Working with passive candidates

How to find passive candidates

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’?

The answer is a resounding ‘yes’, as nowadays it’s all about having the right person in mind before the role has even emerged. And with only about 20% of workers actively looking for a new job, there’s potentially lots of untapped talent out there.

How do we know this? 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.

Attracting passive candidates

To successfully tap into this opportunity, 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 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.

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.”


How to find passive candidates

There’s no doubt, however, that finding passive candidates is time-consuming and resource-hungry. To find them, most recruiters scour professional or social media platforms, get referrals from contacts and invite potential candidates to informal meetings or to join networking sites.

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 phone, 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.


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