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How to approach and qualify passive candidates over the telephone


Common sense suggests that the most talented professionals will be seen as a valuable asset. Therefore it is more likely that experienced candidates are being well looked after by their current employer and are less likely to be actively seeking alternative employment. This is particularly true in sectors where there is currently a skills gap in the market place such as Engineering and Finance. In a candidate-led market relying solely on advertising to attract a strong shortlist is unlikely to be effective and a more proactive approach to find relevant talent is required.

During a proactive search most people find that cold calling prospect candidates is the most uncomfortable part of the process. This is understandable as you are telephoning people who aren’t expecting the call, with a proposal they may not be interested in, at what is potentially an awkward time. So, how do you overcome initial barriers, establish interest and qualify suitability quickly with as little inconvenience to the prospect as possible?

The Approach

Firstly when calling a prospect candidate during the day, the chances are they will be at work, so it is important that you introduce who you are, state the reason for the call and qualify whether it is a convenient time to talk promptly.

“Hello, my name is………………….I am currently recruiting for a Finance Director position which I think you are potentially a good fit for. Is now a good time to talk?”

If they are not able to speak try and establish a good time for you to call them when it would be convenient for a further conversation. Remember it may be difficult for them to talk openly, so take the lead with regards to arrangements so that they can qualify without having to discuss much detail. If they can talk at the time then the conversation can continue.

Qualifying Interest

In order to ensure you are not wasting your or the prospect’s time it is important to quickly qualify whether they are actively looking and/or whether they would be interested in the opportunity you are presenting. If they are active or not active, but interested, understanding their motivation is essential to recognising if the position is suitable from their perspective. This is usually determined by one or a combination of the following criteria:

• Salary and benefits 
• Promotion, training and progression
• Length of commute
• Relocation

For instance, if they are living outside of London on £60,000, but say they would only move to the capital for £80,000, they may still move for less if they gain experience in an area they want to develop. It is a balance of all the criteria that will ultimately determine their interest.

For more senior positions relocation will be less of an issue and therefore your search doesn’t have to be restricted by location. However it may become a barrier if your business is based in what is considered an undesirable location.

Qualifying Suitability

Once you have established interest the next step is to verify their suitability for the position in terms of skills set and experience. This is to determine whether it is worthwhile to schedule a more in-depth interview with the prospect as a potential contender. The best way to achieve this is to have 3 or 4 key questions which will establish if the prospect has the essential skills and experience that is required. For instance if you are looking a Finance Director for the construction industry the following questions would establish their suitability if you don’t have this information already.

• Are you a qualified accountant? 
• Do you have more than 10 years PQE? 
• Do you have any previous experience in the construction industry?

This is the essential criteria. If the candidate falls short in any of these areas then there is no point taking them any further with regards to the process.

The Next Step

Now that the prospect’s interest has been confirmed and that their suitability (at a high level) has been established an exchange of contacts can be made, documentation exchanged 9i.e. up-to-date CV, job description, personal specification etc…) and a more in –depth interview can be arranged to explore the candidate’s suitability and situation further.

By being sensitive to the prospects’ situation and by choosing your questions carefully, both interest and suitability can be tetermined quickly. And therefore a long lst can be created with efficency and both your time and the prospects’ time isn’t wasted unitentionally.



Candidate     Client
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