Facing An Applicant Shortage? Re-recruit Your “Candidates That Came Close”

Revisit candidates that came close, because now with few quality applicants, they may now be top hires.

Note: This “think piece” is designed to encourage the re-recruiting of “almost hired candidates.”

It’s a simple concept. Now that the competition for qualified talent has gotten so intense. You are likely not seeing anything close to the quality of candidates before the pandemic. This shortage of quality applicants has now forced hiring managers in many cases to lower their expectations for their new hires. And because of these lower expectations and more months of experience. The candidates that only “came close” during one of your past job openings. May today, instead, be ranked at the top of the current candidate list. For these reasons and to fill current openings, you should now develop a formal process for re-recruiting the best candidates “that came close to being hired.” 

A Brief Definition Of A “Candidate That Came Close”

To be classified as a “candidate that came close,” this individual must have proactively applied to one of your company’s open jobs within the last two years. Their resume and all of your past recruiter assessment notes must still be in your ATS system. Finally, the candidate would have “come close to being hired” during your company’s last job search for this position. 

There are four ways that a candidate could be labeled as “a candidate that came close.” In descending order of their potential impact. First, because they turned down your offer. Next, because they came in second for an open job (a Silver Medalist) and third because they were an exceedingly qualified candidate that, for some reason, dropped out before your hiring process ended. Finally, even though they were extremely well qualified. When recruiters revisited why they were rejected, they found a high probability that your company mistakenly screened them out for one or more seemingly minor reasons.

There Are Two Groups Of Candidates That Can Be Labeled As Coming Close

Two groups of candidates that can be labeled as “candidates that came close.” After identification, each qualifying candidate is considered for the next open job in their field. The qualifying candidate can be placed in two distinct groups. 

  • Group A – the Silver Medalists (those ranked as the runner-up) – this first group includes only candidates that came in second during one of your recent job openings. Alternatively, some organizations use a broader definition because they identify a Silver Medalist as a candidate that ranked either #2 or #3. 
  • Group B includes other exceptional candidates who were not hired for different reasons (other than being a Silver Medalist) – candidates in group B were not hired for one of three reasons. First, because they rejected your job offer. Or second, because they decided to drop out of your hiring process before it ended. Or third, because despite meeting all qualifications, for minor reasons, the company mistakenly screened them out before the final interview step. 

Why You Should Re-Recruit The “Candidates That Came Close” 

None of these candidates that came close are strangers to your company. Where not being strangers means that we currently know a great deal about them. In part because, as past applicants, you have already fairly assessed their qualifications. You also know that they already understand and like your company because they have previously taken the time to apply for one of your past open jobs. And when compared to stranger candidates. It will be much easier for your recruiters to understand their needs and successfully sell them to accept another job. 

Initial Action Steps For Identifying And Re-Recruiting “Candidates That Came Close

The five initial steps that you should plan on executing include.

  1. Start by identifying the finalists who turned down your offer – The candidates lost because they turned down your formal or informal offer are the most valuable. They were ranked #1. So it’s important first to make a list of them. And then find out specifically why each one turned down your offer. Next, identify what would have to change in the future if we wanted them to consider working for us when they next entered job search mode. Once identified, these “turndowns” should be automatically added to your talent community and candidate pipeline. Then your recruiters should actively propose them for consideration for all of the relevant future openings that match their skill set.
  2. Next, identify your “Silver Medalist” candidates – the next most valuable group are Silver Medalists, mostly because they came so close to being hired. Unfortunately, many managers initially think it’s a serious mistake to consider hiring another manager’s “rejects” (since another manager once rejected all Silver Medalists). You might be surprised to find that a 2020 Jobvite survey of recruiters revealed that “77% of recruiters had gone back and hired a “Silver Medalist.” So it makes sense to develop a process that identifies and records the candidates that ended up ranked as Silver Medalist at the end of each position search. Especially when a superstar also applied simultaneously for the same job. Because that means that had the superstar not applied this time, this Silver Medalist candidate would have been ranked #1. Past Silver Medalists are also highly valued because some time has passed since we last turned down these Silver Medalists. They are now even more valuable that have accrued some additional work experience. 
  3. Then identify and mark all exceptional applicants as they come in – Obviously, you can’t track the candidate dropout rate or the premature rejection rate of your exceptional candidates until you first have a process that immediately identifies which of your many applicants are truly exceptional. First, you must develop a process for the continuous screening of the received resumes so that you can immediately “mark” the resumes of any exceptional applicant that clearly exceeds all of the job requirements. Some organizations also designate diverse candidates that meet all of the job requirements as “exceptional.” Once these exceptional individuals have been identified, it makes sense to proactively “periodically prompt” each of them to maintain their interest and to prevent future ghosting. 
  4. Identify and track exceptional candidates that dropped out of the hiring process – During many searches, applicants that you have marked as exceptional will drop out. And because they are so extremely qualified, losing them will surely hurt you. Each would have been hired if they just remained actively involved until the end of your hiring process. So, develop a “dropout identification process” that operates both during each step of the hiring process and right after it’s completed. Use this process to try in real-time to determine if and when any of your exceptional candidates have dropped out or ghosted you. It also makes sense to try to find out why these exceptional candidates dropped out. So, after waiting a few months, proactively call, text, email, or survey each of the top candidate dropouts to find out specifically why they did it and if and how their dropping out could have been prevented. It’s also important to realize that many recruiters and hiring managers automatically refuse to revisit “dropouts” because they consider them to be quitters. However, such a practice is a mistake because the company must accept full blame for them dropping out in many cases. In fact, one study revealed that 70% of those that dropped out of a hiring process did not drop out because they didn’t want the job. But instead, because the hiring process required them to “spend more effort than they were willing to spend at that time.” So rather than holding their dropping out against these individuals, you should be thanking them for making you aware that there are significant “candidate turn off factors” in your hiring process.
  5. Finally, identify those exceptional candidates that we may have prematurely screened out – Google once instituted what they called “Project Janus” to identify if they had mistakenly rejected any highly desirable candidates. You should identify any candidates that you initially judged to be “exceptional” in that same light. That, for some reason, was rejected either during the resume screening or during the initial interviews. These exceptional candidates are known to meet all of the spelled-out job requirements fully. You must have an independent recruiter revisit the decision whenever they are rejected before the end of the process to determine if the rejection was either unnecessary or premature. If you have some extra time, you should also assign a recruiter whose role is to identify any exceptional candidates that were never even considered. And that means that the candidate couldn’t even become a reject because no recruiter was periodically searching your corporate ATS “black hole.” 

