The Recruiting Funnel

I recently wrote an article for ERE describing my 20/20/60 sourcing plan. This plan represents the idea that a blend of sourcing programs should be used to ensure your company is hiring the best people possible; i.e., a combination of both active and passive. The recruiting funnel offers a graphical means to describe the difference between these two approaches.

There are two assumptions behind this funnel concept. First, if the demand for talent is greater than the supply, you’ll need to emphasize passive candidate recruiting and sourcing. This is referred to as a talent scarcity strategy. This is represented by all of the steps, or layers, shown in the funnel graphic.

In a talent surplus situation, the assumption is that there are plenty of good people in the talent pool: the top level in the funnel. Assuming the assumption is correct, all you need to do then is force everyone who’s interested in the job to formally apply and become official candidates. This is represented by the “Active Path,” — the shortcut handle on the left. Once in this pool, the objective is to screen out the weak with the hope that a few good people remain to become finalists and ultimately great hires.

Recognize that for this active, or surplus model, to yield top performers, a number of conditions need to exist:

  • First, the person needs to be actively looking
  • Second, the person found your posting or job listing somehow
  • Third, the person is willing to accept a lateral transfer
  • Fourth, the person is a top performer, or at least meets you minimum hiring standards

This is a rare set of circumstances, and will only work, even in the short term, if a talent surplus actually exists. But even if the process works in the short term, a true top achiever will be unwilling to remain in a less-than-ideal job for too long. To minimize this potential problem, even in a talent surplus situation, the focus should be on offering career growth opportunities, not lateral transfers. This is why I suggest that traditional skills-infested job descriptions be replaced by performance profiles for both active and passive hiring processes. In a talent scarcity situation the active candidate shortcut will not work at all; in fact, it will be  counter-productive. For one thing it will be difficult to maintain quality of hire standards, and for another, hiring managers will delay hiring anyone, hoping a star will soon emerge.

In a talent scarcity situation, recruiters and hiring managers actually need to talk with people and convince them that what you have to offer is better than what they either have now, or are considering. This is represented in the funnel by the extra two steps:  getting leads/referrals and converting these people into prospects. A prospect is someone who is fully qualified, but needs more information to become an official candidate.

A number of important steps are required to work through the lead to prospect to candidate passive path properly. One, making sure the prospect pool is filled with highly qualified people, and two, strong recruiters who can contact these people and covert them into prospects and ultimately into candidates. A recruiter who is deeply networked in a niche specialty is one way to get great referrals. Getting referrals by proactively searching on your co-workers connections using LinkedIn Recruiter and getting them to vouch for the person before calling is another way.

When engaging with these referrals, start with an exploratory career discussion rather then trying to force fit the person into a specific job opening. Then if the person is qualified and interested, have the prospect talk with the hiring manager on an exploratory basis. The hiring manager needs to be proactively involved in getting the prospect to commit to becoming a serious candidate by demonstrating that the opening represents a true career move. Passive candidate recruiting requires the close partnership with the recruiter and hiring manager, and while it takes some extra effort, it’s worth it, if quality of hire is improved.

Of course there’s more to passive candidate recruiting than just this. In fact, much of what’s required will be covered in my new book, The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired, which will be published in December, 2012. (Email to be added to the mailing list.) In the interim, I’d suggest reading through some of these articles to gain a better appreciation for passive candidate recruiting.

In a talent scarcity situation you don’t have a choice of which path to take down the recruiting funnel, at least if you want to maximize quality of hire. While passive candidate sourcing and recruiting might seem more challenging to begin with, higher quality hires clearly justifies whatever extra effort is required. In fact, a case can be made that passive candidate recruiting using this recruiting funnel model results in higher quality hires at a lower cost and much shorter time to fill than taking the active candidate shortcut. The key reason: defining quality of hire up front and using a direct recruiting process is more likely to produce great hires quickly and on a consistent basis rather than waiting for top people to find and apply to your postings. While you need to be more active finding and hiring passive candidates, the recruiting funnel offers a simple means to explain your options, and show you how to get there.

  • Keith Halperin

    Thank. Lou. Before recruiters start looking for passive (or as I prefer to say, “slow-hire”) candidates, they need to establish whether the hiring manasgers will be
    1) Willing to wait the long periods often necessary to get “slow hires” on board.

    2) Realistically able to attract (with $$, benefits, real opportunity, QoWL, etc.)anything better than “run-of-the-mill” candidates, which is unlikely to be the case in competitively-skilled fields and for the vast majority of companies. As I’ve said:
    “To hire the best, you need to offer the best or be the best (at more than marketing-hype).”



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  • Richard Araujo

    Looks like a good overall model. Two things I would say though. One, Active Recruiting isn’t the shortcut, it’s the first step in determining if there is a talent scarcity situation. Two, I see no reason why active candidates must automatically settle for, or be seeking out, lateral transfers. They may be more willing to settle for a lateral transfer, but that doesn’t mean you as the recruiter or hiring manager need to look for those people.

  • Ty Chartwell

    Lou, i respect your work,, but you continue to regurgitate the same old stuff.

  • Lou Adler

    @Ty – I happen to agree with you about the repetitive nature of this stuff, but sometimes people need to hear about the block and tackling from a different perspective. Sometimes the old stuff actually works, and I haven’t seen any fundamental change in human nature for since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

  • Jason Webster

    Thanks for breaking down the process, Lou. You’re right — getting leads/referrals and converting these people into prospects is essential in cultivating the right prospects. If you’re at this step in the hiring process, you should really consider moving toward and encouraging employee referrals. You already know this, but internal referrals are often the best hires and these hires are also happier in their positions.

  • Badri Ravi

    Good Article. I was looking for a well articulated document on why social media recruiting requires more time, effort and a paradigm shift in recruiter. This blog answers all.

    However I do not agree that active job seekers are of lesser quality than passive job seekers. If a company has right screening methodology then:
    1. Active job seekers who are active because they have demonstrated poor performance and are being weeded out could be rejected and
    2. Active job seekers who are proactively looking for right opportunity to better utilize their skills could be spotted and hired.
    Thank you!

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