Is Talent Today Active, Passive or Neither? 3 Recruiting Pros Weigh In

March 23, 2017

The recruiting industry has long talked about “purple squirrels” — but it’s talked about “passive candidates” even longer (LinkedIn guilty as charged). The notion is that when comparing people actively looking for a job to those that are happily employed (or “passive candidates”), the happy employees are more valuable, yet harder to recruit.

But what about everyone who's somewhere in between? What about employees who are happy and thriving at work, but still have that dream job tucked away in the back of their mind? What about you… where do you fall on the spectrum?

I love my job. And I know a lot of friends and colleagues who love their jobs. I also know, however, that we have future dream gigs and aspirations that we’d never want to close the door on. We don’t fall in camp active or camp passive. A recent 

LinkedIn study shows that we aren’t alone - 90% of professionals are open to new opportunities if presented the right role.

With the reality that the workforce is much more fluid, we turned to three industry pros to better understand how they view active and passive candidate labels, and how recruiters can adopt a new way of thinking about talent today.

Active vs. passive labels = outdated thinking

Lars Schmidt, Founder of AMPLIFY// and Co-Founder of HR Open Source, sums it up well, “Many recruiters are still hung up on the notion of active and passive talent, treating ‘passive talent’ like a mythical beast that has a 10X value over active job seekers. It's time to change the view to something more aligned with the current market and candidate behavior.

When recruiters think in strict active vs. passive mindsets, and the idea that one is better than the other, they run the risk of missing out on a valuable talent pool by only wanting people that are happily employed and not looking for a job. Lars and Ed Nathanson, Founder of Red Pill Talent and long-time believer that it’s “time to kill the passive candidate mentality,” both agree this is outdated thinking.

In Ed’s experience, most organizations and hiring managers think in terms of three formulas:

Formula #1: Employed + not looking for a job = AWESOME

Formula #2: Not currently employed + looking for a job = not awesome

Formula #3: Currently employed + looking for a job = OK, but not as good as #1

This presents two major problems. First, it creates a hiring bias against people actively applying for jobs, and second, it leaves you with a shallow talent pool to source from.

“What if,” Ed imagines, “we as an industry got our heads out of our collective you know whats and made the pool significantly deeper by actually looking at people who aren’t just passive?” Well Ed, we’d be swimming in some Olympic-grade talent pools.

Focus less on labels, and more on finding the right fit

So how can recruiters be more effective when recruiting in today’s climate? It’s actually pretty simple. Focus less on a candidate’s “label” and more on whether the opportunity is truly a good fit for them or not.

At Yoh, a recruitment and staffing firm based in Philadelphia, they know not to think in terms of a candidate’s imagined status, but rather their fit for the position. They use the term passive to illustrate that everyone is a candidate, and it’s up to the recruiter to activate them.

Matt Rivera, VP of Marketing and Communications at Yoh, explains their approach. “In reality, think of all candidates as passive. You are ‘activating’ them if you have the right opportunity for them. Most people will listen to an offer if it is the right position and appeals to them. So if you take the approach that all candidates are passive, then you re-focus on making strong connections.”

While Lars prefers to toss the labels aside, his strategy is in sync with Yoh’s. “It doesn’t matter whether people are active or passive,” he says. “It matters whether your opportunity aligns with their drivers and interests. Focus your efforts on creating an individual value proposition (IVP) for each role. Use a variety of channels to get that to the market - job boards, referrals, networking, social media, direct recruiting. If you can make that connection, you'll be successful regardless of how active or not a candidate might be in their search.”

Educate hiring managers to adopt a new mindset

Now that we all know the value of this approach, your hiring manager or team may still think otherwise. To change that, Ed recommends turning to data to educate them objectively.

“Internal recruiters can physically show hiring managers on LinkedIn that talent pools are much deeper when considering all types of candidates.”

In LinkedIn Recruiter, you can expand your talent pool and tap into “4.3M+ Open Candidates” who fall somewhere in between the spectrum of active and passive, and have privately signalled they’re open to hearing from recruiters. You can also better build relationships and target outreach by knowing their interests and behaviors. For instance, if they’re open to contract work or started an application for your company but didn’t finish it.

When working with hiring managers, Matt also recommends to “remind them of the timing issue which relates to this passive vs. active labeling phenomenon. If I am happily employed today and ‘passive,’ but I lose my job next week, am I still passive? A candidate’s value is much more than just their value to fill your open job today. Companies should be recruiting all the time and always be open to a good candidate, even when they don’t have an open position.”

In today’s workforce, everyone is a potential candidate. You just have to target and build a relationship with the ones that are truly a fit for your opportunity.

*Feature image by Joe DeSousa

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