Passive candidates aren't actively looking for a job, but they might be among the best ones to hire, especially for hard-to-fill positions. After all, your ideal candidate is probably already working somewhere else and might have no reason to consider switching companies.
According to LinkedIn, only 30% of the global workforce is actively looking for new positions. This means that over two-thirds of your potential candidates are passive, and thus unlikely to see your job offer and apply. The highly qualified candidates you need for certain specialized roles may likely not be among the 30%, or, may have been recognized and recruited by a competitor already.
If you often struggle to find the right candidates among the ones who applied, or if you start seeing the same candidates applying over and over, it may be time to source new talent, and start engaging and recruiting passive candidates.
Even though finding passive candidates and engaging them in a conversation about a potential transfer to your organization is not easy, it may well be very productive if you do it the right way.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to find, engage and recruit passive candidates, and the right strategies to employ.
What are passive candidates and why is it important to target them?
Passive candidates, while not looking to change jobs (at least not yet), may nevertheless be open to discussing new opportunities with recruiters. Active candidates, on the other hand, are those who are looking for a new job at the moment, either daily or a few times a week.
To think of the 70% simply as “passive” is an oversimplification: you must consider the different types of passive candidates. Passive candidates aren’t all equally uninterested in making a switch. Some of them might be considering changing roles, but might not have started searching for a new opportunity yet; others might be interested in seeing what new positions are opening and preparing to apply in the near future.
Among passive candidates:
- About 15% are occasionally reaching out to their personal network for new opportunities
- 45% are open to talking to recruiters
- The remaining 40% are content with their current roles and don’t want to change jobs
The last category, referred to as super passive candidates, will probably not actively engage in a conversation or want to be interviewed. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to them at all, or dismiss them because they aren’t ready to change at the moment—if they do start considering changing jobs in a year or two from now, they’ll most likely remember you and your company, and you might be among the first ones they reach out to.
What motivates passive candidates?
Passive candidates will probably have high expectations from a new job. Since many of them are happy with their current job, you would need to offer them something highly valuable to motivate them to make the move. This could be:
- Better salary and benefits: The prospect of better compensation is among the top motivators for passive candidates, according to LinkedIn’s observations on candidate trends. Passive candidates are unlikely to make the effort of changing jobs to simply have the same conditions they currently have. To attract top talent, your offer needs to be highly competitive within your industry.
- New responsibilities and room for growth: If you’re able to offer candidates a more stimulating work environment, or new challenges that would move their career in the right direction, they would be motivated to consider making a switch. Needless to say, though, additional responsibilities they would have in the new role would have to be compensated appropriately.
- Better work/life balance: Passive candidates seeking a better work/life balance could be motivated to consider a different workplace. Even if they’re satisfied with their current employment package, feeling overworked could make them prioritize flexibility sooner or later. About 40% of US workers are caregivers, and among their top priorities are having better workplace flexibility and more paid leave.
Every passive candidate has a different pain point, and you should discuss with them their priorities and tailor your passive recruiting strategies accordingly. If you have the right strategy in place and are able to offer the right mix of advantages, opportunities, and compensation, they might become some of your best and most loyal employees.
Why is recruiting passive candidates ideal for hard-to-fill positions?
Positions that remain vacant for too long not only cost you in terms of lost productivity, they also affect team morale. Since the work still needs to be done, someone else will have to take over, which puts added pressure on each employee. In extreme cases, this could mean you might lose another worker while looking to fill a position.
For hard-to-fill roles, passive candidates might be your best bet. According to Forbes, companies shouldn’t limit themselves to the 30% that are actively looking for new roles, especially for highly technical roles. Positions in IT, engineering, finance, and healthcare might be particularly challenging to fill due to a lack of qualified candidates, and looking for a suitable new employee from only a percentage of the few who are qualified could result in a bigger challenge. Passive candidates for whom you have recommendations, or those who may have worked for you previously, could be great fits. Hiring such candidates would reduce not only the time-to-hire but also reduce the risk of a mis-hire.
What should you do before you start reaching out to passive candidates?
There are several things you can do, even before you start looking for passive candidates, which will improve your chances of success with passive recruiting.
- Set up a referral program at your company
Referrals make an important part of key hires and should be one of your top strategies for passive recruiting. According to SHRM, referrals produce better quality hires, and employees who were referred to the company will likely stay with it longer. And yet, referrals continue to be a relatively under-utilized hiring tactic, giving you a competitive advantage. To build a comprehensive referral program, you need to:
- Keep it simple: Make it easy for employees to refer others
- Offer incentives: Determine what would motivate your employees most: additional days off, a bonus, or something else entirely
- Give recognition: Social recognition is a powerful motivator; use it to motivate present employees to refer their friends and acquaintances
In short, tapping into your employees’ networks is guaranteed to help you expand your talent pool.
