Bypass the Resume Roadblock to Reach Passive Candidates

(Human Resource Executive magazine title:  No Resumes, Please)

There's been a great deal of buzz about passive candidates-those coveted potential employees who are not actively pursuing other job opportunities. Obviously, companies prize and pursue them because they represent the most talented and productive segment of the workforce. As top performers, chances are they are not looking for other opportunities as they are comfortable, engaged, appreciated, and justly rewarded in their current position. It is also likely that they are not actively looking because they view the job seeking process with dread; many carry lingering negative experiences, whether they submitted their resume to a recruiter or an online repository, or built one using a web-based system. They know how time-consuming, inconvenient, fragmented, and ultimately frustrating the process is-which is why most would just as soon opt out and maintain the status quo. With so many incentives to stay, and with such stubborn structural barriers-or disincentives-to exploring other potentially more rewarding opportunities, why leave?

Most people would make the move to a new job if it offered the right role in the right company, along with an attractive compensation, incentives, and benefits package. Previously, finding and reaching passive candidates presented the greatest barrier and challenge. Today, however, hiring managers have ample tools and venues to find passive candidates. Once found, the challenge is to engage them in a meaningful way-which is where the process often breaks down. Put simply, few organizations offer passive candidates an easy, intuitive, and smooth path that takes them through each phase of the screening and assessment process; imagine a system that gave candidates a real sense of the opportunity, then allowed them to pursue it immediately, in real time, without requiring an updated resume (which passive candidates by definition don't have)…while hiring managers on the other end get more complete, multi-dimensional perspectives on each candidate entering the system. This article will elaborate on these challenges, and outline a solution that uses advanced automation to find, engage, and hire passive candidates.

Current Strategies

A number of Internet-based networking tools (i.e., LinkedIn, Jigsaw) have cropped up to help streamline the process of locating passive candidates. The process is akin to the one used in sales where you identify leads and qualify prospects. In other words, you are identifying and qualifying passive candidates. However, such a process is still time-intensive and cumbersome.

One issue in today's employment landscape is that at any given moment 20 percent of the nation's workforce has an updated resume while the other 80 percent does not. While recruiting messages delivered through these networking sources are reaching a wide readership, unfortunately the call to action is to send a resume. The 80 percent is not likely to respond to such a request. And, perhaps most important, the 20 percent with a resume are increasingly disillusioned with resume-centric processes. Reports that job seekers are becoming disenchanted with the job board experience attests to the fact that no matter how easy it is to submit resumes, the process of guessing what should be put on paper and often receiving no response, is a negative and unsatisfying experience. In essence, all candidates become passive when applying for a position via conventional solutions that are resume-dependent. In addition, employers who are searching from this 20 percent pool are competing with one another for a limited number of candidates with resumes.

In other words, while resumes traditionally serve as a career passport, they also represent a roadblock. Imagine going to a conference to network and immediately after being introduced to someone, he asks you for a business card. You don't have one and the conversation abruptly ends-before it really begins-and the other person simply walks away. Resumes are considered calling cards and most HR professionals or hiring managers won't initiate the recruiting process without one. So much for engaging passive candidates. Companies need to change the paradigm and start thinking about ways to leapfrog the resume dilemma and connect with passive candidates.

Creative Recruiting

As mentioned, finding passive candidates is a challenge. Rather than searching for them, perhaps it's as easy as inviting them to meet you. As an example, one company scheduled a free seminar at their location that focused on eldercare, a timely and important issue for single and two-career couples. The seminar was open to the public and publicized in the local media. The company also set up a small table at the seminar announcing that it was looking to hire and emphasized that no resume was required to apply. There was an overwhelming response from seminar attendees who were provided with an information card detailing how to access the company's automated interview, screening, and assessment solution 24/7.

The company not only attracted passive candidates and made it easy for them to apply, they presented themselves as an employer-of-choice by focusing on work/life issues. Creative recruiting tools promote a positive user experience while conveying what makes the job and the employer so compelling. To take creativity one step further, a Web-based solution can incorporate a streaming video that talks about the company's culture and what it offers employees in terms of benefits and perks. The message that the company is progressive and dynamic is reinforced once these "interested" passive candidates engage the screening and assessment solution.

Breaking Your Resume Dependency

The core of any creative recruiting strategy for passive candidates is an automated screening and assessment solution that bypasses the need for a resume. While HR has long embraced computerization as a means of streamlining the recruiting process and vetting candidates, most conventional solutions are resume dependent. As a result, they are not well suited to screen passive candidates for a number of reasons.

First, many computerized solutions use "filtering" technology as a screening tool. However, filters use resume key word searches and parsing to turn up matches to the job description. From another perspective, filtering has also proven to be inefficient and ineffective since many qualified candidates are "screened out" because their resumes do not contain the desired keywords.

A relatively new tool, intelligent searching, has taken parsing software to another level-however, this methodology also has some significant drawbacks and inherent problems. In short, intelligent searching matches conceptual and contextual information from a candidate's source document (i.e., a resume or application) to another document (i.e., a requisition or job description). The result is a list indicating which candidates present the closest match by percentage. The primary drawback is that the results are based on the accuracy of the candidate's source document-i.e., resumes, which can be subjective and prone to misrepresentation.
Finally, some computerized solutions are simply "resume builders." They walk candidates through a process that requires them to input information that will construct a resume. The process can be tedious and time-consuming-one that passive candidates are not likely to engage in. Again, the solution is also likely to rely on filtering or parsing to identify potential candidates.
In short, conventional screening processes are largely ineffective because they simply weed out unqualified candidates who do not meet basic criteria, such as education or experience, most often based on information obtained from resumes-which most passive candidates do not have.

