A Recruiter Competency Model for Passive Candidates

This article is part of my continuing series on passive candidate recruiting. The key principle underlying all of these articles is that you can’t recruit and hire passive candidates using the same workflow, nor the same recruiters, used for active candidates.

According to a recent survey we conducted with LinkedIn, 83% of fully-employed members on LinkedIn consider themselves passive when it comes to their job-hunting status. While this is a huge and important pool, most companies over-emphasize the 17% of candidates who are active. Then to make matters worse, when they do target passive candidates, they clumsily use their active candidate processes.

To assist talent leaders in understanding the differences between active and passive candidate recruiting, I’ve developed a recruiter competency model addressing the similarities, differences, and overlaps. Contact me directly if you’d like to learn more about this. It’s highlighted in the graphic showing the 12 most important competencies alongside a very rigorous 1-5 ranking system. For example, a 4-5 ranking requires outstanding performance, some type of significant recognition, and continuing accolades from the recruiter’s hiring manager clients.

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Here’s a quick summary of each of the competencies and the differences between active and passive recruiting requirements:

  1. Results-driven: Drive for a recruiter handling passive candidates requires the ability to tenaciously, but subtly, cajole and urge passive prospects through the hiring pipeline while deftly overcoming concerns. For a recruiter handling active candidates, drive is more about numbers and being sure there are enough reasonable candidates in the pool.
  2. Someone Worth Knowing and Subject Matter Expert: When a recruiter contacts people who are not looking, these people are deciding not only if the career opportunity is worth pursuing, but also if the recruiter is credible. This means the recruiter knows the company strategy, the company’s basic financial strength and position within the industry, and why the company offers a strong foundation for a career move. This type of expertise is much less important when working with active candidates who just want to get an interview.
  3. Partners with Hiring Manager: Recruiters have very little credibility with a top person who’s not looking if they don’t know the hiring manager. More important, if the recruiter and hiring manager are not working in tandem, it’s impossible to move top people through the extra steps required. This partnership is much less important when recruiting active candidates.
  4. Converts Job into Career Move: Passive candidates will always want to know a few things about the job to determine if it’s worth a more serious discussion. Recruiters must be able to present this on multiple levels, including the job’s importance and some of the key projects and tasks involved. Messages and postings must be creative and appeal directly to the prospect’s career needs. (Here’s an example of one we recently ran.) It doesn’t take this level of ability to attract, recruit, and close active candidates.
  5. Develops Sourcing Planning and Strategy: This is essential whether targeting active or passive candidates. While different, the development of a comprehensive sourcing plan involves workforce planning, a geographic supply/demand analysis, and the continued upgrading of sourcing channels based on hiring needs and channel effectiveness. Active candidate sourcing done well is more complicated than passive candidate sourcing, and represents the critical differentiator among active candidate recruiters.
  6. Uses Social Media and Search Engine Marketing to Develop Active Candidate Pool: Getting active candidates as soon as they enter the hunt for a new job makes a huge difference in hiring the best ones. This requires constant application of the latest social media tools for sourcing, ensuring your company is getting first choice. This competency is less important for passive prospects.
  7. Use LinkedIn and Networking to Develop a Passive Candidate Pool: People who aren’t looking need to be contacted and persuaded to evaluate your opportunity. While getting names is relatively easy, getting on the phone and developing deep networks of highly qualified prospects is an essential component of passive candidate recruiting. Much of this involves Bridging the Gap on the first call. This competency is almost unneeded for active candidates.
  8. Ensures a Professional Candidate Experience: While different for active and passive, it’s essential for both. There’s a lot more hand-holding for passive candidates, and recruiters need to ensure that everything is done right. Due to the volume involved with active candidates, candidate care is more about ensuring the process is effective.
  9. Organizes and Plans Work: Active candidate recruiters have it tougher on this score. Effectively handling a high number of requisitions requires exceptional planning and organizational skills combined with an ability to prioritize work and get hiring managers to actively participate.
  10. Technical and ATS Savvy: It’s pretty easy for a passive candidate recruiter working a reasonable number of reqs to keep the ATS current. Active candidate recruiters need to be whizzes at this. In fact, this competency might be the difference-maker for an active candidate recruiter. Aside from this, all recruiters need to be tech-savvy, using the latest tools and techniques to uncover new ways to find and reach the best candidates.
  11. Accurately Assesses Competency, Motivation, and Fit: Recruiting passive candidates is generally a full-cycle role, requiring accurate assessment skills. As part of this they need to be able to fully assess candidates on all dimensions of performance and fit. Active candidate recruiters need to be good screeners on more than just skills, but rarely need to conduct a full assessment.
  12. Recruits, Advises, Negotiates, and Closes Top Prospects: Persuading top prospects who are not looking, getting them to engage in a series of career discussions, pushing the process along, and then closing the deal on equitable terms is what recruiting passive candidates is all about. Recruiting and closing active candidates who want your job is more a transactional process with fewer variables and an emphasis on compensation.
Unless you have a big employer brand, it’s impossible to attract the 83% of fully-employed professionals who aren’t looking using the same sourcing and recruiting techniques used for the 17% who are. As a result, the recruiters involved and processes used must be different. Just recognizing the basic differences between active and passive candidate recruiting is a huge step. Getting the whole team to do it the right way, every day, on every search is the real challenge. It’s also how recruiting managers become sought after talent acquisition leaders. You’ll meet many of them at ERE’s Spring Expo.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


