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A Guide to Successfully Recruiting Passive Candidates

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Our 2023 State of Hiring and Recruiting Report found that 90% of employers did not meet their hiring goals last year, with 32% citing an unsuitable pool of candidates as the reason.

With a rapidly changing workforce, the labor shortage, and volatile market conditions, HR professionals are under increased pressure to source and recruit the right talent to fill key roles within their organizations. 

The solution? Seek out highly talented and experienced individuals who aren’t necessarily looking for new opportunities — the passive candidate.

Sourcing and recruiting passive candidates opens the talent pool to include a broader range of skills and experiences while decreasing competition, allowing you to maximize your recruitment efforts and meet your hiring goals.  

The difference between active and passive candidates

Active candidates are actively job-seeking, while passive candidates are not. 

Active candidates are sending out resumes, applying for new jobs, and networking with potential employers. They may be unemployed, but they might also be full-time employees looking for better opportunities. Either way, active candidates are generally easy to connect with because they’re either contacting you directly or active on employment and social media platforms.

Passive candidates, who make up as much as 73% of the applicant pool, are most likely employed and not actively applying to open positions or networking with recruiters and employers. Passive job candidates might be satisfied with their current job and not actively seeking employment, or they could hold full-time positions but be open to new opportunities. Alternatively, they might be open to new opportunities but hesitant to begin the job-seeking process for various reasons, like time constraints or confidentiality concerns.

Challenges of hiring passive candidates

Passive candidates can be more challenging to recruit because they’re not engaged in job-seeking activities. They’re not submitting resumes, actively participating on job-seeking platforms, or updating their LinkedIn profiles, so they’re more difficult to find.

Even if you do connect with a passive job seeker who shows potential, it can take additional time and effort to engage them in conversation. Approaching an individual who hasn’t shown direct interest in your organization and doesn’t know much about it means you’ll have to spend more time promoting your company’s opportunities and benefits.

Timing is another challenge, especially when it comes to communication. Because passive candidates aren’t necessarily on the hunt for a new job, they might be put off by the same communication tactics used with active candidates. They might not have a resume or portfolio readily available, or they might take longer to respond to messages because of work commitments. Communicating with passive candidates requires thoughtful planning and patience.

The possibility of wasted time is another key challenge with recruiting passives, which might put off hiring managers from pursuing this segment of the workforce. Even the most strategic, respectful approach can lead to a dead end if a passive candidate truly has no interest in moving on from their current job. 

Benefits of hiring passive candidates

Despite the challenges, limiting your talent pool to active candidates means missing out on potential opportunities to find the perfect hire for your organization.

Passive candidates are often high-quality talent with a mix of the right experiences, training, and skills to match even the most unique job descriptions. Unlike active candidates, who are often looking to upgrade their skills or move up in their careers, passive candidates are already in their desired roles. This makes it easier to source exactly what you’re looking for.

Let’s say you need to fill a management position for a very high-level team — one that requires a delicate balance of leadership and creative attributes paired with several years of experience. A passive candidate who’s already in a similar role will likely be more successful than active candidates who lack some of these elements.

Focusing your recruitment efforts on passive candidates also means you’ll encounter less competition from other organizations looking to hire for similar positions. According to Officevibe, the best candidates are only on the job market for about 10 days before they’re hired. With so much competition to hire the best talent, sourcing passive candidates gives you an advantage because they’re not engaging and communicating with every other potential employer.

Another benefit of connecting with passive candidates are referrals. While they might not be looking for a new position, they might know someone in their network who would be a perfect fit for the role. Referrals from passives are a perfect starting point for establishing relationships with potential candidates because it creates a foundation of trust.

Passive candidates might not be searching for a new position now, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stay in their current role forever. Building relationships early on with potential talent can help you plan for future hiring needs or short-term projects that suit their skills and experiences. 

How to find passive candidates

While active candidates often initiate contact with potential employers, finding passive job seekers requires diverse recruiting efforts. 

Leverage social media

Social media platforms are a great alternative to job boards, with many employers today sourcing candidates from social channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. The visual nature of social media platforms also allows employers to get a sense of a potential candidate’s work, especially for more creative or design-oriented positions. 

