In blog post after blog post I have used three terms that, to some, might seem to be interchangeable. If you read recruiting articles, blogs and tweets you will see each of these three terms thrown around and utilized with little regard for what they actually mean.
The terms are suspect, prospect and candidate.
The latter two are the most often used, most often confused, most often transposed and the most loosely bantered about. Looking back over my past posts, both here and in other forums, I may even be guilty of using these terms far too loosely. Honestly, I think it is lazy of us (those in the recruiting space) to continue to use these terms so interchangeably. That is especially true of prospect and candidate. Suspects, prospects and candidiates are not the same and therefore should not be treated the same during the recruiting process. Continuing to use these terms interchangeably is likely a reflection of a common recruiting mistake - applying the same technique and recruiting process to everyone being recruited.
Let's define what each of these terms mean. Once we define them maybe we can talk about building relational recruiting strategies for each as they journey through the recruiting process.
While there are some in the recruiting space that use this term I find that it is still the least used and least understood. Suspect has been used most often in sales and business development roles. Oh, and in criminal investigations. Actually, we can probably learn something about that term as it is used in criminal investigations in order to help us apply it to recruiting. Heck, go watch The Usual Suspects to learn a little about how suspects are viewed and treated along with the confusion of dealing with multiple suspects. A key element of the definition is "believed to be guilty with little or no proof".
So, how do we apply this to recruiting? A suspect is just a name, title and phone number or email address without any proof or evidence that the person is a high performer or a match for a specific position or client/company. The emphasis ought to be on high performer because great recruiters recruit talented high performers NOT just to a requisition or opening. A suspect is someone "believed" to be worth calling without any proof of how good they are.
Suspects are important to the recruiting process but they are hit or miss when it comes to making a recruiting call. Just having a name, number, email addy and/or job title tells a recruiter absolutely NOTHING about the performance level or success of that person. Calling a suspect is the truest form of cold calling there is in the recruiting business and should be a lower priority than calling prospects (see below). Not that you shouldn't call suspects mind you. They are a great source of referrals, networking and sometimes produce a prospect or two. The ROI on calling suspects is pretty low however and a recruiter will not survive spending most of their time making these calls.
Again there is valuable information contained in the dictionary definition. The part that stands out for our purpose is "an apparent probability of advancement, success...". The only way a recruiter can adequately make some determination of probability is to have some facts, evidence and information. These can be gathered in many ways (internet searches, LinkedIn, white papers, real world verifiable results, referrals) but the bottom line remains; there must be some evidence, some facts or some information about high performance or success.
In recruiting then, a prospect is someone with a probability to become a candidate (and subsequently a team member/employee) based on evidence, facts and information of high performance, verifiable results and proven success AND is engaged in conversation with a recruiter or company. It does not mean they have to have an interest in a specific role or company but they are engaged in conversation or a relationship.
For example, when I talk to a candidate who is strong (someone I know to be high performer based on the above criteria) I ask them "who do you know that excels and is actively looking" and "who do you know that is NOT actively looking". Essentially getting active and passive referrals. The next set of questions is key to which category the referral should placed.
How do you know this person? (worked with, worked for or led them)
How do you know they are a high performer?
Give me an example of how you know they are a high performer?
Based on the answers to these question I know quickly if I am dealing with a suspect or a prospect. Oh, and it also helps me to prioritize who I call first. For more information on how to execute getting better referralls and making recruiting calls check out You Have The Names Now What: A Cure For The Common Cold Call (That is a .wmv audio and slide deck file by the way).
An analogy to drive this point home is college football recruiting. The premier programs, my favorite being Notre Dame, don't recruit every high school football player in the country in hopes of landing some high performing talent. No, they review film, talk to coaches, review output (statistics, 40 yard times etc.) and go to games to determine who the very best are. Once identified they put their time, money and resources into recruiting the best rather than wasting time on the rest.
The 2010 Irish recruiting class is off to a great start by the way with 11 verbal commitments in some key need areas. Check it out!
This one is pretty easy but let's talk about it anyway. A candidate is a prospect who has made the decision to move into the recruitment, interview and selection process. Essentially they have moved from passive or semi-passive to active. They have made it clear they are open to exploring a new opportunity or they are open to considering the client or company you represent. Once a prospect exhibits "buying" signals AND they are moved into the recruitment process they have become a candidate.
Of course, those who apply directly to jobs on a website or other channels immediately become candidates. I would argue that they are really not as a high a priority as prospects because they are essentially suspects who, by way of a low barrier of entry online application, have made themselves candidates rather than a recruiter qualifying them as such.
Moving a prospect to candidate is the art of recruiting. It is often the most difficult aspect of the recruiting process but often yields the best results. This is where practicing exceptional TRM (Talent Relationship Management) with a prospect is critical. Not CRM (Candidate Relationship Management) because they are aren't a candidate yet. More on TRM and CRM here in the event you missed it in previous posts. Once they become a candidate you need to execute strong CRM and I recommend a Candidate Bill of Rights.
In an upcoming post we will talk about how the recruitment process and tactics need to be customized to meet the needs of talent in each of these categories.
So What Do You Think?
How do you or your recruiting team define talent during the recruitment process?
Does it matter? Is this just semantics?
If you do define talent categories during the process does that drive how you engage, treat and move them through the process?
Will the Irish win more than 10 games in 2009?