Lou Adler’s Actionable Tips on Leveraging LinkedIn Network to Hire More Leaders

“I suggest that the best way to find leaders, or anyone in the top 25%, is by getting prequalified referrals of people who have had success doing comparable work regardless of their mix of skills and experiences.”

Lou Adler
Founder & CEO, Performance-based Hiring Learning Systems


In all these years in recruitment, I’ve learned the hard way that you can get nowhere in the industry without expanding your connections.

LinkedIn has been my savior. ALWAYS!

You might have been already using it substantially, but are you aware of the few unorthodox ways of leveraging this social networking site?

I am laying out a few tips and hacks for you that’ll not just help you hire your dream leaders but also achieve your recruiting goals.

Decoding the Concept of “Semi-Finalists”

When it comes to recruiting any critical staff or filling a management position, I highly recommend that you spend your time more wisely by only talking to the “semi-finalists.”

Now let me decode this for you.

A “semi-finalist” refers to a person in the top 25% of their peer group AND someone who would see the role as worth exploring.

These people will always be seen by the hiring manager and are likely to accept an offer if one is extended. Sourcing semi-finalists is an example of leveraging one’s time to get more output with lesser hassle. The best sales reps always do this by pre-qualifying potential customers before contacting them.

It’s crucial to note that the best people get more done in fewer years and usually have a different mix of skills and experiences than their peers. This is what makes them unique and the best.

But finding and hiring them comes at a cost.

These folks don’t apply to traditional job postings, nor can they be found using traditional search filters. The reason is– they know they’ll never make it through the laundry list of “must-have” skills, experiences, and competencies that the employer has listed.

While a bit counterintuitive, it is the reality. This is why I suggest that the best way to find these leaders, or anyone in the top 25%, is by getting prequalified referrals of people who have had success doing comparable work regardless of the skills listed on their profile.

Note: If you think you’re a semi-finalist who’s ready for a change, go ahead and follow these hack-a-job ideas rather than applying directly for a new role. Alternatively, you can reverse engineer some of the ideas below.

Getting Referrals from LinkedIn is the Best Way to Leverage Your Time

First things first. You need to start with the idea that the job needs to be defined as a series of performance-based objectives, not a list of skills and experiences. This will open the talent pool to everyone who can do the work.

Remove your “Boolean Blinders” and spend the time instead on getting referrals of semi-finalists.

At our Performance-based Hiring Workshops, we describe various methods to use LinkedIn to develop a network of referrals who might have worked with your ideal candidates.

I’m sharing a few examples showcasing how this is done–

  • Recently a person indicated she was looking for a maintenance technician to ensure their automated assembly equipment had an uptime of 99.9%. We suggested that she should connect with the vendors of this equipment, particularly the sales reps, and then search on the rep’s connections to proactively generate referrals.
  • At a recent recruiter training program, an attendee who was hiring for the role of a systems architect searched for project managers at his own company. He quickly connected with the person and scoured his connections on LinkedIn to find the ideal candidate. He then asked the project manager to qualify the person for the role before calling the prospect. By mentioning the referrer’s name, the candidate instantly responded and was hired a few weeks later. The total sourcing time to find this systems architect was less than one hour. This is called a Proactive Employee Referral Program or PERP. It’s time well spent!
  • For a controller position, one of our recruiters called all the major CPA firms in the local area to get leads from the partners. Partners love to provide their alumni better jobs, so this was an easy connection. The prequalified candidates were contacted within days of getting the search assignment, and the candidates called back right away on mentioning the partner’s name.
  • For a national accounts manager selling retail hardware products, we called the buyers at the major store chains who sold similar products and asked about sales reps. We sent these references connection requests on LinkedIn within a few days. Once again, semi-finalists were sourced in no time!

The idea behind all of this is to stop spending time contacting strangers and hoping a good person will be found, interested, interviewed, and then made an offer. Instead, use your time wisely by finding people who can give you referrals to great candidates.

LinkedIn makes this super easy to do. It’s a network of 800 million people rather than just a database of them. This is how you apply sourcing leverage at the top of your hiring funnel.

But leverage doesn’t stop here.

Leveraging Interviews to Spot Leaders During the Exploratory Phone Call

To assess the leadership ability of these referrals, skip the behavioral interviewing questions and ask prospects to describe their biggest accomplishments related to the work. You’ll discover that those who pass this test will possess all of the skills, experiences, and competencies needed to excel in your company.

Surprisingly, they won’t be in the same mix as what’s written on your job descriptions for the reasons mentioned earlier. More importantly, the people hired this way will be more diverse, competent, motivated, and successful. Better still, they’ll all be leaders in their fields.

Leverage Your Negotiating Capabilities to Close More Offers for the Right Reasons

Too many candidates accept jobs based on compensation alone, not what work they’ll be doing, how they’ll be allowed to do it, and who they’ll be doing it with. Yet when asked what drives their personal satisfaction once hired, they always say it’s the tasks they’re doing, their alignment with the company values, and working with the right kind of people and leaders.

To minimize the chance of “post-hire blues” and maximize the candidate experience, I suggest giving candidates an infographic like the following to make more balanced career decisions.

Lou Adler's strategy on making long term hiring decisions

When talking with semi-finalists, tell them that if an offer is ultimately made, they’ll have a chance to gather all of the information needed on the graphic to make the best personal career choice. Then, when given an offer, have them rank the factors as per their priority and ask them to compare all of their other opportunities on this scale.

Don’t be surprised if you start getting more offers accepted for all of the right reasons since you’ll be the only company that proactively gives your semi-finalists the information needed to make the best choice!

These are a few great ways for recruiters to leverage and improve the quality of hires more efficiently, quickly, and at a lower cost. It all starts by leveraging some very old ideas about people with some pretty old technology: just getting on the phone and developing relationships.

Happy recruiting!


Lou Adler

Lou is the CEO and founder of Performance-based Hiring Learning Systems– a consulting  and training firm helping recruiters and hiring managers around the world source, interview, and hire the strongest and most diverse talent. The company’s mobile-ready Win-Win Hiring learning platform provides instant access to all of the tools needed to find and hire outstanding talent. He’s the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire with Your HeadThe Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired and LinkedIn Learning’s Performance-based Hiring video training program. Adler is one of the top bloggers on LinkedIn’s Influencer program writing about the latest trends in hiring, employment, and recruiting. His articles, quotes, and research can now be found in Inc.  MagazineBusiness Insider, Bloomberg, SHRM, and The Wall Street Journal.

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