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Hiring advice

Active and passive candidates: The industry gets tech recruitment wrong

By December 9, 2019 December 16th, 2019 No Comments

99% of all talent teams reporting that passive candidates as an important source of hiring

Active and passive candidates, if you’ve not heard of the hype, consider yourself lucky. Recruiters chase passive candidates like mirages on a particularly sunny day.

The recruiting industry is brimming with content on how to capture passive candidates.

“Strategies to recruit passive candidates”

“How to find passive job seekers”

“5 things you need to know about passive candidates”

“10 ways to recruit passive candidates”

And the list goes on.

Social recruiting platforms have been bagging billions of dollars from tech recruitment by selling the same old story of chasing passive candidates through their platform since the beginning of the decade.

You can read, research and experiment with 101 ways to capture passive candidates…

You will still FAIL.

Simply because a passive candidate is not looking for a change.

We’ll share our perspective to the whole active vs passive candidate story by trying to understand who is an active and a passive candidate.

Let’s take an example of a developer working in a large corporation or a mature startup for about five years. He is happy where he is – his manager is content with his work (as content as a manager can be, I guess), he gets along well with his team and colleagues, the work is satisfactory, he believes in the company’s vision and holds the upper management in good regard.

In a nutshell, he is a near perfect employee.

So, for every company that is of a similar size, branding and profile, he is a passive candidate.

But the moment, say Google or another unicorn is looking for someone of a similar profile…

Bingo, you have an active candidate in your hands! Without employing any single one of the millions of marketing strategies advertised all around the internet.

Except they’re not really in your hands, are they? They are not active for you.

To summarize:

Active and passive is a mind game.

The status of a candidate is a function of where he is currently employed and what kind of offer is on the table. If the delta of those two is not too high, he is not active.

This is the general situation with almost 90% of the candidates, 10% of exception is both acceptable and to a certain extent, expected.

So when you say hiring a passive candidate, you’re essentially saying that you want to locate, woo and lure people who are not looking to work for you.

The list of reasons why it’s a bad idea is endless, I’ll not go there now.

Why you need to stop chasing passive candidates today

The recruiter’s approach to passive hiring is downright embarrassing, I’ll be honest.

Recruiters are not salespersons (at least not the last time I checked)

Hiring passive talent is like selling someone who doesn’t want to buy. The core concept is to sell someone on an opportunity they’re not looking for. “It’s a great opportunity, you’re career graph will be better, your pay package is better…”, not entirely true, definitely not worth your time either.

A recruiter’s job is to find the right talent for the company, not market the merits of the company to someone who is not interested. You’re building personas, funnels, and pipelines for people who may at some point be interested in you. You’re probably filling our database with profiles simply because we have better databases today.

Quit poaching from other companies

We understand that there is a demand-supply skew in the market, and at any given point, a person has multiple offers in hand, each getting better over time.

But unless you see intent from the candidate, it is not ethical to go after them. Unless they don’t show positive intent shown to join your company, it’s a waste of your time.

Not to mention, if you don’t want other companies to poach your talent, you should stop trying to do that to other companies, a bit hypocritical otherwise.

Stop courting your candidates

That’s what you’ll have to do to hire a passive candidate. Imagine someone choosing you over someone else only because you have a fat paycheck, or all-in-all is a better prospect. (That’s just usual hiring for you.) Now, passive hiring is like them divorcing their current partner for you. One word, distasteful.

And all your passive hiring strategies revolve around finding and wooing them.

Revisiting the definitions of active and passive candidates:

Here’s how recruiters typically categorize active and passive candidates:

Active candidate:

They are unemployed or unhappily employed which has them actively looking for opportunities. As a consequence, they (again) may be available immediately. These are the candidates who are applying for jobs being posted.

Passive candidate:

They are currently employed. They’re not actively looking for work, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in moving. They may not be available immediately. They don’t usually apply organically.

What it doesn’t mean is that passive candidates are better than the active ones.

These definitions are useless

Active and passive are relative:

If a candidate is actively looking for an opportunity but is not interested or inclined to join your company, will he/she count as an active candidate for you?

This is what recruiters fail to realize.

Active and passive don’t mean a thing if they aren’t talking about your company. What does that mean?

Active and passive are subjective labels

Just because someone is looking for a job doesn’t mean they are ready to join you.

Same way, just because someone is not looking for a job doesn’t mean they won’t join you if offered.

What active and passive truly come down to:

  • The company that is offering the job
  • The role offered
  • The pay package

Overall, it depends on how much better the offer looks when compared to their current opportunity

Revisiting the numbers

You might have come across some figures showing you how small a pool active candidates make. We’ll revisit them once again.

So what should matter to you, is how many of the active candidates are active for your company?

Without ever realizing this, recruiters get busy chasing the passive candidates. What does it mean for the figures?

There are 10,000 passive candidates, 3,000 of them active, 7,000 passive, 1,500 of them tiptoers.

Assuming you have a great employer brand, top-in-the-industry pay, and a great role, you probably have all 3,000 of them active for your company. But then, you’d probably not be reading this article if that was the case.

Active is a function involving a lot of factors:

An average small/medium business or a budding startup, neither have a die-for employer brand or the best package. Let’s say 30% of the candidates would be interested in you. That means less than 1,000 candidates might consider joining you.

Here are some factors that an employee definitely looks at before he/she decides to join you:

  • The company size
  • Years in business
  • Employer brand

If you’re focusing on passive hiring, you’re are chasing the 7,000 that will not be (might I add, ignoring the 2,000 that are looking for a job but probably not the one that you’re offering).

I don’t have to tell you this, recruitment today is candidate-centric, they are picky and choosy about what opening to apply for and which company they want to join.

Active and passive is a degree of urgency

Let’s face it, passive and active is a matter of urgency. A candidate serving his/her notice or is currently unemployed looks for a job aggressively, or in industry terms, actively. And a passive candidate is testing the waters for when he or she finally takes the leap.

Does the fact that an applicant is currently looking for openings makes them less desirable for someone who will start their job search a little later?

A passive job seeker is not a passive candidate

Let’s take a closer look at the passive figures, from an older LinkedIn report, that gives the split of passive candidates (when 75% of the candidates are passive, the percentage is 70 according to the latest reports).

Some savvy recruiters label the passive candidates further, putting the first two categories into a new label called “passive job seekers”. They can’t be more wrong about it.

People don’t need to actively look for jobs today

Truth is 70% to 80% of the job posts don’t make it online. They are filled internally – through referrals or from the network. With almost all the ones online one touch away, no one has to actively hunt for openings, they do it while they’re on the current job.

More and more candidates are prospecting

You wouldn’t believe how many candidates attend interview processes because they want to know their market value or simply want to stay sharp or check their employability. A lot of candidates go through the hiring process because they want a promotion or raise in their current job too.

A truly passive candidate is not going to join you

All the above said, a truly passive candidate is happy with their job and is not going to join you, period. If you decide to spend your time and resources trying to make a happily employed happier, it’s on you. Don’t say that you haven’t been told it’s a massive waste of time and resources.

Dheeraj Lalchandani

About Dheeraj Lalchandani

Interested in solving problems that haven't been discovered or solved, loves reading interesting articles, always up for a good debate, likes confluence of history with philosophy to solve modern day problems. Dheeraj's job involves recruiting great talent and most importantly, being a people person and keeping the office spirits up.

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