Recruiting Active vs. Passive Candidates

December 20, 2013

In the recruitment space, we're constantly hearing about active versus passive candidates and, to complicate things further, passive candidates aren’t always totally passive. The fact of the matter is that you’re really just trying to find the best candidate, and that candidate may be unemployed, employed but looking, employed by not looking, or employed and not open to a new opportunity. You won’t know until you find, and speak with, them.  But the different types of candidates have different motives and levels of interest, so your recruitment strategy must appeal to each group in order for you to  effectively find, recruit and hire the best candidates.

Active Candidates

An active candidate is actively looking for work. This does not necessarily mean unemployed, but it can. This group is looking for a new opportunity for a variety of reasons:

  • they’re concerned about their current employer’s stability
  • they would like to take on more responsibility
  • their job was outsourced
  • their employer went out of business

About 25% of the fully-employed workforce falls into this category, and it is from here that many of the open positions are filled. That's because these are the people that are open to a new opportunity, and are proactively trying to find their next position.

Job postings are the most common way employers reach active job seekers ,and increasingly a vehicle for getting your opportunities to the right audience. By optimizing your job postings with keywords and sharing them on social media, you make your jobs easier to find. But, a common complaint we hear from recruiters is the number of unqualified candidates they receive from job postings, which is perhaps why many have moved toward proactive candidate sourcing.

Sourcing active candidates can be an alternative to job postings, or supplement that approach to bring you even more qualified candidates. Since active candidates are working on their personal brand and submitting their resume, they can be fairly easy to find. You can search for them on social media, or through search engines.

To make it even easier to find these candidates, LinkedIn Talent Solutions offers sourcing solutions.

Since 2/3 of active candidates are currently employed, it is important to make it easy to apply. While some argue that a tedious application process will weed out candidates, what they don’t realize is that it’s the best candidates they lose. Take yourself through the application process to make sure it’s quick and easy to apply.

Also make sure you’re including information in your job postings, and other places online, about why your company is a great place to work. Encourage employed candidates to apply by offering flexible interviewing options, such as video interviews or off-hour interview times.

And, although you may receive a high volume of applications from your job postings and through sourcing active candidates, make sure you have an effective follow up program in place. A poor candidate experience can damage your employment brand and negatively affect your ability to recruit top talent in the future.

Candidates on the cusp

A subset of professionals have been labeled  “tiptoers” because they aren't actually applying for jobs but are preparing to move, gently asking their networks about opportunities. This group makes up about 15% of the workforce at any given time.

Given these people are reaching out to friends, it’s important that you have an employee referral program to connect with them. It is a huge advantage to get to these ‘candidates on the cusp’ as soon as they start looking, so make sure that your employees are aware of your open positions and what a qualified candidate looks like.

Keep in mind that a tiptoeing candidate may not have a resume ready, so allow them to apply through an online profile. You don’t want to miss out on a great candidate because they don’t have a resume, and making them submit one may mean you lose them to a competitor.

Passive Candidates

A passive candidate is employed, but not currently looking for a new opportunity. Including the 15% of professionals who are tiptoers above, this group accounts for 75% of the workforce.

The benefit to a passive candidate is that, since they are not looking for a new opportunity, they probably won’t be interviewing with anyone else. With 60% of the workforce not looking for a new job, but willing to discuss a new opportunity, proactive sourcing (Boolean searches, social media, etc) is going to be your best bet for finding this group. Since it can be difficult to distinguish a passive candidate who is interested in speaking to you from one that’s not, you should be careful how you reach out people you find through proactive sourcing.

They haven’t expressed any interest in your company so far, so you want to get them excited about speaking with you. Your initial reach out should include an introduction to you and your company, and provide some reasons why you’re reaching out and why this move would benefit the candidate. Show them why your jobs are relevant to their experience and tell them which aspects of their resume make them a fit.

An employee referral program can also be a great tool for recruiting passive candidates – turn your employees into an army of recruiters to share how great it is to work for your company. Your HR department doesn’t have to be the only part of the organization that convinces passive candidates to want to work for your company.

No matter how you find your passive candidates, keep in mind that they most likely don’t have a resume handy. You’ll definitely want to offer them an alternative way to share their background, and you probably want to do away with the application. Remember, YOU found THEM. You must have found something about them that made you want to reach out. Let them know what that is when you reach out to them. And don’t assume they’re interested in speaking with you – they could be the 15% of the workforce that is NOT open to a new opportunity. Even if they are open to speaking, remember that they are currently employed and not looking, and are probably quite content and will be extremely picky about making a move.

How to Handle Super Passive Candidates

In your search for passive candidates, you may find people that are perfectly content with their job and aren’t interested in moving, no matter how wonderful your company and opportunity are. That’s why, in your initial conversation, you should let them know you want to hear back from them even if they’re not interested. By getting them to respond, you can build a relationship to perhaps find a few networking connections, or ask if you can reach out to them at a later time. The more communication you can have with a new lead, the more likely it is that they will warm to you and remember you when they DO want a change.

passive and active candidates

Develop a Recruitment Strategy which Appeals to Each Group

So those are the four main groups of candidates. You have active candidates who are looking for a new job, tiptoeing candidates who are thinking about moving, passive candidates who are employed but open to new opportunities, and super passive candidates who are employed and would not consider a new opportunity. We’ve discussed some of the nuances that you need to keep in mind with each group, but there was a lot of overlap as well. So, let’s review some of the big things you should include in your recruitment strategy to make sure you’re getting the best talent possible.

  • Employment Branding: Share your employment brand in your job postings, on your website, on your social channels, in your outreach messages, etc. Also be sure that your employees believe in your employment brand, so that they will be natural recruiters for your company through your employee referral program. 75% of professionals would not take a job with a company that had a bad reputation, even if they were unemployed. So make sure your reputation isn't keeping you from getting top talent.
  • Killer Job Postings: Job postings are traditionally effective for reaching active candidates, but whatever you write should also be used within your employee referral program to find candidates on the cusp of being active, and may be forwarded to passive candidates – so you want to make sure they’re well done. Download “7 Tricks to an Irresistible Job Description” eBook.
  • Social Media Presence: Your social channels are a great way to share you employment brand, as well as your job postings, at scale. Both active and passive job seekers utilize social media, and many will look up your profiles before applying to a job at (or accepting your invitation to connect with) your company. Make your employee referral program social so it’s easier for your employees to find and refer great candidates to you. Social can also be used for proactive sourcing.
  • Proactive Sourcing: Proactive sourcing should be used to find both active and passive candidates. While most of your active candidates come through your job postings, you may not be getting the MOST qualified of the bunch. Or, you may accidentally pass right over them and let them slip through the cracks. Passive candidates are best found through proactive sourcing methods such as Boolean searches and social media.
  • Employee Referral Program: An ERP should be your primary method of recruiting semi-active candidates, because they reach out to their friends first. It’s also a great tool for getting active candidates who often ask their friends for referrals, as well as for passive candidates who may be swayed by their friends.
  • Positive Candidate Experience: When putting together your recruitment strategy, you should also take your application and interview process into consideration. Many candidates won't have a resume, and those who do won't want to submit it through a tedious application process. Take yourself through your application process to see what works, and what doesn't, for all types of candidates. Try offering an alternative application process for semi-active and passive candidates, such as applying with an online profile. You may also want to take a look at your interview process to make sure it's efficient for both parties. Employed candidates may have a hard time making interviews in the middle of the day, so try to schedule them during off-hours and/or through the phone or video conferencing. Also make sure you communicate throughout the application and interview process, to make sure candidates know what the next steps are, and where they stand in the process.