How to Reach-and Engage-Passive Candidates

Conventional screening approaches effectively pose a roadblock for passive candidates because they depend on the resume as a point of entry. In many ways, employers are asking candidates to speak through their resumes rather than engage them in direct questioning in a later stage of the interview process. Candidates are often frustrated at the prospect of having to condense all their achievements and skills in two pages while trying to guess what keywords to include.

Advanced technology exists that can engage passive candidates in a two-way conversation without requiring a "career passport." The conversation, which is facilitated by naturalistic Web and phone-enabled technology, provides and solicits information from candidates.

Most important, these solutions account for the passive candidate's experience within the process. At the most basic level, traditional candidate screening involves a review of the candidate's application or resume, a manual prescreen, a phone interview, a face-to-face interview, and perhaps a skills, behavior, or personality assessment. While each stage is interrelated, they are typically conducted separately. From a passive candidate's perspective-indeed any candidate's perspective-this process can be time-consuming, stressful, and inefficient. However, it is even more challenging for passive candidates to deal with a staggered or time-consuming screening process since, by definition, they are doing something other than job hunting. Any inconvenience-no matter how small-may prompt a passive candidate to opt out of the process from frustration. Keep in mind that passive candidates do not have the sense of urgency that active candidates do. Finally, the non-interactive nature of conventional screening processes and an over-reliance on resumes provides passive candidates with little or no opportunity to demonstrate their skills.

This new model seamlessly integrates all these critical components in an automated process-realistic job preview, prescreen, technical interview, behavioral interview, skills assessments, job simulation, and, finally, auto scheduling for an in-person final interview. Using a Web-enabled or integrated telephone-based solution ensures that each candidate experiences a seamless and convenient single-session process. Assessments can also guide the "screening in" process by gleaning personality and other relevant data. The result for the employer is a complete, 360-degree whole-person snapshot-one that assimilates a candidate's experience, skill set, and behavioral characteristics, and provides a solid indicator of potential performance and success within the organization. Conversely, passive candidates can demonstrate their skills in real-time rather than simply convey their expertise via a resume.

Skills Assessment in Action: Susan Armstrong is among several hundred candidates who have applied for a customer care representative in a call center. Instead of the usual resume/application preliminary procedure, Susan is immediately directed to a Web page where she is whisked through a brief interactive prescreen process. Passing that segment, she is then moved to an assessment phase that uses integrated Web and phone capabilities to simulate and replicate the procedures associated with the call center position. Actual data entry screens are replicated on Susan's browser window at which point a call comes in and she is prompted to respond to the automated call and enter data in the appropriate places. Susan experiences a realistic job preview while at the same time a superior assessment is created whereby she demonstrates her ability to think on her feet, formulate a correct response (as compared to most current assessments that only measure the applicant's ability to recognize a good answer from among a list of options), speak coherently, talk and type at the same time, probe for information, and project enthusiasm and empathy. Conventional processes, on the other hand, can lead to hiring decisions that are based solely on job history, not competencies.

Similarly, engineering candidates may be presented with a number of schematics or programming code over the Web while the automated phone capability is simultaneously engaging them in a discussion of how to redesign the example for greater efficiency.

No Resume, No Problem

Talent acquisition and retention is what ultimately makes companies thrive. That's why finding true talent is so critical and such a challenge-particularly when you consider that the majority of talent is not on the market. Hiring managers who continue to base the hiring process on resumes are trading in outmoded currency; this is particularly the case with passive candidates who, by definition, don't have up-to-the-minute resumes readily available. And when you really think about it, the only resumes that are really important are for the two or three finalists for a position, as confirmatory evidence; you're much more likely to get passive candidates to produce one after this much mutual interest has been established.

So, how do you find, engage, and hire top talent if conventional processes-i.e., those based on resumes and hiring processes that often proceed in fits and starts over a period of weeks-don't work? Various tools and venues have emerged-social and business networking sites in particular-that can lead you to otherwise hidden reserves of talent. The trick is in engaging the talent once found with a seamless process: from engaging their initial interest ("This is an interesting opportunity"), to engaging their time ("I can do this in just 10 minutes from my laptop without a resume?"), and ultimately engaging each person in a meaningful exchange that makes the candidate even more interested in the position-all the while giving Human Resources and hiring managers a powerful and efficient means of screening, and ultimately hiring, passive candidates.

About the Author

Ron Selewach is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations and has dedicated his professional career to the advancement of the Human Resource profession. After a concentrated career in corporate human resources, he founded Human Resource Management Center, Inc. (HRMC) in 1984 as a full-service consulting firm, offering outsourced HR solutions. Today, HRMC is a pioneer in applying cutting-edge technology to talent acquisition through its Web and phone-enabled HRMC AcclaimSM platform. For additional information, contact Ron at 1-800-749-4960,, or visit