Are passive candidates worth the hype?

Sourcing and hiring passive candidates has become a contentious issue in recent years with some hiring professionals being totally for and others completely against the practice.

The reality is that we need passive candidates if we’re going to make successful hires, and the idea of finding staff this way is as old as the concept of employment. Before broad-scale advertising opportunities were available companies found staff by word of mouth or referrals as we call it now.

Many referrals are not active job seekers and they wouldn’t have applied for the job had someone they trust not have told them about the opportunity.

Sourcing passive talent isn’t the solution to fill every vacancy, and hiring managers need to understand when to use this option and when not to. Many roles are quickly and successfully filled with active candidates.

Specific industries require specialized skills that are often difficult to find. Sourcing passive experienced specialists can be the only option to get the skills you need on board.

Active candidates

Are surfing job boards regularly, putting in job applications and keenly using social media to find opportunities. They’re either looking for better opportunities or unemployed. Psychologically they’re either anxious, expectant or excited to find a new job depending on their circumstances and their approach to life.

When you connect with an active candidate, they’re receptive to approaches from recruiters and willing to chat. If they’re not immediately available to discuss your job opportunity, they’ll connect with you as soon as they can. Active candidates are putting themselves out there, and they’re hopeful of finding a good job opening.

Passive candidates

Are in a completely different zone! Job boards don’t even cross their mind, and when they use social media, it has nothing to do with finding a new job. They mostly use career-related social media platforms to network within their industry, update their skills, and make relevant contacts.

When you approach a passive prospective candidate, you can expect a cool response and sometimes none at all.

Remember, they’re ordinary people, and a cold call from a recruiter will be met with the same scepticism as a cold call to buy an insurance policy. Most will cut your cold call within the first few seconds; they’re not interested, and they don’t want to know more.

Passive candidates aren’t looking to hear from recruiters (but you can change that)

Building rapport with a candidate before making verbal contact is critical to being able to hold their attention. But how do you build a relationship with someone you didn’t know even existed until you sourced them somewhere?

That’s where having a strong employer brand comes in, as well as active use of an ATS to build a robust talent pool. With your employer brand comes a professional careers site, strong interactive social media presence and integration with job boards.

Still unsure of how this is going to make passive talent more receptive?

Simple, you don’t call someone who isn’t in the job market and expect them to take your call and have a long chat. It doesn’t happen that way! The best approach is by email or another message on a social platform so that they know about you before you call them.

Send a short, well-worded message with links to your company and say that you’d like to have a brief chat. If you get a “no thank you” reply, respect it! If you get no reply or a “tell me more”, pick up the phone, introduce yourself and tell the candidate that you have a great opportunity that you’d like to discuss with them.

My initial call usually goes something like this “Hi Jo, its Bev from (company). I just sent you a message a short while ago about a great opportunity within our company/organization that I believe will greatly enhance your career. Can you spare me a few minutes to give you an outline?”

This way, you’re more likely to get a few minutes of air time.

Relevant: How to gain the interest of passive candidates with email

You’ve got the passive candidate’s attention. What next?

As a recruiter, you have only a few seconds to make an impression on someone who doesn’t particularly want to speak to you. It’s vital that you have the full job description, remuneration package, benefits, and details of your company and employer brand at your fingertips.

The first questions most people ask is around salary and level of responsibility. These answers will clinch a screening interview or end the call. Very few candidates will be willing to take a drop in pay or a few steps back on the career ladder.

If the candidate earns more or is at a higher level, ask them if you can connect with them on social media just to keep connected. Most people are very open to this. They’ve made contact with you, and they’ll recognize you if you connect again. You’ve just added a valuable candidate to your talent pool.

(That’s why it’s important to keep your social media content interesting and interactive. If you’re just going to post open jobs, quality candidates will soon unfollow or disconnect with you. Make a point of regularly posting interesting information on social media that will be of value to your followers.)

If the candidate is curious about the opportunity, you want to hold their interest so the application process must be pared down and made as easy as possible. Firstly, send them the job description, remuneration package, benefits and career prospects right away (make sure your email displays your company brand too).

Next, while they’re still on the line, suggest a meeting once they’ve had a chance to read through the details. If a meeting isn’t possible, suggest a video chat. Don’t be pushy, but try to get an appointment set before you end the call.

Engaging passive candidates

Don’t expect the candidate to come to you for an interview like an active candidate would.

You have to go to the candidate to conduct the initial interview. And don’t expect them to complete loads of forms and supply all kinds of documents early in the process. Leave that until later on.

You can suggest a short meeting over a cup of coffee at lunchtime or after work somewhere that suits them. If weekdays are out, suggest a light weekend lunch somewhere close to where the candidate lives.

If you arrange a meet up, please settle the full bill yourself; don’t accept any contribution from the candidate, even if they insist.

If you agree to a video chat, be willing to accommodate the candidate after hours or on the weekend. At this stage, you’re more interested in them that what they are in you or your job opportunity.

When is a passive candidate the best option?

Passive candidates are best for highly skilled positions where there’s a skills shortage, critical positions where a bad hiring decision can have dire consequences and executive roles.

Considering that 70% of candidates are passive candidates, you can’t afford to ignore such a vast source of talent if you’re battling to fill vital vacancies. Decide up front whether your search is going to take the active or passive search route.

Never source and connect with potential candidates who are not looking for work while advertising to active candidates as well. From the passive candidates’ perspective, they’ll view your efforts as intentionally wasting their time, and that can do your employer brand some real damage.

If you have a hard to fill vacancy that’s been through a series of interview processes with active candidates and you decide to look at passive talent, you have to first wipe the slate clean. All active candidates that were interviewed and considered must be eliminated and regretted. Ensure that the job is taken off your careers site and all job boards and that it’s no longer advertised on social media.

That done, you can start approaching quality potential candidates. Remember, these people aren’t looking for another job; you’ve enticed them with an opportunity to enhance their career. You owe them a fair and transparent interview process, free of the clutter of active candidates that were potentially good enough but not made an offer for some reason.

Never source candidates that are passive job seekers to make comparisons to active candidates you have in your talent pipeline. That’s not only unfair, but it’s unethical! Your employer and company brand can suffer tremendous damage within your industry if word gets out that your hiring practices are dodgy.

Are passive candidates worth it?

Yes, definitely! Especially if your industry is prone to skills shortages. But learning how to attract passive talent takes time, foresight and practice.

Attracting passive talent is a long term investment in your recruitment process and not a quick fix when you’re in a crisis to fill a crucial position.

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