4 steps for determining what motivates a passive technical candidate

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7 mins, 7 secs read time

Lauren Allanson is a Technical Recruiter at Greenhouse. She works with Engineering to create recruiting strategies, find and evaluate candidates, and grow the team. She loves working with her amazing co-workers to learn more about recruiting and technology everyday and is (slowly) learning how to code herself. Connect with Lauren on LinkedIn.

It’s no secret that the competition for top-notch technical talent is fierce. Even passive candidates – those who aren’t actively looking for a new job – receive dozens of messages each month from recruiters.

Plus, it’s tough to convince a passive candidate to start an interview process with you when they already have a great job with flashy perks on an awesome technical team.

So to make your job opportunity stand out, you need to approach every candidate interaction with tech-specific motivators to drive the conversation in the right direction – piquing a prospect’s interest enough to bring down their metaphorical wall and make the transition into your interview process.

What’s the best way to research and gather tech-specific motivators so that you can effectively sell passive engineers on your company? As a Technical Recruiter at Greenhouse, here are 4 steps that have helped me successfully grab (and keep) an engineer’s attention:

1. Know your employee value proposition (EVP)

An EVP is a statement geared towards prospective (and current) talent, describing what makes your company unique. An EVP helps shape your employer brand and creates a clear vision of why employees would want to work for your company over another.

Since each team plays an integral part in your company and influences the business differently, what will be most exciting and attention-grabbing to candidates may change by department. Combining your company’s EVP with a tailored team-specific EVP creates a powerful message to approach candidates with.

To create an engineering EVP, start by learning the team’s structure, roles, tech stack, and current and upcoming projects. Then, get a strong grasp of the team’s unique benefits and value, both inside and outside the company.

When creating Greenhouse’s Engineering EVP, we collaborated with hiring managers and thought about things like:

  • What would excite an engineer about working here (projects/technologies)?
  • What are technical challenges facing the team?
  • Which development practices do we have in place?
  • How do engineers influence the product, team, and business?
  • How is performance measured and what are possible career paths?

Once you have an engineering-focused EVP, you can combine it with the company’s EVP and approach passive technical talent from a holistic point-of-view.

2. Hold kickoff meetings and talk to your engineers

To define what the engineering team and each particular position can offer, we always ask hiring managers during kickoff meetings “How do we sell this job?” Understanding who will be excited by the role and why helps to create a story about the career path and growth opportunities available. Spend time during these meetings not only thinking about what you as a recruiter need to look for in a candidate, but also how candidates will evaluate the role and what will make their eyes widen.

For example, a junior engineer may be looking for strong technical mentorship and established development best practices, while a technical lead might care more about their influence on the product and involvement in architecture decisions.

One of the biggest untapped resources in a company are the team members themselves. While the hiring manager can give you good information about what you need in a potential candidate, employees already in the role can share what keeps them motivated and why they decided to join the team and company in the first place. Hearing the exciting parts of their jobs plus the not-so-glamorous ones will give you a fuller picture of the prospects you should be looking for and which motivators to approach them with. Plus, you’ll be able to give candidates an accurate sense of the role early in the process so that all information is transparent and given upfront, ultimately saving time for both sides in the long-run.

3. Learn the ins and outs of your competition

Another way to figure out which motivators to approach a prospect with is to truly understand where your prospect is coming from – and therefore, where they might want to go next.

So, using a combination of LinkedIn, CrunchBase, TechCrunch, and company websites, seek out information about prospects’ current (and previous) companies.

Look for answers to these questions:

  • What does their company do? How is your industry or product different and more intriguing?
  • What is the size of their team and company? Would they have more impact on a smaller team, or have more people to learn from on a larger one?
  • Which technologies are the company using? Could they continue to develop their skills using the same technologies at your company, or learn something new and challenging?
  • When were they at their current company? During big growth years? Right after an acquisition? Do they want to help grow another team from scratch, or join an established company?

For example, if a prospect is currently at a Series B-stage company with a sizable 150 headcount, you can use this intel to craft a message (like the one below) that will play to potential motivations of wanting to work at a younger company.

“We were founded in fall 2015 and are looking for our third engineer (and seventh employee) to become a part of the team. Join us and you will have a ton of impact on the product, easy access to our cofounders, and the chance to build our business from the ground-up.”

For the right person, you may have just hit the motivation jackpot. After doing your research on a perfect prospect’s career history, your EVP can help you write an outreach message that will catch their eye and get them on the phone.

4. Use (and uncover) motivators in initial prospect calls

Once you successfully grab a prospect’s interest using tailored messaging, it’s important to continue assessing motivations throughout the entire recruiting process to determine whether the candidate will be a fit for your team and if they’ll ultimately go the distance in the process.

No recruiter call should be like any other – uncover motivations and use them to guide the conversation to address pain points and how your company can fix them. A few examples:

  • [Prospect is in a management role]: “Do you see your career continuing in that direction? How much of your time is spent writing code? What would you like it to be?”
  • [Prospect is on a small team]: “Our large team size offers a variety of projects and lots of opportunities for career growth, including taking on leadership roles. You’ll also have lots of people to learn from, coming from all different backgrounds and industries.”
  • [Prospect is currently at a tech giant]: “Here, you’d have direct access to our cofounders and a lot of influence on how the product and team are structured.”
  • [Prospect is at an early-stage startup]: “We’re past the point of putting out fires and can focus on development best practices and dynamic, proactive projects.”

To effectively run an initial call, you should have a strong sense of what your role can offer a prospect’s career. Passive candidates might need a significant amount of selling to even agree to another interview, so being able to address their pain points directly and offer solutions keeps the momentum up and the call moving along. Plus, you can use this information to evaluate the prospect for your own team; understanding what is important to someone and why will help determine a good mutual fit—and whether you want to continue the conversation with them.

Keep in mind that a prospect may not want something different from what they are doing now, meaning they could be motivated by the same factors that persuaded them to join their current company. In this case, you can use this information to your advantage by uncovering it in the beginning and simply selling them on differentiating factors like better benefits and perks, more intriguing projects, or a different team structure.

Final thoughts

Approaching passive technical candidate interactions with a well-defined vision of what the company, the team, and the role can offer helps you grab attention and determine a mutual fit early in the process, helping both parties save time in the long-run. If you have an acute understanding of what makes your own tech team a great one to join, you can begin selling a prospect before they even know they’re interested.