Passive candidates – exploding the myths

As a blade-sharp recruitment consultant with hundreds of active jobseekers on your books, do you really need to direct resources into targeting so-called ‘passive candidates’?

Well, in this fast-paced world of anticipating the solution before you’ve heard of the problem, the answer is a resounding yes. Let’s face it, it’s so yesterday to wait for a vacancy to come up and then look to fill it. Nowadays, it’s all about having the right person in mind before the role has even emerged.

More specifically, with only about 20% of workers actively looking for a new job, there’s potentially an untapped well of talent out there.

How do we know this? Well, there’s a lot of research on the subject. For instance, recent findings from professional networking site LinkedIn show that nearly 80% of workers can be classed as passive candidates. Of those, 44% are not looking for a job, but are willing to talk to recruiters about possible opportunities and 15% are starting to think about changing jobs. So, it’s only 20% who really don’t want to move. The research reckons that even those who’ve been in a job less than a year are keeping an eye out for opportunities.

That’s an awful lot of persuadable candidates.

Play the long game

To successfully tap into this opportunity, however, you need patience and human resources. As you know, there’s a subtle difference between trying to tempt a passive candidate and actively headhunting someone. While headhunting is a more aggressive targeting of professionals with niche skills, the passive candidate could be in any role. As a recruiter, you need to get to know your passive candidates, work out what their strengths, weaknesses and career ambitions are and then nurture them for when the right vacancy comes along.

Your leverage point is that corporate cultural fit is becoming increasingly important to workers – according to LinkedIn, 56% of top professionals prioritise finding an employer that fits with their personality. All that’s needed when the vacancy presents itself is to press their buttons and get them interested in a change.

The pay-off for you is that placing passive candidates raises your credibility in the eyes of clients. Rather than just blanket-bombing job boards and collecting CVs, it shows you understand their business and are committed.

Emma Kelleher, managing director at Caterek Recruitment, adds: “Passive candidates are preferred by recruiters as they tend to be among the best performers in their current roles and usually perform better at interviews…

“Personally we have a high level of success with these candidates. They are usually happy in their current role and not considering a move so don’t give off the sometimes negative ‘been-looking-for-a-long-time’ vibe, that can be off-putting for employers.”

It’s not as easy as you think

There’s no doubt, however, that finding passive candidates is time-consuming and resource-hungry – indeed, some recruiters have taken on staff who already have a talent in this area. Most scour professional or social media platforms, glean referrals from contacts and invite potential candidates to informal meetings or to join networking sites.

Kelleher’s technique matches most: “We target passive candidates through LinkedIn, through cold-calling and most importantly through our current candidate and client network. By making friends with people and staying in touch for regular updates and chats you get to know the good candidates.”

Some recruiters argue that the definition of passive versus candidates active is, therefore, subjective. David Leithead, managing director, Michael Page Financial Services, says: “There may be degrees of passiveness or activeness among users of LinkedIn, for example. But anyone who posts their CV in public, or reviews adverts and makes applications is frankly pretty active. A decent recruiter can add value because through the relationships and trust they build with their contacts, sometimes over many years, they know someone who is not on LinkedIn, but open to hearing, selectively about good jobs.”

The art of recruiting passive candidates

Passive or active, most people are flattered to be approached, but there is a certain skill if you pursue the cold-calling method. Here are some tips:

  • If you’ve never met, you’ll only get two or three minutes to keep them on the line, so be upfront and tell them straight that your aim is to help them learn about future career opportunities
  • Get them to talk about their skills, ambitions and so forth in order to build up a picture of their job requirements and company fit for future use
  • Bring them into your circle by inviting them to log on to your updates through Twitter, newsfeeds and job feeds from your social media sites
  • Make a shortlist of candidates who seemed receptive and start to build a relationship with them

If your potential candidate is not interested, a little trick to make your call worthwhile is to ask if they can give you any referrals. And don’t be defeated by a ‘no’. Check back with them from time to time as the situation may change.

For that reason alone, it’s always worth spending time to nurture passive candidates – so go for it…

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