How to Attract and Hire Passive Candidates, Part 5

Candidates can be divided into four broad categories, depending on how active or passive they are:

  • Active candidates are those who need a job and are always looking. They’ll do whatever it takes to find a job. While there are a few good people in this pool, the best, as a percent of the total, are under represented.
  • Semi-active candidates are passive candidates who are fully employed but not totally satisfied with their work. They look infrequently, generally on tough days, using the same techniques as active candidates, but with a more discriminating eye. There are many good people in this pool, and the best are over represented as a percent of the total.
  • Semi-passive candidates are fully-employed and quite satisfied with their work. If you call them with an offer to explore a better opportunity, it’s quite easy to get them interested. Who you call and what you say is critical when sourcing this group. The quality level of this pool is representative of the population at large.
  • Passive candidates are fully employed and are very satisfied with their work. It’s hard to pull these people from their current work without a great deal of effort. Stronger candidates are over represented in this pool.

Different sourcing and recruiting strategies are required to attract and hire candidates from each pool. The more passive the candidate, the more effort is needed to attract and hire that person. The objective of any sourcing strategy should be to hire the highest quality candidate at the lowest cost in the shortest period of time. If you can find a top person in the active candidate pool, you should be able to fill the spot in a few days for less than $200. This is unlikely to happen, but many companies have built the bulk of their sourcing strategy around this hope. As part of a Unicru-sponsored webinar I was involved in last week, 100 staffing managers of Fortune 1000-size companies indicated that 75% of their time and effort were spent sourcing active candidates. In my mind, this is a case of misapplied resources. One size doesn’t fit all. If you want to hire passive candidates, you need to do a lot of different things. Here are the 10 biggies. As you’re reading through these, rank yourself on a 0-5 scale for each of the items listed. If you don’t get at least 30 points in total, you have some work to do before you’re ready to hire passive candidates.

Article Continues Below
  1. Employer brand or company buzz. A company’s growth prospects are an important consideration for passive candidates, so if you have a strong employer brand or your company is hot, give yourself four or five points. You can have one point if you’re unknown, but no points if you have had some negative press. A solid company with a good reputation is worth two or three points.
  2. Current job content. Passive candidates want jobs with real stretch, lots of challenge, and a chance to make an impact. You can have five points if your online job descriptions are descriptive and compelling, and everyone on the hiring team (recruiters, hiring managers, other interviewers) clearly understands what it takes to succeed in the job and its importance. Traditional, skills-based, boring job descriptions are worthless (i.e., zero points). Good jobs with clearly defined projects are worth about two or three points.
  3. Future job content or job branding. Passive candidates consider long- and short-term opportunities in balance. Job branding is the technique of tying a job directly to the company’s strategy and critical initiatives. This way candidates can clearly see the growth opportunities that come with successful performance. If this concept is embedded into every job description, talked about by the hiring managers, and clearly described on the career website, give yourself five points. A loose connection to the company’s prospects is worth about two or three points. Little or no connection isn’t worth much, about one or two points.
  4. Quality of the hiring managers. Top people want to work for other top people, so if the hiring manager is a high potential leader on the move, you get five points. Award a big doughnut to weak managers who are detriments to the hiring process. Solid but uninspiring managers are worth about two or three points.
  5. Quality of the team. The best people, especially passive candidates, assign a great deal of importance to the quality of the leadership team and to the people they’ll be working with. Give yourself five points if the team is well known and highly respected, especially the senior management. Senior management turmoil or a weak team is a real detriment, worth zero to two points. A solid but unspectacular team is worth about two or three points.
  6. Collateral and website. Top people look at the company website for information and read everything in the career section. They might not go there first, but they eventually will. If you have a world-class website coupled with an award-winning career section, you deserve four or five points. You get nothing here for a nothing site. A decent, average website is worth two or three points.
  7. Quality of the recruiting team. Top people need to be recruited. It is very difficult to attract passive candidates without great recruiters with enough time to recruit. You’ll only get one or two points even if you have a great recruiting team that is working too many reqs. A weak or inadequate recruiting team isn’t even worth a point. You deserve five points if you have a great team with enough time to recruit passive candidates. (Here’s a more detailed recruiter skills evaluation test you can take if you want to know more about this factor.)
  8. Short- and long-term compensation programs. Don’t try to buy talent. Long-term compensation is far more important to top performers than the current comp package. As long as you have a solid comp package in the upper third and a great job, you’ll be able to hire top people. Combine this with a great stock option program and you’ll earn five points ó four points without the aggressive stock plan. A solid comp plan is worth two or three points, and a below average plan isn’t worth much, about one or two points. If your comp plan is a detractor, give it a big zero.
  9. Workforce planning and sourcing strategies. If you don’t have enough time (or resources) to do it right, it’s very difficult to hire top people on a consistent basis at a reasonable cost level. That’s why workforce planning is so important. To get a five on this category, you need to be working at least three to four months ahead of time to fill critical positions, in combination with some type of aggressive multi-channel sourcing program. If you don’t have a clue about what this means or you need to fill critical positions yesterday, give yourself less than one. To get three or four points on this category, you need to have all your needs clearly determined, with a solid plan in place identifying actual sources of potential candidates.
  10. Commitment to hiring the best. It takes extra time and effort to hire passive candidates. Many don’t have resumes; they’re not always fully-prepared, they need to meet at odd hours; and they won’t jump through hoops to get the job. The executive team and every hiring manager need to recognize this and put in the extra effort required to hire top passive candidates. Give yourself five points if your company has a culture that respects and understands these differences. If your management team won’t even see people who already aren’t excited about working at your company, give yourself a point at most. You get two or three points if managers are somewhat flexible in meeting the extra needs of passive candidates, even if they’re not excited about it.

Total up your score. Are you ready to hire passive candidates? If you didn’t score at least a 30, you’ll never be able to consistently hire passive candidates. The point of this exercise was to demonstrate that hiring passive candidates requires additional resources, training, lots of effort, and a commitment from every manager that it’s worth it. Of course, not every position needs to be filled by a passive candidate. Strategic and high-impact positions do require A-level performers, but for less critical or rank-and-file positions, the top third will do. If you can hire an “A” performer for a critical position using a low cost technique, all the better. Regardless, to hire top people consistently, especially passive candidates, you’ll need to incorporate many of these ideas and concepts into your day-to-day hiring processes. This way, you make hiring the best a systematic business process, rather than relying on luck or random chance.

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).


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *