Time to kill the “passive candidate” mentality

Companies seem to really like pain these days. How else can you explain this nonsensical current fascination with “passive candidates”? It doesn’t take Nostradumus to predict what happens when companies take the stance of “we must have passive candidates and active candidates are not what we are ideally looking for”. The result is a lot of wanting and waiting for roles to be filled. Clubber Lang from Rocky III couldn’t have said it better:






For those of you not in the Talent Acquisition space, “passive candidates” is often defined as “actively employed and not looking”. In recent years, this classification of candidates has gone from one of several sourcing strategies to THE sourcing strategy for most companies. A writer I admire, Matt Charney,  posted a very insightful blog post http://recruitingdaily.com/within-you-without-you-how-to-build-a-winning-referrals-culture/ where he cites a survey from the 2014 Career XRoads Source of Hire report http://www.careerxroads.com/news/2014_SourceOfHire.pdf that states 12% of all hires come from this coveted “passive candidate” pool (for the record, I will not stop using quotes on “passive candidate” so you can feel my disdain as often as possible for this term). Interesting stuff. Yet – this is where, as Matt points out, most internal Talent Acquisition functions focus most of their time and efforts. Crazy, huh?


So why this fascination with “passive candidates”? There are a number of answers, but I think the most obvious one is the one no one wants to talk about – snobbery. There – I said it. To most organizations and hiring managers, whether they want to admit it or not, they think in these three formulas:
Formula #1 – employed + not looking for a job = AWESOME
Formula #2 – not currently employed + looking for a job = not awesome
Formula #3 – currently employed + looking for a job = OK, but not as good as #1


The underlying theme is that if you are actively looking and – God forbid – currently on the market and unemployed – you are less desirable as a candidate. As someone who has been in the TA space for some time (I had hair once) this is an incredibly frustrating and confusing thought process. I am fortunate to have worked with companies and currently with clients who see the ridiculousness of all of this, but the unfortunate truth is that the above formulas are more the norm than you might think. We hear over and over the “war for talent” theme, and how companies are competing for a very shallow pool of talent for their same collective needs. What if – call me crazy – instead of chasing the same people on LinkedIn and lobbying inmail after inmail to them that go unanswered, we as an industry got our heads out of our collective you know whats and made the pool significantly deeper by actually looking at people who aren’t just “passive”? I wrote earlier about some of the backwards thinking around experience and talent https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/talent-does-equal-experience-ed-nathanson?trk=mp-reader-card and this “passive candidate” thinking only adds to this.


For companies that consider hiring a high priority, why wouldn’t you want to expand your pool of talent available to you? Why wouldn’t you consider someone who is actively looking for a job? Were you ever unemployed? Could there be an actual good reason why someone might have left a job or been let go from a job? And why wouldn’t you look at people who don’t have ALL the nice buzzwords you posted on a job description, but have the baseline skills and the attitude and aptitude to do the job you are hiring for? Think about it for a second. When sourcing “passive candidates” most recruiters are, in essence, looking for someone who is already doing the same job they themselves are looking to fill. So then, what is the motivation for that “passive candidate” (can’t stop, won’t stop with the quotes) to take your role? It certainly isn’t career progression or growth if they are looking to make a lateral move to the same job at another company. Let me answer it for you. It’s usually money, commute or some other reason you typically don’t want as a motivator for someone joining your company. Now, there are always exceptions, and if the “passive candidate” is leaving for a true career growth opportunity then “all good in the hood”. I can tell you though that most recruiters are not sourcing “passive candidates” based on potential, but rather based on a set of buzzwords they were told to go find. Square peg meet square hole.


Candidates – “passive”, active, unemployed, junior, senior, whatever – are all a good thing. The end game any company wants is a good pool of people to assess and choose from to find the best possible candidates for their roles and company. Why would recruiters and hiring managers not want to consider people who actually want to work for them and don’t need to be “wooed” or lured by big comp increases? As recruiters we all need to do our fair share of “courting” , but to think of the candidates who find your company attractive and are actively interested in your openings as less than those who don’t is just about one of the silliest things ever.


– Drops mic –

Posted on March 12, 2015 in Employment Brand, Fun, job posting, Nerd Stuff, Recruiting, talent acquisition, unemployment

Share the Story

About the Author

Response (1)

  1. M. C.
    March 16, 2015 at 6:34 pm ·


    I couldn’t agree more (especially with the mic drop).

    “For companies that consider hiring a high priority, why wouldn’t you want to expand your pool of talent available to you?” – I will start asking my hiring managers this question! And I will be sharing this with many a sourcer who feels this pain daily!

Back to Top