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Applicants vs. Recruits

<b><i>It takes a different strategy to recruit an "A" player who is happily employed than to hire a proactive job applicant conducting an independent job search.</b></i>

We're in a unique period of employment right now. With the daily dirge of downsizings and layoffs, we are inundated with news reports that create the impression the talent pool is suddenly brimming with quality talent. I disagree. The quantity of top talent hasn't changed much from the last two years. The biggest change is the number of resumes that arrive daily unannounced. They are sent to my firm for the sheer reason that we're in the business of filling clients' positions and that we're industry specialists. However, the difference for our clients is dramatic. The art of attracting talent to a company is significantly different depending upon which direction the talent is heading. If the talent is unemployed or actively looking to make a change, then he or she is motivated to make a change, often without full assessment of the overall fit. If the talent is currently employed and not actively looking, then the potential recruit is motivated to explore a possibility. The proper terms are “applicants” and “recruits.”

Applicants are candidates actively looking for jobs. They may or may not be unemployed, but they have made the conscious decision to leave their employer and are conducting an active job search. They may be applying to jobs, often dozens or even hundreds of them. Plenty of well-qualified candidates are actively engaged in job searches and in no way do we denigrate their abilities to perform their jobs. However, applicants are actively involved in promoting their skills into a broad array of potential positions for which they feel they are well-qualified. They bulk e-mail resumes to hundreds of recruiters and corporate websites and scour the open positions posted in newspapers, job boards and corporate employment sites. They are genuinely interested in making a change, which means they are easily recruited and easily managed throughout the interview process. Typically, they are well-trained in interviewing and resume writing.

In contrast, recruits are not actively looking for another job. They are dutifully employed and generally happy or complacent about their current state in life. They don't actively search job boards and rarely broadcast their resume, if for no other reason than they feel their current employer may find out. Recruits tend to be well-defined by their positions. Their resumes are typically old or non-existent, so their career summaries have to be dredged from them through interviewing. Recruits tend to be resistant to the overall process of protracted interview and qualification procedures. Recruits must be recruited into the position. They carefully weigh the pros and cons of making a career move and must be thoroughly sold on the merits of the new company and new manager before making the jump. As defined, recruits are much more difficult to manage throughout the search and interview process. They're employed, reasonably happy and don't need a lot of intrusion into their lives unless the opportunity is compelling. Their resumes tend to be poorly written and their interviewing skills are weak.

If you're looking to hire a new employee, which would you prefer to work with? The resistant, cautious recruit or the easy, eager, ready-to-go applicant? The right answer is the best talent for the position. Ultimately, you have to assess the qualifications of every candidate irrespective of the candidate's eagerness and speed to move. But the importance of the distinction manifests itself in the actual interviewing process. It's more critical to move quickly with recruits than with applicants, although applicants may have three or more potential offers swirling around. Recruits are much more selective and cautious when making a move. Ultimately, attracting recruits into your company will lead to a more dedicated and committed employee, but the caveat is that recruits react within a very narrow time line. When they are being recruited, once they have completed their due diligence on a potential new employer, you need to close the deal quickly with them or they'll return to their daily duties or begin a search on their own.

If you look at the talent pool, most of the top talent is employed and too busy to launch a job search unless a significant change has occurred within their company (management change, strategic change, business climate change, etc.). Top players are rarely downsized and as such the solution to finding them is to recruit them. They're not reading job boards, ads or even responding to most recruitment presentations. Recruiting an employed top player takes skill, hard work and luck. Recruiting a top player returns the highest ROI. If cost to hire is important, then recruiting top players is the best return, regardless of the search methods used to identify them.

In today's market, with the perceived surfeit of candidates, the biggest risk is that they detract from identifying the right solution in pursuit of the easy solution. In today's economy, attracting talent has to start with a well-defined scope of accomplishments for the new talent to achieve. Once your search begins, pay close attention to the source of your candidates. Applicants will be very accommodating to the most onerous of qualification processes (on-line or in-house application forms, multiple interviews, protracted lulls between interview sessions, etc.). Recruits are as involved in interviewing you as you are in interviewing them, so expect push-back in completing detailed application forms and multiple interviews.

And regardless whether your new guy or gal is an applicant or recruit, move quickly to an offer. Recruits will lose the excitement of the opportunity if it lags too long, and applicants are actively interviewing and may have multiple offers to contend with. There is no perfect employee, just productive and less productive ones.

Ted Konnerth is president/CEO of Egret Consulting Group, Mundelein, Ill., a retained search firm with specialties in electrical manufacturing, distribution, consulting services (architectural and engineering) and mergers and acquisitions consulting. Prior to founding Egret Consulting in 1999, Konnerth was with Cooper Industries. He was vice president of sales for 4.5 years for a $1 billion division of Cooper before starting his search firm. Contact info: (847) 307-7125; or e-mail: [email protected]; website:

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