Is a Passive Candidate a Better Hire?

There are really only two kinds of candidates in the recruiting world. There are those who are actively seeking a position and those who are not, but who are receptive to outside impressions or influences. The latter type is often called the “passive candidate.” Is a passive candidate better than an active one? Why is there so much interest and hype these days over the passive candidate? In exploring these questions, I came upon some interesting ideas from the recruiters with whom I have spoken. First is the notion that since someone is not actively looking for a job, they must be happy, performing well and a better catch than someone who is actively looking. The second notion is that a passive candidate will carefully choose a new employer as opposed to just jumping at the first opportunity that arises. And the third idea is that people who are actively looking for a job must have some character or performance flaw. I find all of these notions simplistic and a little frightening. I am sure we all know people who are actively looking for new jobs because they are seeking change, looking for a better opportunity, trying to parley their newly acquired degree or certificate into more money, or looking to make a career change. None of these people are inferior in any way to someone who is not actively looking. Many of the active seekers may be those laid off due to mergers or consolidations, and we all know people who have been laid off, have found new jobs and who are very successful today. Sometimes it is better to have been laid off and to discover where you can make improvements to your working style or to your skills than to go through years in a job without any real assessment or feedback. On the other hand, many passive candidates are occupying sinecures, are in deadened jobs in profitable companies, or have played the political games inside their company better than others. Not all of the passive candidates are good workers, high performers, or well liked. Here are some reasons why active candidates are better than passive ones:

  1. They have more than likely had a variety of experiences that add depth and wisdom to their work life.
  2. They are change-oriented and can deal with uncertainty and different approaches to issues.
  3. They have a clearer idea of their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, many have done extensive skill analysis, so they know themselves better than many passive candidates.
  4. They may have recently acquired new skills, degrees, or certificates that their current employer will not reward. A new employer can get the benefit of these skills for a slight increase in pay.
  5. They may be better risk-takers and more able to use their risk taking skills to accomplish important corporate goals.

The passive candidate may also make a good employee because:

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  1. They have shown loyalty and have stayed with their employer over some period of time.
  2. They must have performed at some minimal level of satisfaction, as they have not been fired.
  3. They may be very skilled at negotiating and at marketing ? they may be very politically savvy.
  4. They may have great depth of experience in a particular Area, which may make them valuable to another company ? particularly a competitor.
  5. They may be vastly underpaid and, therefore, a bargain in terms of salary.

Several Internet companies such as Hire.com (formerly World.hire.com) have developed special software and services to attract passive candidates. I support this wholeheartedly as the passive candidate, by definition, is very hard to attract. It takes special skills and tools to effectively get a passive candidate to take an interest in your company. Services such as those offered by Hire.com open new doors to a recruiter and to the hiring managers, and they do not exclude attracting and recruiting an active candidate. What is clear is that both types of candidate make excellent Employees depending on a person’s unique set of skills and abilities. Recruiters that focus on one type or another lose out. In my experience it is never wise to close the door on any candidate by type, anymore than it is wise to do so because of gender or race or age. I urge recruiters to take a broad view and steer clear of this dangerous notion that only passive candidates are good candidates!

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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