Getting Second-Place Candidates to Give Your Company a Second Shot

So-called silver medalist candidates are receiving renewed attention from companies these days.
By: | May 1, 2018 • 5 min read

Any recruiter can tell you that managing the available pool of talent is never easy. Depending on the economy, sometimes qualified workers can be hard to come by. Other times, you’ve got more candidates than you know what to do with.

As the unemployment rate dips to a 17-year low of 4.1 percent, we’re entering a time when most educated and skilled workers are already employed. Candidates have options, and now the talent are picking companies they want to work for, not nice versa. That brings up a unique situation many of you have probably encountered: What happens when two top-tier candidates apply for the same position?

According to our latest Recruiter Nation Survey, the vast majority (88 percent) of surveyed recruiters had, at some point, gone back and hired a “silver medalist”—a person who was previously passed over for hire. But in 2018, your chances of landing a runner-up candidate may be fewer and far between.

With such a talent crunch just on the horizon, you can’t afford to let any quality candidate slip through the cracks. So how do you get that silver medalist to give your company another look? Here are some strategies to stay in touch and make them feel like they’re your top choice down the road.

Create a “Continuous Candidate Experience”

It’s always the goal to leave all potential candidates with a good impression of your company. However, in a world where jobseekers will preemptively reject you, it’s even more important to nail the candidate journey from start to finish (even if they don’t eventually end up on your team).

Advertisement




When it comes to breaking the news to candidates that they didn’t get the job, you probably already know best practices such as: calling the person versus email, laying out the exact reasons they didn’t get the job, and letting them know you were impressed and will stay in touch. This is especially important when you’re hoping to hire this person in the future, but you can take things a step further by employing a strategy that Jobvite calls the “Continuous Candidate Experience.”

For example, you can continue to engage the candidate by adding them to company newsletters or feeding them job information that is customized. Through curating those runner-ups into appropriate buckets such as sales, marketing, engineering, hiring, etc.—you can help automate the process and leverage existing marketing material to keep your company on their mind.

The short term: Art of the “Soft Close”

When you have two really awesome candidates, sometimes you need to get creative about letting one know they didn’t get the job. One strategy in lockstep with continuous candidate engagement is the soft close, or letting the candidate know you have another role available for them now or very soon.

This might involve hiring them in another month or so, or making them aware you have another role for which they’d be a perfect match. Either way, the goal is not to let them know that they were your runner-up, but rather that you found their skills and experience impressive and want them to join your team in a different capacity.

With the market being so competitive today, this “tweak and delay” tactic might be a little harder to pull-off consistently. But if you’re upfront with the candidate and showed them why they should be passionate about your brand, then you might just land both candidates.

The long term: “How you close determines how to open the door back up”

Playing the long game can be tricky, depending other factors and the offer you can make. But if you really can’t find a short-term solution to onboard that silver medalist, here are some ways to keep them engaged and interested for months to come.

Advertisement




First, make sure you leave things on a positive note by using as much detail as you can give. Be upfront about what kind of timeframe you’re looking at, what you have in mind for them and how their skills are a perfect fit. How you close the door with them initially determines how easy it is to open it back up later. When engaging a jobseeker for long period of time, you almost need to come back to them with a better fit than the original job—showing that you truly know the candidate.

In the meantime, keep up-to-date with them by adding them to your professional networks like LinkedIn, or routinely meeting up with them for coffee or lunch. While it may require some timing and luck to make a great candidate hold out for a position at your company, doing the little things to show you’re invested can go a long way.

When you can’t decide: Hire both!

When the battle for talent is tight, sometimes you just can’t risk letting a quality candidate walk away. Anyone with longevity in the recruiting industry can tell that when you have two great ones, you need to hire them both. It’s truly rare to get two candidates so perfect that you’re not sure who to ultimately go with, and you may need to plead with you boss to get the budget for onboarding an unanticipated worker. But when that new employee makes a big impact on your company, or the talent pool starts drying up, they’ll be praising you for the heads-up play.

The key to landing any qualified worker is rooted in sincerity and transparency. The same holds true when you’re sort of rejecting someone, but still want them on your team. Be thoughtful about your interactions, and never promise anything you can’t actually deliver. Doing so is the easiest way to drive the candidate away for good, and maybe some other great talent too after he or she posts about their experience in excruciating detail on Glassdoor.

Rachel Bitte is chief people officer of Jobvite.