Truth or fiction? When you are looking to fill a position you should look for a passive candidate – somebody who is not looking for a new opportunity – because they will be better at their job. Or you should always fill the position with a person who is actively looking for a job because they will be more motivated, ambitious and ready to make a move.
Many hiring managers and recruiters have passionately held opinions about whether active or passive candidates are best, so we thought we would look at the arguments. Is one ‘better’ than the other? As with most endeavours that combine art and science, as recruiting does, the conclusion seems to be ‘it depends’.
Here are the rather simplistic arguments made for preferring either active or passive candidates. You can probably come up with a counter-argument for each of them. For a start, active candidate does not mean unemployed candidate; passive candidates are not all uninterested in pursuing an opportunity if the circumstances are right.
They say you should employ an active candidate because…
Recruiting them is easier. They are easy to find and ready to start when you need them. Easier and available also means less expensive.
People who actively look at job opportunities are younger and better educated. Research for Indeed by Harris Polling in the US in 2015 showed that those who ever looked at job opportunities were mostly between 18 and 44, and graduates.
They are actively looking for a challenge. They are more likely to want to move on because they want to learn, work in a larger organisation or earn more, and an ambitious candidate is more likely to succeed.
They say you should employ a passive candidate because…
You won’t have to compete with other employers to get them to work for you. You know that they are not sending out resumes and attending interviews, so negotiating with them will be straightforward. Most likely, you will not have to compete with other offers.
They won’t inflate their skills or qualifications in their resume. There is no need for them to exaggerate their accomplishments or overstate their education and training, as they are not putting themselves out there.
They will be loyal and stable employees. If they are not looking, they are engaged and happy in their job, making it more likely that they are a good team player and an all-round great employee.
SEPARATING FACT FROM FICTION
None of these arguments stand up under any real inspection. An active candidate might be leaving due to a poor performance review. They might be job-hopping and take any opportunity until the right one comes along, leaving you to repeat the recruitment process not too far down the line. A passive candidate may be a great fit with their current organisation, but a lousy fit with yours, or be hard to convince to consider your organisation, take up days of your time, and then ultimately say no – proving to be no less of a gamble than an active candidate.
Other models have come up with the idea that there are four categories of active/passive candidates, or a continuum. LinkedIn reports that its 2014 research found that 75% of full time workers internationally consider themselves passive candidates, and about 15% aren’t actually applying for jobs but are preparing to move.
WHY IT MATTERS
To find, recruit and hire the best candidate for a particular role is ultimately what is important. Understanding that active and passive candidates are different, motivated and attracted in different ways, means that a single recruitment strategy is unlikely to work for all potential employees out there, ranging from 100% active to 100% passive. Active candidates can be reached through job boards, advertising and a good website; to an extent, they will come looking for you. Passive candidates are harder to reach, and you must go out and find them, wherever it may be, from social media to networking events and referrals.
In the end, these sure-fire ways to attract both active and passive candidates should be the bedrock of your recruitment strategy:
- Promote your organisation as a great place to work (and making sure it is one).
- Run an employee referral program, particularly to connect with passive candidates.
- Offer video interviews (e.g. Skype), after-hours interview times and flexible, discreet arrangements for discussing the position.
- Use an executive search practitioner to be on the lookout for senior staff.
- Create a fast and agile recruiting processes so that good candidates don’t withdraw in frustration.
- Work with a recruiter who will maximise your sourcing capability and ensure the process keeps moving.