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The Importance of Passive Candidates for Hiring Business-Critical Roles

In our experience 93% of the time, the successful candidate for a business-critical role for an organization is a passive candidate. 

These are individuals that are employed and not actively seeking a new role, but are approached by employers and recruiters who recognize their talent and potential. In an era of widespread job advertising, companies rely heavily on suitable candidates applying for their roles. When this technique is unsuccessful, or they recognize the success of their recruitment efforts won’t work without a headhunting strategy, they either engage internal talent acquisition teams or outsource the recruitment to a recruitment company to approach passive candidates – those that are a fit and possess the requirements for the role but aren’t actively applying to jobs. 

It is crucial for hiring managers to understand when and how to utilize passive candidates in filling their business-critical job vacancies.

Understanding Passive Candidates vs. Active Candidates

Passive candidates differ from active candidates during their job search in both behaviour and mindset. Active candidates regularly search job boards, submit applications, and engage with social media platforms to find opportunities. They are eager and receptive to communication from recruiters, demonstrating their openness to explore new job prospects. In contrast, passive candidates are not actively seeking job opportunities and do not consider job boards or traditional job search methods. They primarily use career-related social media platforms to network, enhance their skills, and make industry connections. When reaching out to passive candidates, recruiters need to be realistic about the effectiveness of their outreach. As these individuals are not actively interested in changing jobs, they are less likely to respond to messages. 

In our experience, and through the headhunting efforts of our team over the past 20+ years, we typically expect anywhere between a 20% – 30% response rate, depending on the type of role we’re recruiting for. 

Understanding Passive Candidates’ Preferences

Building rapport with passive candidates before initiating direct contact is crucial to capturing their attention. However, connecting with someone you didn’t even know existed requires a strong employer brand and an active approach to cultivate a valuable talent pool. To increase the chances of engagement, initial contact should be made through email or social media messages, allowing passive candidates to learn about the recruiter before a more formal call or meeting. Sending a concise and well-crafted message with links to the company (if it’s not confidential) and expressing interest in a brief conversation sets the stage for a potential discussion. Respecting the candidate’s response, whether it’s a decline or a request for more information, and following up with a phone/video call if there is interest, creates a positive impression and enhances the likelihood of success.

Strategies to Find Passive Candidates

Sourcing passive candidates goes beyond merely finding them; it requires targeted effort to discover the right individuals for your team. 

  1. Social media platforms serve as an excellent starting point, but choosing the most suitable platform is crucial. Utilizing LinkedIn’s Advanced Search, keywords and understanding relevant industry terms can help narrow down the search and identify qualified passive candidates. Your content on social media should be relevant, interesting and engaging. If you’re just going to post open jobs, quality candidates will soon unfollow or disconnect with you. Make a point of regularly posting about your company events, what your team is up to, and information that adds value to your followers (educational or informative content).
  2. Searching directly on competitor’s websites or other companies with similar profiles can help to identify key personnel with the right skills and experience. 
  3. Additionally, exploring in-person networking opportunities allows recruiters to meet passionate individuals who may not be actively seeking job opportunities. 
  4. Leveraging employee referrals is another effective strategy, as existing employees understand the company culture and can recommend suitable candidates. 

Recruiting & Engaging Passive Candidates

Recruiters must be prepared to make a strong impression on passive candidates within a few seconds of initial contact. You need to be able to compel passive candidates to consider the opportunity right away to get them engaged in a conversation. Having comprehensive information about the role, compensation, responsibilities, benefits, team and company details are essential for effective recruitment. 

  1. Addressing questions about compensation and level of responsibility early on helps sort candidates into available buckets, or who may not be interested due to misaligned expectations. 
  2. Establishing trust through open communication, being responsive, and maintaining transparency throughout the process is key to engaging passive candidates.
  3. Streamlining the interview process and making it convenient for candidates increases the chances of their continued interest. 
  4. By respecting their time and making the hiring process efficient, companies can maintain a positive employer brand and attract top talent. If there are delays in the process you risk losing candidates, even though they’re passive, they may be engaged in other opportunities. If they are qualified, recruiters are constantly reaching out to them with new opportunities. 

While active candidates are more readily available, passive candidates often bring more unique skills and experience to an organization. Recognizing the value of passive candidates and employing strategic methods to attract and engage them is crucial for filling critical positions. By understanding the distinct nature of passive candidates, building a strong employer brand, utilizing appropriate platforms, and fostering effective communication, recruiters can successfully connect with and hire these talented individuals.

To talk to one of our recruitment leads please send us an email to [email protected]

For executive-level hires, please visit Keynote Search for more information.