- Work on your employer brand
Your employer brand is one of your most important assets in recruiting top talent, especially when it comes to passive candidates. Harvard Business Review outlines some of the best strategies you could use to improve your reputation:
- Work on building strong company culture with a clearly defined vision, mission, and values. Being true to who you are attracts top performers, and strengthens your voice and presence as a prospective employer—even to workers who aren’t currently looking to change jobs.
- Assess the gap between what you’re promising and what you’re delivering to employees. Look into closing this gap to improve employees’ experience, your overall desirability as an employer, and retention rates.
- Engage your employees and let them be your brand ambassadors. Your employees have first-hand experience working with you. Letting them do the talking could significantly increase applicants’ trust in the company’s claims.
- Make sure you're providing a stellar candidate experience (for active and passive candidates alike)
Passive candidates will research you, perhaps even more thoroughly than active ones. If they see negative comments and reviews (for example, on Glassdoor, Reddit, or social media) about your company or your hiring process, they’ll be much less inclined to talk to you and consider your offer. Ensuring a positive candidate experience will help you strengthen your employer brand and attract top talent.
How do you target and recruit passive candidates?
When considering passive candidates, you must be mindful of curating an approach that is tailored to your own context. This would mean that you analyze the industry, your competitors, etc., as you strategize. Some common strategies you could use for passive recruiting.
1. Identify passive candidates that would be a good fit
LinkedIn is an excellent starting point but since most recruiters search for potential candidates there, it tends to be oversaturated. So, you might need to get creative and use additional strategies. For example, you could:
- Use Twitter to search for industry-relevant hashtags, which passive candidates might be using when posting new content
- Spend time on industry-specific LinkedIn and Facebook groups, especially if you’re looking to hire remotely, as such communities are often global
- Create a database of your best applicants for other roles, to be able to reach out to them later. Even if someone wasn’t the right fit for a given opening, they might be the perfect candidate for another role
- Set up a referral program where your existing employees can refer people from their network
2. Connect with the best passive candidates via different channels
When reaching out to shortlisted passive candidates, you should engage via different channels and not concentrate on a single medium exclusively. Candidates are much more likely to remember companies that show interest, even if they’re not ready to start discussing a new role just yet.
3. Engage in a discussion and see if they're interested
To accurately assess the interest of your passive candidates, you need to engage in a discussion with them and ask the right questions. You might ask them a couple of questions before you share the details of your company and the position you’re looking to fill. You must not overwhelm potential applicants with too many questions, though; remember to keep the discussion balanced.
Here are some ideas for questions you might ask:
- Have you been considering changing jobs lately?
- What would motivate you to take a new role? What do you feel is missing in your current role?
- What are the top 3 factors you'd consider if you were looking for a new job?
- Do you feel you have enough room for growth in your current role?
Let them know that you’re interested in hearing from them, even if they’re not considering a new role at the moment.
4. Invite them to an interview
Given that you'll already have made a pre-selection of the best passive candidates, you don't need a complicated hiring process. On the contrary, keeping your application process simple is one of the best ways to keep passive candidates engaged. You might lose your best applicants if you make them jump through too many hoops.
You can directly invite your best (and most motivated) passive candidates to an interview to make a choice quickly. If you have more than 5 or 7 passive candidates who are interested in the role, you could first have brief phone interviews (or brief asynchronous video interviews) with all and then conduct longer structured interviews with your top applicants.
5. Compare candidates
After speaking to your most promising applicants, you might ask the top contenders to take a role-specific skills test. Make sure you’re testing for highly relevant skills. While the pre-selection process and the initial interview should be sufficient for you to assess applicants’ soft skills, experience, and knowledge, role-specific tests help assess skills that aren’t easy to gauge in an interview. Give your candidates enough context and information to guarantee a positive candidate experience.
Alternatively, if you’re confident you were able to thoroughly assess applicants’ skills and knowledge but would like to evaluate their potential for culture add, you could use personality tests, such as the Big 5 (OCEAN) test or DISC—or simply administer a culture add test.
6. Make an offer
A key factor you need to consider when making an offer to a passive candidate is whether your offer is competitive enough to motivate the applicant to change jobs. This isn’t limited only to the salary and benefits you can offer, but also to the work/life balance and the career opportunities the employee will have at your company.
Once you make an offer, you can decide together the timeline within which you expect your candidate to change jobs, and further discuss the onboarding process.
Passive candidates might be hard to reach and convince, but they're well worth the effort
Changing jobs is stressful. If someone is fairly satisfied in their current role, they’re probably not going to be considering a new position. This doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t target and engage with passive candidates. On the contrary, passive candidates might turn into some of your best employees, and for hard-to-fill roles, they might be your best bet. For this, you need a strategy specifically tailored to passive candidates, which uses the right mix of social media, referrals, and building an employer brand that truly stands out.