities, and other question marks the candidate might have.
  • A timeline – ideally with preset dates for interviews and a decision.

Here’s an example of how all of that can be addressed in a short, punchy email:

“Hi [candidate], I hope this email finds you well. We talked with you previously about job X, and you expressed your interest in staying in touch.

While we ended up going with another candidate for job X, we’d love to meet with you again about job Y in our company. I’ll be honest – it’s at a lower pay grade/has different responsibilities than job X, but there are elements of this new job that we think you’d be very excited about.

The job description is attached, and the role will report directly to our CMO. We’re looking to make a hiring decision by Thursday, January 10.

If you’re interested – and we hope you are – please book a time with me at [calendar link].”

Remember, you’re both professionals talking about a business arrangement in the end. You’re both mutually interested parties; if you go about it right, you’ll attract those candidates and hopefully win them over in quick time.

Getting candidates for a job is no longer as simple as posting a job ad. You can now market your company and role to them, you can source new candidates, and you can get back in touch with candidates who are already back in your system.

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