The Art and Science of Recruitment – Chapter 2

Building Word-of-Mouth Via Networking

In Chapter One of The Art and Science of Recruitment I discussed the basics of moving a job description from the typical HR format into something that represents your department and your unique open job. These small changes – sometimes just a better way to word a tired sentence or two – can have a dramatic effect on the way that job seekers view the opening. You’ll want to focus on showing why your department, and this particular open position, represents a good career move. If you don’t, the position will get old quickly.

Job advertisements do have a life of their own. In many ways, it’s like going to your local market and buying fresh produce. You put those bags on the counter instead of the fridge, and how does that produce look a few weeks later? Not so fresh! The same goes with the job advert. Put it up and don’t touch it for a few months, and what happens? After three months, it’s “old news” and even a top recruiter will have a heck of a time filling that position. Believe me, your ability to fill that job with the best candidate drops off a cliff when your position reaches the 90-120 day point.

Two Types of Prospects

While your open position is “fresh,” you’ll need to take steps to attract two different kinds of candidates. First of all, there are those who are aggressively in the job market. These are the classical job seekers — those who scan the ads, LinkedIn advertisements, and other posting sites, and perhaps the jobs section of their scientific society as well. When you put up your first ad, you’ll no doubt get a large batch of these right out of the chute.

Don’t get too excited, though. While the occasional gem will show up this way, for the most part the responses will be discouraging. Yes – there are lots of applicants, but as you begin to plow your way through those documents, you’ll find that many people have disregarded your major position parameters and are just randomly applying. They hope that if they throw enough CVs at the wall, something will stick! Keep an eye out for those that might fit downstream positions or a resume that could be of interest to another department manager, but for the most part, you can let your HR business partner deal with this bulk response and spend more of your personal time with “passive” candidates.

A passive candidate isn’t making a job search the key part of their day . . . in fact, she’s probably buried, as you are, in the day’s work and only on rare occasion does a job ad find its way to her attention. Reaching her is going to require a networking-focused approach. Sure, you’ll have the job posted — but don’t walk away and count on the ad to work wonders. It’s been my experience that it will end up being this “passive” individual – someone who is doing your job right now for a different employer – who will catch and hold your attention.

Reaching the Passive Candidate

Do you remember your days in college, perhaps leaving grad school, when you’d ask your professors for job search guidance, and they would pass along that tired advice, “Get out there and network?” It’s not an easy practice, and it can be frustrating at times because you put out a lot of effort without a lot of direct response in return (just as it was during your first job search). But I guarantee you that the quality of fit will be far superior to the random applicants coming in through the pipeline of your posted ad. You won’t get the “resumé mailers” hitting you hard; you’ll generally have a much tighter and easier-to-manage group of responses.

You’ll want to announce your open job to three different networking groups. First off, you’ve got good personal friends and colleagues, and they’re right in your direct contact database. Maybe this was someone you went to school with, a neighbor, or a friend of your spouse, but they are all direct contacts in your email. That’s job #1. A brief note with a copy of the PDF you developed as your networking kickstarter (from Chapter One) is all that you need. Don’t forget to reach out to your academic community contacts as well. That professor who mentored you will have suggestions that could be very useful.

Secondly, you have the group of professional acquaintances and social media contacts that reside in your LinkedIn or other social media accounts. I’d recommend a two-prong approach with this group of important people. First off, post a profile announcement that you’re hiring and re-direct the attention of your network to the posted job description. Most people won’t take the following extra step but it’s worth doing . . . That is, identify who in your network is in the “very appropriate” category for the job listing. Not just people who fit the profile, but people who supervise or work with others who might fit.

If you have a large database of 500 or more contacts, this might take a couple of evenings to do, but it’s worth it. Find the 100 most important people in your network and direct message them through the social media site with a copy of your PDF. Make sure that you don’t jump in with too much language in the message; just a hello, your best wishes, and an “I’m hiring” message along with the document attached is all that you need.

The third group of networking contacts that you have access to is that larger pool of people associated with your brand of science, via your scientific society. As you know, these come in many flavors, so it’s hard to be specific to all of them, but in most cases they will have a job board. In some others, they may have a email communication platform or a news group in which you can announce your opening.  If your team does pharmaceutical formulations, for example, you’re most likely a member of the American Chemical Society, one of the largest scientific societies in the world and one with many sub-groups and communities. You may also be a member of a small, very specific organization like the Controlled Release Society. Either of these is going to be useful to you in your quest, but you’ll have to fine-tune your approach based on the organization. If there’s a charge to post your open job, it will be minimal in locations like these.

Managing the Flow

Alright then . . . you’ve written a great job description, posted your job in a few very public places, and have now gotten the PDF versions of your job description out as the seeds of your networking campaign. Now it’s time to set up a process by which you manage the flow.

If you’re in a larger company, you’re going to have an HR colleague who can manage much of the first-tier responses to those who have applied to your job. And as busy as everyone is these days, it’s best to let him or her do their job. Regardless of company size, every manager will have a “front door” for the position application on the website. If you’ve got the help, let HR screen and provide to you only those CVs or resumes which fit the picture on a certain minimum level of competency. You’ll set up a series of catch phrases and key words for the team to use in snagging the “good ones” from the pile of applicants coming in the front door.

As far as replies to applications, everyone is different on this, but my opinion is that each person who applies for your job should get a response. Many employers have moved to a system where once an application is made, the website acknowledges it and that’s all there is. Personally, I’ve seen how impressive it is for candidates to get a personal response (really, just a form letter) to their application. It helps build your department’s reputation as a great place to work. It’s a way for you to “brand” your department.

The biggest piece of work that falls on your shoulders would be the response to your smaller pipeline of applicants, via the networking channel. Those you have reached out to will pass along your PDF and you’ll soon start getting some very interesting responses. In Chapter 3 of this series, I will provide you with tips and techniques to ensure that each step in the recruitment of a top candidate is planned and executed with only one thing in mind . . . landing that productive new employee as a part of your team.

Author: David G. Jensen, CTI Executive Search,