Additional Follow Up Action Steps Should Include

  • Build and maintain a talent community that includes all “candidates that came close” – Since many of your candidates that came close are highly qualified, many of them are not likely to be available for one of your immediate job openings. So, it makes sense to build a talent community where you can nurture and build trust with them until they are ready to consider another of your open positions. The best way to do that is to form a talent community initially. Then place the most relevant candidates into your talent pipeline. Start by designing the structure and the organization for your talent community. Implement your community on your website or a social media platform (usually LinkedIn). The primary goal should be to build and improve the relationship so that each job-seeking member will want to be considered for your future jobs, although they failed the first time around. Restrict membership in the community to only your employees and the “came close candidates” that you will consider hiring in the future. Periodically send community members information about the company’s employer brand and the relevant open jobs for each community member. Encourage your recruiters and employees to build relationships actively and to answer questions on the site. 
  • Proactively keep all talent community members “warm” – You want to keep members of the talent community continually excited. It makes sense to encourage recruiters and hiring managers to utilize CRM tools and approaches to maintain communications and build trust with all members of your talent community. Try to have a recruiter, employee, manager, or an employee in the same field assigned to each member to maintain a relationship and ensure some form of contact occurs at least every two months.
  • Assign the most job-ready candidates to your talent pipeline for re-recruitment – Your talent pipeline should be reserved for members of the talent community that will soon be ready to compete for one of your soon-to-be-opened jobs. Periodically add only the most desirable prospects to your pipeline based on their interest in how their skills and qualifications match your upcoming needs. Your recruiters should be much more active with members of the talent pipeline. You must never spam pipeline members with any open jobs that are only marginally relevant to them. 
  • Continually verify the current level of job interest of each candidate in the talent pipeline– Your talent pipeline should only contain the names of talent community members that are the most interested and available for one of your new job openings. Those important enough to assign a group of corporate recruiters to periodically go through your talent community membership and place the most likely candidates into your talent pipeline. Once a candidate is placed in the pipeline. It’s important that you assign a recruiter who will subtly contact the candidates they are responsible for to assess each pipeline member’s current level of interest in being considered for the next openings. Because many of the candidates “that you did not hire” have exceptional skills. Many will have already accepted a job at another company. So for these individuals, you need to be ready to wait for one or two years before you can begin to proactively send them notices about your new job opening.
  • Encourage referrals among “candidates that came close” – Increase the number of hours spent on recruiting by encouraging your employees to maintain a relationship with those placed in the talent pipeline. Go further by encouraging your employees to make referrals from the group of talent community and pipeline candidates that especially impressed them.
  • Consider assessing the overall quality of the candidates not hired – Imagine if you were the CEO of an NBA team. How pissed would you be when you found out that the famous player LeBron actually applied to play for your team. But for some reason, he wasn’t hired. You would be extremely concerned because you would always be fanatical about hiring anyone from the handful of exceptional players that would make a “game-changing” contribution if hired. And if you understand CEOs, you would certainly expect your recruiting function to measure and report the quality of the candidates that you didn’t hire. Because identifying how many and why each exceptional candidate was missed can go a long way towards improving your hiring process and the business impacts of your recruiting. Of course, your CEO would expect the recruiting function to measure and report the improved performance level of the candidates you hired. You can find out more about the simplest approach for measuring quality of hire here.

Final Thoughts

Everyone should understand, upfront, that the primary reason for identifying and courting “candidates that came close” is to re-recruit them to improve the overall performance level of those that you hire. Some call this higher performance level quality of hire. However, whatever you call it, unfortunately, only 26% of organizations have a formal methodology for measuring quality of hire. So, unfortunately, if your recruiting function doesn’t measure the performance level of their new hires. It will be impossible to prove the business results attributed to your “candidates that came close hiring program.” If you do begin to measure quality of hire in your organization, don’t be surprised when you find that hiring a “Silver Medalist” and those that rejected your offer are ranked around #3 on the list of the best candidate sources for quality hires (after top performer referrals and boomerang rehires). My advice in a tight job market is first to drop each of your marginal sources. Then expand your list of sources that you focus on to ensure that you are only utilizing the best sources of hire.

Author’s Note 

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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