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Remember how your brothers and sisters owned all of the best toys when you were younger? As a recruiter, I feel the same way when I look for candidates—other companies already own the best ones. The smartest, most talented individuals don’t actively need to look for news jobs because their current employers keep them engaged, challenged, and well-compensated. The perfect candidates won’t just fall into your lap, so you need to go out and get them.

Of course, this is easier said than done. How do you convince these non-job-seekers (who may be approached by a recruiter as often as once every 10 hours) that the grass is actually greener on your side of the fence? Make yourself stand out. Create a compelling message that a smart person would be stupid to ignore. Here are 4 ways to make sure your messages get noticed:

Customize, customize, customize.

You hate receiving template cover letters, so don’t send template emails. Think about the type of cover letters that get your attention: they target you, your company, and the role. That’s also what passive candidates want to see. If you think someone’s experience will fit well for your company, explain why. Craft a message that’s specific and a little flattering. Don’t go overboard (read: don’t be creepy), but make it clear that their reputation has made its way to you and that you’re impressed.

Keep it short, sweet, and direct.

Assume you’re not the first person who has tried to recruit that candidate. Even though it’s good to share exciting details about your company, the culture, and the job, it’s better to focus on them. Write in second-person. Minimize self-introductions. In a few sentences, explain why their skills and your company’s goals would be a match made in heaven.

Take it easy.

Remember: Passive candidates scare easily, so don’t get too many steps ahead. If you come on too strong in your first message, you’ll damage your chances of being taken seriously. The goal of the first message is to get attention, drum up some interest, and if you’re fortunate, set up a high-level conversation to learn more about each other. If you’re too aggressive, you’re less likely to get a reply.

Set clear expectations.

Be specific about what you expect the next step to be in this process. If your message is too vague, candidates won’t know how to proceed. Make yourself readily available by offering a variety of ways, days, and times that you can be reached. Since they aren’t yet an official candidate for the role, if it’s too much of a hassle to connect with you, they won’t.

Making first impressions on passive candidates isn’t easy. But if you foster a great working environment and create unique, problem-solving products, you can feel confident that the best talent will be eager to join you and your company’s mission. If you’re successful, your toybox will be the envy of your competitors, so make sure to deliver on your promises or your talent will be swiftly recruited away!

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