HR Mavericks

Eddy’s HR Mavericks Encyclopedia

Passive Candidates
Have you posted your open position on every job board you can think of and you still don’t have the right applicant for that hard to fill role? This article will help you source passive talent so that you can find the perfect candidate for your hard-to-fill role.

What Is a Passive Candidate?

Passive candidates are individuals who are currently employed and not actively looking for new opportunities. According to LinkedIn, only 30% of the current workforce makes up active candidates, which means that 70% of the workforce is not currently looking for a new job opportunity. However, over half of passive applicants are open to hearing about new opportunities. While passive candidates may be open to a new opportunity, they are generally performing well in their current role. They may have a highly sought after skill or competency. If so, they are likely the target of other organizations’ outreaches as well.

Passive Candidates Versus Active Candidates

Active candidates are actively searching for new opportunities and actively applying to jobs. They may be unemployed, but not always. Many active candidates are currently employed but feeling burned out, at a plateau in their current role, or feeling unsatisfied in their current role for any number of reasons. They may have other motivations to apply, like seeking higher compensation or relocation. Passive candidates are currently employed. They are not searching for new opportunities and are not applying to new jobs. Passive candidates are valuable because they offer a larger pool of prospects to source through, which gives you more opportunities to find the right person for your open role. Recruiters (like you!) are reaching out to them with the goal of creating a conversation to determine fit. If there is a fit for a current or future role, the next goal is to convert a passive candidate into an active one.

Why Recruit Passive Candidates?

HR, recruiting teams and hiring managers can get themselves out of reactive mode and into proactive mode by recruiting passive candidates. Not only are passive candidates the bulk of the workforce, they are also likely the individuals that you want to be talking to. Think of it this way: if someone is happy in their current role and not looking to make a change, it is likely that they are doing well, which means they are the exact kind of person you want in your organization. Listed below are a few additional reasons to recruit passive candidates.
  • May not be interviewing with other companies. Don’t count on this 100% of the time. There are plenty of companies looking for passive candidates. If they are a good candidate, another company may have reached out to them as well, but many times you may be the only other organization they are talking to, which gives you an advantage.
  • Expand your candidate pool from 25% of the workforce to nearly the entire workforce. Expanding your pool will help you include the most qualified candidates that will not be included in the active candidate population alone.
  • Robust recruiting pipeline. With recruiting passive candidates, you already have qualified applicants when you may not even have the role open yet. So when the role does open, you have candidates who could quickly interview and take the role.
  • Shorter recruiting timelines. With great potential candidates waiting in the wings, you and your recruiting team can fill positions more quickly. Filling open roles quickly has many benefits. Teams and projects that are staffed run more smoothly, team members do not have to shoulder additional work for long, and team satisfaction is higher as a result. You can also gain great credibility with your internal clients if you fill open roles faster.
  • Passive candidates are generally high performers. Research shows that passive candidates are more engaged in their current roles than active candidates, which means they are usually the ones currently making an impact. If you want your next hire to be a high-impact performer on your team, then you need to be looking at passive candidates.
  • Diverse candidate slate. Building a diverse candidate slate can be difficult for some roles, especially when under short timelines. Work with networks and associations to cultivate leads for passive candidates from underrepresented groups. This can lead to diversifying your talent pool.
  • Strengthening your talent. Your ability to serve customers, execute your strategy and develop future leaders all depend on the strength of your people. At the end of the day, the people you hire will either get you closer or further away from your goals.

How to Engage With Passive Candidates

You've learned why passive candidates can be a game-changer for your recruiting strategy. Now let's delve into the details of how to reach out to them.

Step 1: Plan by Skill, Not Role

In order to know which candidates to contact, you need to understand your organization’s hiring needs. You will get a better picture of your workforce if you think by skill instead of by role.As you work with business leaders to determine your hiring needs for a specific timeframe, list the skills you currently have, the skills you need to add now, and the skills you will need in the future. Once you determine the gap between what you have and need, you can identify what skills need to be hired.

Step 2: Identify Your Candidate

Now that you know the skills your organization needs, you can create a role and start recruiting. As you write the job description, be sure to stick to the minimum required qualifications to find the right candidate and avoid any potential discrimination claims.If you are not recruiting for an open position but trying to strengthen the pipeline for filled roles, start first with the most strategically important roles. Next, think about where you have the highest turnover. Now you know what type of candidate you are looking for, you can consider the best way to reach out to them. Beyond LinkedIn, you could work with various organizations like alumni associations, professional organizations and veteran programs to target the right kind of candidate. More specialized sites and social media platforms can also help you find the right candidate, like Github for software engineers.

