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Stage 5: Outreach

Christian Spletzer - February 12, 2019

This article is the eighth of a 12-article series about The Eight Stages of Successful Retained Search. By reading the entire series, you and your search team will learn the overall retained search process, how each role is connected and dependent on the others, and how to most effectively proceed from the first stage to the last.

By this point in your search, you’ve already set and executed on your research strategy, and your researcher has identified a cohort of 100–200 people that fit the research strategy criteria and are worth contacting about your search. Now comes the task of actually reaching out to them.

Outreach is a multifaceted stage. It requires informing prospects about a given role so you can sell them on it, but it also entails selling your client on your candidates if and when they engage. And, like research, it necessitates fidelity to your initial strategy. Abiding by the goals and methods detailed in your strategy will help ensure you’re not mistaking activity for productivity.

But working smart isn’t the only thing you’ll need to remember when conducting outreach for a search. Outreach is about connecting with the people who look good on paper to see if they’ll be good as actual candidates. Here’s how to do it right.

There are several ways to conduct outreach, but you always need to tailor the outreach to the candidate.

Outreach strategies can vary from project to project and from firm to firm. Some folks like picking up the phone. Some prefer creating email campaigns that allow for more automation. However you decide to reach out to your candidates, though, one thing remains crucial: your approach needs to be personal.

Personal outreach tends to produce better response rates. And the goal of outreach, of course, is not only to knock on prospective candidates’ doors, so to speak, but to engage them in conversation about the role.

Some recruiters will take more of a shotgun approach, targeting everyone on the list of candidates generated during the research stage with the same outreach strategy. The problem with that, though, is it almost guarantees a low response rate. You’ll also garner a reputation as something of a spammer—sending the same email to all 200 prospects on your list, for example—which isn’t a great look, especially if you want to reach out to a certain candidate for another position in the future.

It’s better, instead, to familiarize yourself with the purposefully constructed list of quality candidates—prepared during research—whom you can cater your outreach to. If you’re looking for a CEO, you have to think about what sort of outreach that unique scenario necessitates—whether you’ll need to make your way past a gatekeeper, how you’ll establish a relationship, and whether there’s a certain form of approach that works better for his or her personality type. It’s likely that establishing relationships with CEOs will require more up-front work than with managers, for example.

You want your outreach to feel natural.

It’s not enough for your outreach to be personal, however—it should also feel comfortable. It means the manner in which you conduct outreach should work in accordance with your style and personality. If you find the most success by employing a “soft” recruiting approach, stick with that. Meaning, rather than calling a candidate and informing them, "My client wants to talk to you," approach the situation more subtly. When you get the candidate on the phone, summarize what attributes your client is looking for, list several exciting characteristics about the company, and ask the candidate if they know anyone who might be interested.

In this example, because you’ve done your research, you’ll know that the candidate you’re describing matches the one you’re talking to pretty closely. In this way, you’ll be able to sell the candidate on the position without explicitly informing them that you’re doing so.

This approach is just one example. The important thing is identifying what style works best and most naturally for you, then executing on that as best you can.

Make sure you present the candidate with what’s attractive about the position.

The key to outreach—however you decide to conduct it—is selling the candidates on what’s attractive about the opportunity in question. This step needs to be included in your outreach strategy. It’s also something you’ll devise alongside the clients you’re working for. What do they see as the most exciting aspects of their company? Are they going to IPO soon? Is there a fast and defined path to quick promotion? What aspects of their company do they see as attractive in the eyes of the candidate? Garner these bits of information, and set out to use them like they’re weapons in an arsenal.

Most of the time, you’ll start your outreach with email.

Email will often be the first means with which you reach out to clients, and it’s important to know a little bit about how emails are best constructed. In general, your goal when sending emails to candidates is for them to open the email. To encourage them to do so, it’s important to remember a few things.

First, your subject line should convey your reasoning for reaching out clearly and succinctly—imagine that people are reading your message on their phone, and thus need to be grabbed within seconds. Next, the body of the email should focus primarily on detailing what about your opportunity is particularly exciting. It also pays to sprinkle in a personal touch. When I was recruiting, I found that people respond positively when I closed my emails by asking for their help instead of saying that I wanted them for this role—the soft approach, once again.

