Stop Killing My Passive Candidate!

My philosophy is that the best candidate is the one who is not, and does not need to look for a position. I am finding that in the past 12 months, there are fewer and fewer candidates who are not in the market for a position. People are more willing to speak with a recruiter, there are fewer objections I need to overcome, and it has been easier to reach people. I am sure I am not alone, and that these previously “passive candidates” are also speaking to the other recruiters reaching out to them. The data supports this; the recent Careerbuilder 2012 Candidate Behavior Guide showed that 74% of currently employed individuals are looking for a position in one form or another.

There are a few reasons for this:

  1. It is easier to look for a position due to technological advances, social media, etc.
  2. Loyalty to a company is harder to find, especially within larger companies who are consistently bought, sold, merged, or restructured.
  3. Certain managers may be resistant to flexible or remote working conditions, although technology and position requirements can accommodate these requests easily.

People will continue to become more visible in their personal and professional lives. This is inevitable, as social media continues to become more prevalent. Job searches will become easier and more mobile in nature.

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There is nothing we can do about this, and I actually think this is a good thing. Managers simply need to have a more open mind about remote working conditions, and flex time. Allow your top performers to work remotely, and inform your low performers why they are unable to do so and what they need to do to earn this ability for a flexible schedule or remote working condition.

The loyalty issue is the hardest aspect to fix; you cannot control mergers and acquisitions. The best thing you can do is to show your employees you truly care, listen to them, open your ears and close your mouth, and ensure you are taking the time to address their needs and wants. Little things do matter. A small gesture to let an employee know you are listening and that you truly care ensures that you are focusing on enhancing productivity, not back-filling a position.

Jeff Battinus is a seasoned healthcare recruiter, holding nearly a decade of experience in nearly all facets of the healthcare recruitment. He has worked in the staffing industry, home infusion services, hospital, non-profit, biopharmaceuticals, and oncology services. He also works with the Coast Guard Auxiliary serving on its national staff in charge of recruitment for the International Affairs/Interpreter Corps and holds the office of National Branch Chief.


14 Comments on “Stop Killing My Passive Candidate!

  1. Thanks, Jeff. As long as we have a high and continuing un(der) employment, unless those 74% aren’t part of the “Fabulous 5%” or have some much in-demand skill-set, employers can and will pretty much treat employees any way they like.


  2. Jeff,
    When can we retire the term “passive candidate?” Once the person listens to you and engages in a conversation are they suddenly “active,” and therefore less desirable? So why don’t we re-frame the conversation for the next twenty years, or until we need to revisit it again.

    Everyone is a candidate. And this is good news for recruiters and candidates. In the old days (circa 1989) we used to cold call people all the time to try to poach them from their current employer. We didn’t care if they were active or passive, we just cared that they would be productive. In today’s loyalty free environment (as you alluded) everyone is willing to stay with their employer as long as they are engaged and to listen to your offer if you have a better deal. So let’s stop getting hung up on passive or active and just focus on the candidate’s qualifications to get the work done, which ought to be our focus anyway.

    Sorry to have gone off like this, and I really don’t mean to sound so angry, this is just one of my hot buttons. As long as we keep categorizing candidates by an arbitrary classification rather than their abilities we’ll never be able to best serve our clients or employers.
    Thanks for listening,

  3. “My philosophy is that the best candidate is the one who is not, and does not need to look for a position.”

    Can you please tell me what this philosophy is based upon?

    Ronald Katz, can you imagine, even imagine the glory of retiring that time of years gone by? Can you even imagine it? Really now. Can you?

  4. Ron, what I meant to say was…
    Ronald Katz, can you imagine, even imagine the glory of retiring that “passive candidate” phrase of times and years gone by? Can you even imagine it? Really now. Can you?

    I need to stop drinking at lunch!

  5. The best candidate is a top performer, a top performing candidate is typically well respected, and well treated within a company. Therefore, the best candidate is someone who does not need to actively seek a new role as they are typically comfortable and well taken care of in their current position.

  6. @Howard, I’m thrilled to have retired those days! I know you remember them too. And like me, I know you dread recruiters who insist on fitting candidates into cubbyholes before they’ve even spoke with them or taken the time to assess their capabilities.