10 Comments on “A Recruiter Competency Model for Passive Candidates

  1. Thanks again, Lou. ISTM that before a company goes after those 83% who aren’t actively looking, they need to determine if they have anything someone would leave their existing position for. My experience over the past few years seems to show that even great potential candidates are pretty easy to find, but if someone is in a fairly stable and functional environment (aka, “they aren’t likely to lose their job and it doesn’t suck too badly”), you better have a great opportunity for even average candidates if you’re asking them to come to you. If you don’t have something substantially better, this is when you need to have a great (aka: *30-35% contingency/retained fee or $125k+/yr inhouse) recruiter to sell the good candidate on the mediocre opportunity, or the great candidate on the good opportunity….



  2. Fabulous information as always, Lou. Setting aside the active versus passive issue, isn’t the point to attract the best possible talent and closest fit to the organization’s current and future needs?

    If so, what constantly puzzles me is: why do so many companies insist on publishing atrocious job ads? From my experience, it doesn’t take much more effort to package the information in an appealing fashion than it does to sloppily slap something together.

    The vast majority of postings are simply awful and make no sense for any purpose except to guarantee that no sane person ever applies. They are poorly constructed, littered with incoherent, rambling lists of requirements and almost never any WIIFM to appeal to top tier candidates. Many ads tend to read more like a list of demands and rules than a career marketing message.

    In the example you provided, there is a clear correlation between the type of experience, education, etc., being requested and the work to be performed. Why is something so logical like that almost never done? It seems like such a wasted opportunity to showcase whatever it is that that employer has to offer to the target prospect.

    Personally, I translate the quality of the ad to the quality of the worker that they are pursuing or the quality of staff already in place. So, if an ad is overflowing with typos, demonstrates poor communication style, and is written in an unpleasant tone indicating hoop jumping might be their main priority, then I’m instantly turned off. In my case, that applies regardless of active or passive status at any given moment in time.


  3. The comments are spot on. I was struck by a few points about the credibility of the recruiter and assessment of competency, fit, etc. My role was that of the passive candidate who was contacted by a recruiter regarding a marketing role for a SAAS software provider. Needless to say, in summarizing the experience it was clear that the recruiter did not understand SAAS, critical success factors for marketing or selling SAAS, what the company’s goals were, and was unable to draw any competency fit to the position. Not to mention that the recruiter was unwilling to work with me regarding when to call (weekends/evenings) as I am working full-time AND to top it off, then subsequently disappeared without any further communication regarding a personal issue that developed which was unrelated to anything about the job or my candidacy. This recruiter even stated I would like working there because “the people were nice and hardworking” – which is entirely subjective and a judgment I would have to make.

    In addition to the credibility of the recruiter being destroyed, I had real questions over the client company and how much they really knew about the position and goals they were seeking.

    Passive candidates do need to be treated differently and are evaluating competency just as much as the recruiter is.

  4. @ Rachel: A very good point. As mentioned above, if you’re going after passive candidates, you need a well-said good story, and need to spend a fair amount of time with the candidate.


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