If you can incorporate these strategies, the likelihood that folks will open your email is going to be much higher. Remember, as a recruiter, you're not the only one emailing these busy executives. It’s critical you do everything you can to make your emails stand out.

After you email, give a call, and leave a voicemail establishing your credibility.

All said, it’s likely that many candidates won’t respond to your emails. That’s why it is good to follow up after that first email with a phone call.

It’s equally likely, though, that candidates won’t answer that first call, so the voicemail you leave is key. It’s a chance for you to summarize the opportunity, establish your credibility, and start soft-selling.

“Hey,” you might begin, “This is XYZ. I’m calling with QRS Recruiting. We are an executive research firm based in San Francisco. I'm working with ABC company to help them fill a great opportunity that I thought, given your background, might be relevant to you or your network."

End the voicemail by saying your number once, slowly. And remember, people are busy. Keep your message under 30 seconds.

A word on texting: if you know the person and have their cell, by all means text. But if you have their cell and they don’t know you, remember how you feel when you get unsolicited texts on your personal phone. Not great, right?

Be true to your process.

Also, remember: sometimes people don’t respond. From the jump, figure out what your outreach strategy is—whether it’s two calls and two emails over a two week period, or some version of that. If you’re not getting your prospect on the phone, they’re sending you a message: they’re not interested. Take the hint and move on.

Remember that once you get candidates on the phone, you’re selling and buying.

When you do establish contact with candidates, it’s important that you adopt two disparate mindsets and find a way of juggling them both. This situation is because you’ll be both buying and selling at the same time.

You should know by this stage that the people you’re talking with on the phone meet your client’s baseline requirements—that’s the goal of research. So now is the time to ask qualifying questions. Does the candidate in question possess the client’s requisite amount of experience managing teams of five or more people, for example? Have they grown teams, or run a P&O? These are questions that will likely have come from your client, so they should be pretty straightforward.

What you’re looking for is a “QIA candidate”: qualified, interested, and available. And this moment is where you’re buying, so to speak. You’re selling the candidate on the company, but you also need to determine whether they truly meet your client’s standards and will prove a great fit.

Document their answers and take notes for your client.

You’re ultimately going to report all of this information back to your client, you need to make sure you’re documenting everything—both the logistics around how often you’ve been in touch with a candidate, as well as their answers to the questions you asked during the phone screen.

Tools like Clockwork allow you to do all of that. In Clockwork, your research can be made available right next to your candidate findings, along with the requirements from your clients as defined by your strategy. Contact information can be entered, along with candidate overviews and analysis.

The more you document throughout the search—but especially during the outreach stage—the better.

Remember that the job of the recruiter is to present informed options to your client and let them decide, and keep your candidate informed on next steps.

Although the outreach stage of a search can be intricate and demanding, you shouldn’t over complicate it: your role is to present informed options to your client and establish dynamic working relationships with candidates.

Keep your client informed and present them with QIA candidates to choose from, along with consultative information when needed. "These candidates are the options,” you will eventually say. “This recommendation is what I think you should do. What would you like to do?"

From there, drive your candidates toward the next steps as informed by the client. This push includes letting candidates know that clients have chosen someone else for a role. Recruiters have bad reputations for letting candidates hang. Don’t let your firm acquire this kind of reputation for itself. One aspect of establishing quality relationships with candidates is fulfilling your end of that bargain, which is to keep them informed of all movements and next steps.

At the end of the day, outreach is a huge part of what you’re being hired by clients to do. If you can do it right, you’ll find success in this industry.


To learn how The 8 Stages of Successful Retained Search are incorporated and supported in Clockwork, read our support documentation. To see it in action, view this playlist of videos.

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Stage 6: Assessment

Topics: The Eight Stages of Successful Retained Search

Christian Spletzer

Christian Spletzer

After years of working as an executive recruiter, Christian Spletzer founded Clockwork to improve how search firms and clients work together on retained search projects. He designed Clockwork to help recruiters demonstrate their consultative value to their clients at every stage of each project.

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