If you’re on the hunt for an innovative product photographer, searching relevant hashtags like #productphotography on Instagram or TikTok can help you uncover passive candidates who don’t necessarily seek out job opportunities via traditional career platforms. 

Capitalize on referrals and connections

Setting up an employee referral program is a quick and easy way to generate potential leads for highly skilled passive candidates. Current employees (or others in your network) can recommend individuals who are employed but dissatisfied in their current role, allowing you to approach them before they even begin their job search. Even if you receive a recommendation for a truly passive candidate who’s happily employed, it still creates an opportunity to begin building a relationship for future openings.  

Use a candidate sourcing platform

Some candidate-sourcing platforms and recruiting tools bring in a wide net of job seekers who don’t fit your criteria because these tools rely on keyword searches from resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Resumes and LinkedIn profiles often don’t dive into enough detail of a candidate’s experience, or are outdated. A keyword search that locates “coding skills” on a resume is a great, but it doesn’t provide context like years of experience, specializations, and significant projects. 

Findem sources talent by searching for attributes, which are dynamic, multidimensional details about a person’s experience, skills, and characteristics captured from over 100,000 data sources, in addition to keywords and Boolean strings. 

Using attribute-based search uncovers job candidates that not only are a precise match, but it also discovers talent that would not be found with keyword-based searches since keywords only target about 8% of the talent pool. Now, instead of searching for leadership skills, you can get more specific and detailed with your criteria by looking for attributes like an entrepreneurial spirit or a past founder. 

Take advantage of networking events

Networking events might seem counterintuitive when searching for passive candidates, but you never know who you might connect with. You might meet someone who knows an outstanding candidate looking to move on in the next year, allowing you to reach out to them early and build a connection. Informal networking events, like lectures and skill-sharing classes, are another excellent way to meet the top talent in your industry. 

Re-engage prior applicants

Candidate rediscovery is one of the best sources for finding passive job seekers because you already know that prior applicants are interested in working at your organization. They may have applied for a position that wasn’t suited to their qualifications a few months ago, but they’re the perfect fit for a brand-new role. Receiving a rejection might make a prior applicant hesitant to reapply, but reopening the line of communication and engaging them as if they were a passive candidate can result in a successful hiring process.

Best practices for recruiting passive candidates

Recruiting passive candidates requires more consideration and planning than active candidates do. Implementing best practices during the sourcing phase improves the likelihood of successful recruitment. 

Develop your employer brand 

Give potential candidates a reason to learn more about your organization by developing a strong employer brand. Share your values and company culture through social media, events, and messaging opportunities like newsletters. Highlight your people by developing a user-friendly website that features employee stories and company awards.

Build relationships early on

Communicating with passive candidates is key when it comes to building relationships. When they’re ready to look for their next role, you want your organization to be the first one they consider, thanks to the positive sentiments you’ve created. Automated personalized campaigns simplify the communication process, saving you time while helping candidates stay engaged. 

Learn about potential candidates

Learning about potential hires is always a best practice — especially if they’re passive candidates. Say you’ve sourced a perfect fit for a hard-to-fill role and have been engaged in regular conversation with them. You learn more about them, including background information on their current role and company. When their current employer announces a series of layoffs, you’re ready to reach out at a second’s notice because you know that connecting with recently laid-off employees comes down to timing. 

Provide a clear picture of your company

If a passive candidate is happily employed, the best way to approach them is to make sure they have a clear picture of your company and how it would benefit them to consider jumping into the application process. Any vagueness surrounding salary, benefits, perks, and company culture could put off a passive employee who isn’t actively looking for opportunities. Ensure that all of the positive aspects of the role are highlighted early on to give them a reason to continue the conversation. 

Find the right fit with Findem

Passive recruiting strategies require more resources than pursuing active job seekers. Findem helps busy HR professionals discover qualified candidates faster, providing a comprehensive view of their diverse attributes to streamline the recruitment process.

From searching custom attributes to fill unique positions to nurturing prospective passive candidates with automated email campaigns, elevate your recruitment strategy with our AI-powered talent acquisition and intelligence platform.

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