Step 3: Craft Your Recruiting Message

Before you reach out to a passive candidate, be sure to have a polished message to deliver. Keep it short and focused on the potential candidate’s perspective. This is a great time to leverage your organization’s employee value proposition (EVP) and employer brand. If you do not have an existing EVP, work with your senior leadership to develop one. Your EVP will explain what employees get in return for working for your organization, from the obvious like salary to the less obvious like highly experienced management. These key questions need to be answered to begin your EVP:What financial benefits do you offer?Even if you do not have to disclose the pay range for the open role, know both how you compare to companies similar to yours and how you want to communicate it.Organizational compensation can lag, match, or lead the market. Lagging means your salary midpoints are lower than your similarly situated competitors, and leading means your salary midpoints are higher. This is important to know so you can include this information in your offer.What employment benefits do you offer?Similar to financial benefits, you need a good understanding of your employment benefits and how they compare to your talent competitors. Do you offer anything unique that could help with your target recruiting profile? If so, be sure to advertise accordingly. Highlighting your company’s benefits helps the passive candidate paint a holistic picture of the role you are reaching out to them about. What development opportunities can candidates get excited about?Learning and growing is a huge part of work satisfaction. What programs do you have to help people be successful in their roles and grow? Examples could be manager training, job swaps, a robust learning management system or an educational reimbursement program. Be careful not to promise employment outcomes, like promotions or salary bumps, for participating in any program. Focus on the big picture.Don’t overlook the value of the work itself. Excellent employees love what they do and want challenges. Speak to them about the current work and the impact they could have.What is the culture?How work gets done, how people communicate, and how people get help are informed by culture. Culture makes a big difference in employees’ day-to-day experience. Make sure you can communicate how your organization’s culture will benefit them.Consider asking current employees to post reviews on their social media about their experiences working for your organization. This can help passive candidates get a picture of what it might be like for them.Don’t overlook other elements that make your organization stand out, such as the office location (or lack thereof), awards received by employees or the company or exciting work or products in development.

Step 4: Make Contact

It’s time to put your hard work sourcing and creating an introduction message to the test. Passive candidates are typically satisfied with their role, so they will likely be harder to contact. In your first message (likely email, LinkedIn, or another platform), explain why you are contacting them. This is a great time to mention their unique skills or experience that you’re looking for. Explain why you think they’d be a great fit and add a brief line or two about what they have to gain by joining your organization. Bring on the EVP and branding we talked about earlier.Next, motivate them to talk to you. Ask them what their career aspirations are, what they like most about their work and what they value in their career. This will help you understand if they are actually a good fit and how to have successful future conversations.Finally, ask them if they would like to keep in touch. Don’t assume they want to keep hearing from you. A contact from a recruiter can go from interesting to annoying quickly if you don’t understand what they want.Once you do get the conversation going, be respectful of their time by keeping contacts short and meaningful. Accommodate their schedule as much as you can. Share any employer branding and EVP information throughout the call(s) and send via email.

Where to Look for Passive Candidates

Even with a solid passive candidate recruitment strategy, you won't have much luck unless you know where to find passive candidates and how to get their attention. Since passive candidates are not currently seeking a new opportunity, you will have to approach them. The tricky part of sourcing passive candidates is getting in front of them in a way that will allow you to engage in meaningful conversation where you can build relationships. The good news about sourcing passive candidates is that you have nothing to be timid about. As long as you have an opportunity to offer that is better than what they currently have, the odds are in your favor that they will want to talk with you. Here are a few places you can look to get in touch with potential candidates.

Previous Applicants

Reference your ATS as a database. If you have an ATS where you house all your current and previous job applications, then you already have a place to start your job search. A candidate who applied in the past may not have been a fit for that role at the time, but they may be the perfect fit for your current role. The best part of using your ATS as a candidate pool is that you don’t have to pay any additional fees for this database. You have already paid for these applications, so using your ATS as an applicant sourcing pool allows you to recycle your marketing dollars. The people in your ATS will likely already have their accurate contact information included. This allows you to speed up the rate at which you are able to effectively reach out to them.

Your Customers

Source your customers. Think about buying a box of pizza — many times they attach a “now hiring” flyer to the box. This is another method of recycling marketing dollars. Your marketing team has invested money to bring in customers, and marketing to your customers allows you to further capitalize on the money you have already spent. Marketing to your customers also connects you directly to a pool of people who are engaging positively with your brand and therefore may be more interested in working for your brand.

Automated Tools

Invest in tools that allow you to search and reach out to prospects. Job search boards and social media tools like Indeed, ZipRecruiter and LinkedIn have databases of millions of individuals that you can reach out to for a premium. These tools are expensive, but they open doors and are invaluable because of the wealth of collective profiles they contain.
82% of recruiters say they primarily use social media to recruit passive talent
Hiring Statistics


Get involved in the community. Outside of work, be with the kind of people you want as part of your passive candidate pool. There are many community events you can be involved in that range from volunteer opportunities and networking events to social gatherings and career fairs. When you get involved in the community, you place yourself in a position to interact with passive candidates you might not normally be able to reach with traditional recruiting methods.

Employee Referrals

Ask for employee referrals. When you make an employee referral process part of your passive sourcing strategy, you turn your recruiting team from a team of one to a small army. Let the employees in your organization do some of the recruiting for you. They are closely connected to people in their industry, they know your company culture and they can usually provide a rich source of qualified leads.

