Recruiting Passive Candidates — Don't Miss Out on Top Talent

The employees who are at the top of their game simply aren’t cruising job boards in their spare time—a solid recruiting strategy needs to account for passive candidates.

Active candidates are job seekers who are actively looking for a new opportunity. They may be unemployed — they have been laid off (or fired), or are looking to reenter the workforce after taking some elected leave — or they could be unhappy enough in their current position that they have prioritized a job search.

Passive candidates are not looking for a new job opportunity — which makes recruiting passive candidates more challenging. They are typically happy with their current employer, are getting results in the role, and have a lifestyle that works for them. They probably don’t have an up to date resume or LinkedIn profile. However, they are likely open to having a conversation about an opportunity if it offers them significant advancement in their career.

The data shows that approximately 86% of the most qualified candidates are currently employed and not looking for a new job.

Right now, it’s a candidate’s market — unemployment is low, which means that top talent can be picky about the opportunities they choose to pursue. So organizations that need exceptional candidates to help them grow their business can’t afford to be recruiting from the 14% of candidates who are actively pursuing new opportunities. A “post and pray” approach — where you post a job description online and hope that the right candidates will find it — isn’t likely to net the caliber of talent you need.

This is where the approach of your recruiting team — whether in-house or outsourced to a firm like Martyn Bassett Associates — becomes critical. Posting job ads online and mining personal networks for potential candidates are often the first steps for recruitment projects. From there, proactive outreach to passive candidates is the next step. However, proactive outreach is time consuming, so it’s often the first thing that gets dropped from an internal recruiters plate when they’re busy.

So, how do you go about this kind of outreach to passive candidates?

Think of your recruiting partner as an extension of your marketing department. They need to be able to position the opportunity and your organization in an appealing way, that will grab the attention of those passive candidates. One of our senior recruiters recently shared some excellent insight into the preparation that goes into this kind of positioning — thinking beyond the job description.

The message that candidates receive about your organization and opportunity has the potential to impact your brand — which is why it’s important that your recruiting partners operate with a high degree of integrity, and that they truly understand the role. A recruiter who is a jerk or doesn’t respect the candidate’s time can tarnish your brand. And a partner who recognizes the importance of the candidate experience can create a positive impression about your organization.

Your recruiting partner should plan to research potential candidates, and then conduct targeted outreach — with the understanding that most of the candidates won’t be a great fit for one reason or another. They should be prepared to sell the opportunity, to be diligent about following up, and to be truly invested in the candidate’s career success — whether that means continuing with the process or not.

When a candidate actively applies for open positions, they are expressing interest. They are also likely submitting an up to date resume, with a cover letter that is tailored to the opportunity. They have probably thought about the references they’d provide to the hiring manager, the feasibility of the commute, and the salary range they’d consider.

With passive candidates, you need to build their interest in order to persuade them to spend time updating their resume, thinking about salary, commute, and other factors involved in changing jobs, and then to invest time the interview process. At any point in the process a passive candidate may choose to opt out.

At the end of the day, it just takes one great candidate to fill a role. We often say that recruiting is both a science and an art—you need to match the skills and qualifications of the candidate to the needs of the role, but you also need to find a candidate who is excited about the opportunity and in a position to make a move.

Make sure that your recruiting partner is exploring both active and passive candidates for the position, in order to increase your odds of success.