Revisiting Runner-Ups: Why “Silver Medalist” Candidates Are Good Bets

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Apr 28, 2015

One of the most underused but surprisingly effective approaches to hiring focuses on “silver medalists.”

If you’re not familiar with the term in recruiting, it is revisiting past applicants who that came in second during a previous hiring effort.

Now if you’re thinking that these individuals are “rejects,” you could be wrong because they may not have been hired simply because they had the bad luck of applying for a job at the very same time that a superstar candidate also did.

Advantages to hiring “silver medalists”

Imagine for example that you were an excellent golfer but that you applied for a job at the same time as Tiger Woods did. If you would have applied at any other time, you would’ve been hired, but because you were competing head to head against Tiger, you came in second (like in the Olympics, you would only get the silver medal and you would not be the overall winner).

Revisiting silver medalists has many advantages, including:

  • You have already completed a thorough assessment of them, including the fact that they must have been already been deemed as qualified and a fit for your firm in order to even become a finalist.
  • These individuals have already been sold on working at your firm,
  • Since being rejected, they now have even more experience.

Haven’t you had this happen?

Now before you make any snap judgments about this group of recruiting prospects, think back during your own previous personal job searches to see if there weren’t several times where you know you could’ve done an excellent job but you only came close because of the intense competition or because of some minor issue with a hiring manager.

In the Olympics and other global sports competitions, silver medalists at one event are frequently the winners at the next.

Rather than considering these individuals as rejects, consider them as unlucky, overlooked, or not accurately assessed. Most hiring processes are far from perfect and some hiring managers are quirky, so you simply can’t assume that because someone wasn’t hired, that they are not excellent.

And if you still have doubts, well-known firms like General Motors, GE, Intuit, and Google have all used variations of the silver medalist recruiting approach with positive measurable results.

Revisit other candidates who came close

In addition to those who were technically silver medalists, because they came in second, reconsider the following 20 different types of candidates who may still with further assessment end up being excellent hires.

  1. Next in line for an offer – Individuals who were a definite hire, designated to get the job offer if the No. 1 candidate rejected it (but they didn’t).
  2. They rejected us — Individuals who rejected our offer in the past, for a minor reason that may no longer be valid.
  3. Voluntarily dropped out of the process — They were top candidates but dropped out of the hiring process voluntarily before a hiring decision was even made. You should revisit them because their reason for dropping out may no longer be present.
  4. A flood of applicants – Reconsider individuals who applied when there was not just one but literally a flood of extremely qualified applicants, so they didn’t even come in second. However, at any other time, with their qualifications they would have been hired.
  5. They were judged to be overqualified – Revisit those who were designated as overqualified when there was a surplus of candidates. Because times and the job market have changed, hiring managers may now be more willing to take a chance on someone who you may have assumed would leave early.
  6. Almost qualified – These individuals were perfect in every aspect except they needed a little more experience. So why not revisit them after they have gotten the needed extra year of experience?
  7. Top referral candidates — You should revisit individuals who were referred by your own top employees, but for some reason, they were not hired. Revisiting them might make the employee happy but referrals from your own top employees are usually the best hires.
  8. An interview couldn’t be scheduled –Iit is often difficult to schedule and complete all of the required interviews with candidates who are currently employed, who have family issues, or who live far away. Now with the popularity of live video interviewing, these travel and availability issues can now more easily be minimized.
  9. Didn’t fit the manager – Reconsider candidates who were judged qualified and as a good fit for the firm, but they didn’t perfectly fit this individual hiring manager or team. A misfit for one manager may be a perfect fit for another.
  10. Rejected by a quirky manager – Also revisit candidates who were deemed as qualified by a top recruiter but their resume was later rejected by a manager with quirky requirements or a poor history of accurate candidate selection. Simply send them to other managers without volunteering the fact that they were previously rejected.
  11. Top boomerang candidates — Boomerang rehires are some of the highest quality hires. It makes sense to revisit highly desirable former employees who recently considered returning to your firm but for some reason they were never hired.
  12. Top intern and college hire runners-up — You can also miss top hires from among your former interns. Look at silver medalists from among the college students who you wanted to hire but they went elsewhere. Incidentally after working a year or two at another firm, they may now have a completely different perspective on wanting to work for your firm.
  13. “Bronze medalists” — If you find good success from among silver medalists, also revisit those who came in third for hard-to-fill jobs.
  14. Those who work for top competitors – These individuals should be revisited because they bring with them best practices from your competitor firms. Even if they weren’t rated high, they may be worthy of reconsideration simply because of where they work.
  15. ATS or recruiter screening error – Because humans can make mistakes, to rescan resumes to see if top candidates were missed because a less experienced or overworked recruiter was doing the screening. Another scan by the ATS system may also be a good idea because ATS systems also make mistakes.
  16. The qualifications have since changed – When job qualifications have changed or been lowered, revisit the applications of those who may now be qualified.
  17. Great qualifications but not good interviewers – Great candidates are often missed simply because they made a single mistake during their interviews or they are simply not good interviewers. Consider giving them a second chance, where you coach them in advance, so that they perform better during the interview process (Google does this).

Bad timing means they weren’t hired

  1. No job opening when they applied – Reconsider candidates who applied and who simply didn’t get serious consideration because there was no job open at the time of their application.
  2. The job was canceled – Revisit top candidates for jobs that were canceled or never filled due to a hiring freeze.
  3. Stuck in the black hole – Seek out top candidates who applied during a period when, because of recruiter overload, no one was actively searching your firm’s applicant database.

Final thoughts

During the recent tight economic times, many recruiters and hiring managers got into the bad habit of rejecting a high percentage of their candidates for minor flaws, simply because there was an ample supply of qualified applicants remaining. As a result, many “more-than-qualified candidates” were turned away.

But now that the job market has tightened, revisit some of those past high-quality candidates who were rejected. Don’t squander that investment by classifying them as rejects, because in most cases, in today’s job market they would’ve been hired.

Incidentally, it makes sense to revisit rejected hot prospects, because during times of high unemployment, recruiters often got in the habit of quickly rejecting promising prospects that had a minor flaw or issue. Obviously if your firm is now facing a shortage of top applicants, it makes sense to reconsider those promising passed over prospects to see if they are now worthy of a direct sourcing call.

It also makes sense to revisit top internal candidates that were rejected for a transfer or promotion. And finally, be sure and put together some data and related arguments to counter hiring managers that falsely contend that these individuals are not desirable, because they are another manager’s “rejects.”