Best Practices for Nourishing Relationships With Passive Candidates

After finding passive candidates through past applicant lists, referrals, or your community, what happens next? While automated emails or LinkedIn messages may work for initial outreach, contacting a passive candidate successfully requires at least some level of personal touches.

Follow Up

You’ve already made the first contact, so this is a great chance to send a quick thank you note and ask if they have any questions. If they are interested, schedule another call to talk in greater detail about the role and company.

Get Specific

Now is the time to really demonstrate why this candidate would be a great fit for the role and your organization. Get deeper into projects, role details and the EVP materials you highlighted earlier. If you don’t feel confident you can answer questions thoroughly, involve someone on the team to provide some insight.Use the insights you gained about the candidate to share information about the team, projects, culture and company. Continue to ask them what they want to learn, do and achieve so you can assess the role fit.

Recruit From Passive to Active Candidate

Assuming the candidate is a good fit, is interested and the right role is open, this is your chance to remove all possible obstacles to applying. This doesn’t mean they don’t have to be interviewed through your usual interview process, but it makes sure they go through a simplified, expedited process. Through your passive recruiting outreach, you have already gathered most of the information that would be covered by the first interview, so skip to the steps you need to complete. This will help the company fill the role faster, whether with your candidate or someone else.

Additional Tips for Sourcing Passive Candidates

As you get started sourcing passive candidates, here are a few additional tips to keep in mind.

Tip 1: Don’t Mass Message

Personalize your outreach messages. People can tell when a message is personalized and they can tell when a message is a generic template in a drip campaign. It takes more time to personalize each outreach message, but you will only get to those hard-to-reach candidates with a catchy personalized message.

Tip 2: Build Long-Term Relationships

You may be targeting the right person but at the wrong time. Building relationships will create a talent pipeline that will help you in the future. Think of your hiring efforts in longer terms than your immediate hiring needs. When you build relationships with prospects you create a talent community you’ll be able to draw from in the future.

Tip 3: Ask for Referrals From Passive Candidates Who Turn You Down

When you reach out to passive candidates, you are going to get responses from many people who are not looking for a new opportunity at this time and that is fine. Just because they are not looking for an opportunity right now doesn’t mean they don’t know someone else who might be. They are probably more closely connected to the professionals in their industry than you. The prospects that respond they are not interested are a perfect pool of prospects to ask for referrals from.

Tip 4: Highlight Flexible or Remote Work Options

These days, most people value flexible scheduling options, remote work, and hybrid work very highly. If your company offers competitive work environment features like these, you'll be sure to catch the eye of many passive prospects. You can capitalize on this! Make sure to highlight any flexible work arrangements you can offer. In addition, remember to emphasize any guidelines your organization has in place to promote work-life balance. Anyone who has been in a role where they did not have the right work-life balance knows that money isn’t everything; a role that offers a work-life balance is already worth its weight in gold. Highlighting a great work-life balance is going to attract those top performers that feel they are trapped in a toxic, unbalanced work-life cycle. Many candidates would sacrifice in other areas to be able to have a job that lets them achieve balance in their work, family life, and other endeavors.

Methods to Measure Success at Recruiting Passive Candidates

Measuring your success is crucial to determine the right technique for different roles.

Method 1: Referrals

Along with sourcing candidates yourself, you can ask employees to refer people they know. Simply mark which referrals are passive candidates and track what percentage of these referrals become employees.

Method 2: Time to Fill

Having the right talent in the right roles at the right time is vital. Measure your time to fill with passive candidates from initial contact, application and offer accepted. Be aware of passive candidates who were contacted for both currently open roles and anticipated roles.

Method 3: Yield

Yield is a simple percentage of the pool of candidates you contacted that become employees.

Method 4: Retention and Satisfaction

Hiring is expensive and time-consuming. Try to track long-term metrics such as retention, performance and satisfaction to determine if there is a relationship between hiring type and long-term metrics.
Tyler Fisher, PHR

Tyler Fisher, PHR

Tyler empowers Talent Acquisition professionals, HR business leaders, and key stake holders to develop and execute talent management strategies. He is igniting the talent acquisition process through: team building, accurate time to fill forecasting, driving creative talent sourcing, and fine-tuning recruiting team effectiveness.
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Hannah Olvera Doman

Hannah Olvera Doman

Hannah has spent her HR career as a strategic business partner to fast-growing, innovative technology teams. As a generalist, she has experience in employee on-boarding, employer branding, employee and manager development, HR systems, mergers/acquisitions, and employee experience.
Hannah received a BS in Human Resource Management from Brigham Young University and holds a PHR certification.
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Frequently asked questions
Other Related Terms
Applicant Auto-Rejection
Blind Resumes
Blind Screening
Boomerang Employee
Candidate Journey
Candidate Pipeline
Candidate Pool
Candidate Withdrawal
Career Gap
Contrast Effect
Cover Letters
Employment History
Functional Resume
Job Hopping
Qualified Applicant
Reference Check
Resume Screening
Superstar Candidate
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