    With all the technological improvements we have at our disposal, let’s try to use our powers for good not evil!

    And I too would like to know the basis of Jeff’s philosophy.

  7. While I would agree with you in principle, the passive candidate you describe as ” a top performer, a top performing candidate is typically well respected, and well treated within a company” is also typically a very difficult candidate to work, and especially… to close. Because they have no need to be on the market, they tend to be somewhat pretentious, and ask for the world to be offered to them on a platter. I’m not necessarily saying they’re wrong, because they have that right. The problem is that with many passive candidates, they will go through the process (provided you can get them interviews at their convenience) and when it comes to offer time, tend to reject a reasonable offer…. because they can. Unless you have an opportunity for this candidate that they just can’t resist, at a salary that blows them away, they stay at their current employer. Or, they take the offer, and succumb to a counter offer. Either way, they’ve wasted your time and your clients’ time. I’m not saying that I haven’t placed top-tier passive candidates. I have. I’ve also been burned by passive candidates more often than placing them, and for that reason, I can say that the above is true. Bottom line, the best candidate? The one your client hires. Period.

  8. High un(der)employment or not, if an employer wants “Fabulous 5%” candidates, it needs to be a “Fabulous 5%” employer in pay, benies, stock, genuine opportunity, QoWL, stability, SOMETHING besides the greed, arrogance, fear, and ignorance/incompetence (GAFI) of its founders, CXOs, and hiring managers.

    No Cheers,


  9. Keith: You are as almost always, correct!

    I am stunned at some of the companies who want “the top 5%.”

    it is an entitlement philosophy and it is disturbing. Wnat the top 5%? Be the top 5%.

  10. Howard, I’m with you as usual. I love, “Want the top 5%? Be the top 5%”
    That’s how to attract the best, whether they are active, passive, curious, inquisitive, testing-the-waters, exploring opportunities, considering, or just bored at their jobs!
    Welcome to November!

  11. Another way to attempt to fix this problem is to encourage employee referrals within your company. If you’re looking to reach passive candidates and the issue of trust and loyalty stands in your way, employee references are great way to avoid sour feelings. If a candidate already knows someone within your company, they are already more likely to have positive feelings toward you.

  12. I’m not a fan of throwing around terms like “top talent” or “passive candidates” etc as most organisations that I have worked with in the past can’t even define what top talent looks like. If they don’t know what they are looking for, why request it. Passive over active, why not just the best candidate? Senior leaders that I have delivered projects for are only interested for 10 seconds max the source of the candidate. They are just glad you have delivered the best candidate fit for their role.

  13. Jeff
    I appreciate the term passive candidate but also recognise that this changes throughout the process. “Active” candidates are either not working, about to be not working, unhappy in the current role / organisation, under performing or looking to better themselves – the latter being maybe 20% of such candidates at best. These are the people who chase you, negotiate from a weaker stance, tend not to be counter offered but are also less likely to be successful as an applicant.
    Passive ones tend to know their value, are generally valued as employees are often less committed to the initial elements of the process. The role of a recruiter is to turn them into active candidates. Certainly by virtue of them attending a second interview, they will have become so regardless of what they say.
    As recruiters we regard all working people as active candidates but in this context the distinction is clear – often acknowledged by the way that we deal with the two separate types.
    The recession has changed little other than to accentuate the differences between the two. Passives have become more so for a variety of reasons, not least that they have a secure job and actives (often for the first time in their lives) more keen than ever to take anything for fear of being long term unemployed and all that that brings.

    I have no doubt that the relative nonchalance and calm displayed by “passive” candidates who have been head hunted is often interpreted (and misinterpreted) as confidence and high self worth (recruiting managers gravitate, as we all do, towards people with good levels self esteem)As humans we recognise and value these qualities. Active candidates, with more to loose are often more nervous. This gives the passive an advantage

  14. @ Howard. Thank you. You’re too kind- if I can get anything over 50% right, I’m pleased.

    @ Ron: Excellently stated. I’m going to steal it, and credit you…..

    @ Kes: Very sensible. IMHO “Encourage” means: “well-reward, aka, four-figure ERP $ bonuses.”

    @ Alistair: I think we should lose the “passive vs active” terms and go to a “slow vs. fast’ spectrum.



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