The DO’s and DON’TS when approaching passive candidates


Sometimes the best people you employ aren’t necessarily the ones that are actively looking for a job. Known in the trade as “passive” candidates, these professionals may seem happy in their jobs, but are sometimes willing to consider a more attractive offer. The big difference between them and active job seekers, of course, is that they can be much more selective about who they listen to.

While these potential new employees require recruiters to be more active in their pursuit, it’s definitely something that is ultimately worth the effort.

So, how do you find and approach these passive candidates? Here are our top do’s and don’ts.



1: Use your contacts

Most recruiters will already have a great database of passive candidates; just go back a couple of years in the candidates you have placed or interviewed. By cross-referencing what those old candidates are doing now via social networks you can build up a good picture of them and what they might be a good fit for today. These candidates, even if they’re not looking, are almost always open to a conversation, particularly if they’ve previously applied for a position with a company or recruiter. Many times you’ll see that while they might not have been a right fit a couple years back, they are now as they’ve had the chance to gain the necessary skills and experience.


2: Build relationships with the best people you know

How many times do you meet someone and think, ‘Wow, I would hire this person’? You need to make sure that you take a note of their details and then keep that person in your individual pipeline. You can even start that list by asking yourself, “Who are the best people I’ve ever worked with?” And because you’ve met – or worked with them – before you have a natural opening to the conversation. This offers you a quick way to create the openings you need if you’re looking to expand or replace your talent base.


3: Look for skills not availability

When it comes to looking for new recruits you would do well to remember that great talent won’t always fit the job you have. However they may very well fit the task you really need completing. Successfully connecting with people depends on how you approach the referral request. If you go into a recruitment relationship off the back of the question: ‘Who do you know that is looking?’ you’re always going to reduce your chances of getting the right person. However, if you go in thinking: ‘Who do you know with the same skill set or XYZ skill set?’, then you’re opening the field up to a much wider audience.


4: Listen to candidates’ real motivations

Money is often not the primary motivator for job seekers, whether passive or active. The reasons a candidate may choose to change jobs can be very varied. The reason a passive candidate may be interested in your position could be something as simple as training or being closer to home in order to pick up their children after school. The only way to discover those core motivating factors is to study candidates’ backgrounds and listen to them. Why did they move from one job to another? Asking questions about a gap in work or a change in industry helps build rapport, and gives you insight into what makes a person tick.


5: Monitor online discussions

In short, search out your candidates online. If you want to know who is at the top of their game in a specific industry, then make sure you listen in on industry forms or LinkedIn groups. There are millions of passive candidates who participate in hundreds of thousands of groups online, and these groups are ripe for recruiting. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should just start soliciting leads. Instead, monitor the group for a while, identify key contributors, see how other recruiters are being treated, and most importantly figure out how you can contribute to the conversation.


So that’s what you should do, but what shouldn’t you do?


1: Don’t Sell!

Most recruiters are focused on two things: “pitch the job”; and “sell the opportunity”. But passive candidates are not in the market to buy anything so selling them something is unquestionably the wrong approach. Instead, try establishing your credentials and reputation. The best way to start talking with passive candidates is to engage them in conversation about their industry. Mention connections you may have inside your organisation, sector or industry, and offer these connections as a resource to them when needed.


2: Don’t ignore the person behind the hire

Before you call someone, make sure you learn as much as you can about them. The Internet offers you plenty of information about their company, their industry and very often even detailed information about their interests. If you found them on a passive candidate sourcing site look at their web references and you will likely find a number of websites where they are mentioned. Identifying something you have in common with them will help you develop a genuine connection. For example, you may have been to similar conferences.


3: Don’t dive straight in with the cold call

Where ever possible, start your conversation with an email. Although this may seem counter-intuitive, but great recruiters need to be able to use every tool at their disposal to connect with appropriate talent. E-mail is as powerful a communication tool as the phone. It is also the quickest, most unobtrusive and the most commonly accepted way to establish rapport today – start with a simple non-solicitous networking request email. Using both the phone and email strongly increases the likelihood you will make a connection.


4: Don’t present yourself as a recruiter

If you’re going to gain the respect of your prospective passive recruit, you need to know what you’re talking about! Very few individuals who’d be considered top, truly passive talent are willing to engage or build relationships with recruiters, however they would no doubt be willing to maintain relationships with subject matter experts. That’s why blogging and attending industry events to build your presence and thought leadership credentials can be powerful assets.


5: Don’t always take no for an answer

The best passive candidates are successful and busy people so if you just accepted an initial “no” all the time it is unlikely you will speak to many good people. It’s very likely you may get some initial resistance to the conversation or even a very outspoken “no”, but you can often overcome this reaction. An initial “no” could mean many other things: it could mean “I’m very busy right now,” in which case you should simply offer to call at a more convenient time and schedule a follow up. It could also mean they are having a bad day, or are very tired, and this is just not something they want to do right now. Tell them you appreciate they may be very busy right now, but what you have to say is important and you would like to call them at another more convenient time.

No Comments

Leave a comment (*required fields)