Stop With the Recruiting Fashion Trends

It’s a brand new year, great things are on the horizon … and for me, I have had it up to my eyeballs with a particular topic. I am so fed up with this topic that I want to climb to the highest peak and scream, bang my head against a wall, and even toss my desk around the room over and over. This topic that’s making me and others so irritated is Passive Candidates.

Yes, that’s right. The topic or even the mention of passive candidates now a day makes me want to throw up. In conducting my own personal year in review and through scouring HR topics, articles, blogs, etc., it seems as if 2011 was the year of the “Passive Candidate.” My response … so the heck what.

I guess I am at a loss as to why there is so much over-emphasis on “passive candidates.” Whatever happened to simply hiring the most-qualified, best-fit individual who can add their strengths in order to advance the organization? Now we have resorted to “Commandments of Recruiting Passive Candidates,” “Rules to Recruit Passive Candidates”, “Your Guide to Passive Candidates” — you get my point.

So here are some questions for you to ask yourself and answer:

  • What does passive mean?
  • Are “passive candidates” better qualified than active candidates?
  • Are “passive candidates” perfect?
  • Do “passive candidates” even know they are passive?
  • Are “passive candidates” just acting passive and playing the recruiting game?
  • Do hiring managers even know what passive means, or are they following another trend?
  • Has a “passive candidate” ever been hired and then performed poorly, or are they all major rock stars?
  • On a company employment application, where is the check box that asks whether one is passive or active?
  • Is there something wrong with being an active seeker?
  • What is most important to you in making your next hire?
  • Why does it seem that some of these “passive candidates” seem to change companies like it’s nobody’s business?
  • How come when I am speaking to a “passive candidate” and ask that individual what other opportunities they are currently looking at, the list is most of the time extensive?

Passive, active, semi-active, inactive, submissive, reactive, retired, separated, etc. — shouldn’t we want to hire the best and most qualified individuals for our positions? Don’t we want to seek out and hire those who possess the strengths to improve the organization?

Right now, there are individuals knocking at our doors, and while not all of them are qualified, a lot of them are very qualified. Yet, a lot of these individuals are facing discrimination by hiring managers and recruiters who want someone who is working or someone who is passive. I have yet to see any study or statistical data that proves passive candidates to be more qualified, make better employees, or add additional value than those employees in the “other” categories.

Article Continues Below

I am after the most qualified individuals for my positions. I hire for experience, qualifications/strengths, and fit. I have never asked whether an individual is passive or not because to me it doesn’t matter. If you have the skills, meet the criteria of the position, and are determined to be a fit, then there is a great possibility in making a match.

I recently completed an internal search for an executive-level position in one of our most prestigious business units. After taking the order and obtaining full details, I started my search process. Fast forwarding to the end, I presented five candidates in my final slate: two passive, two semi-active, and one active. The end result — the active candidate received the offer after a thorough and extensive interview process.

It turns out this active individual came from a competing company who had shut its local doors months prior. To no fault of her own, a little bad luck had her now in a position that she had never been in before — in active search mode. In my own evaluation, I found her to be no less qualified than other passive candidates I interviewed for this same role. In fact, she was the most qualified and turned out to be the best fit.

I call on my fellow HR and talent leaders to not follow trends or fashions. Rather, stick to and follow the fundamentals of recruiting and search, build relationships, treat others well, hire for skill set, fit, and strengths, interview like a pro, and lastly maintain an open mind.

Morgan Hoogvelt currently serves as director, global talent acquisition for ESAB, a leading engineering company. Drawing on his expertise in human capital strategy, executive search, RPO, essential hiring practices, candidate sourcing, Internet recruiting, and social networking, he provides organizations targeted, best-of-class solutions, and employment branding strategies that help his clients meet the challenges of recruiting, technology, and retaining and rewarding top talent. He is also passionate about delivering excellent customer service and building positive, productive relationships. He can be contacted at


79 Comments on “Stop With the Recruiting Fashion Trends

  1. Morgan, you are so right! Since when is it a crime to be actively looking for a job? Recruiters, stop making your jobs harder by ignoring a candidate simply because they are making strides to find a better job, or if unemployed, to simply get a job. Being an active job-searcher does not make you undesirable, it should make you a more formidable candidate. These are the confident, competent go-getters you should want in your company!

    These are some of the points I’ll make at the ERE Spring 2012 Conference in San Diego where I’ll talk about why companies can’t afford to say, “Unemployed need not apply.”

    Thanks for stating this so clearly.
    Only the best,

  2. Great article. Passive candidates = Window Shoppers. They make your numbers look good, but rarely do they ever buy anything. In my opinion, it is cut and dry. You are either looking for a new job or you are not looking for a job.

    A candidate who is just “Passively” looking for a job is wasting his/her time, that of their employer and that of the Recruiters and Companies that they are interviewing with.

  3. Great Article. You’re better off catching a unicorn in your back yard than finding an actual passive candidate. HR and Talent Acquisition still refers to “passive job seekers” like they’re a demographic. Either you’re looking for a new job, or you’re not. The A-players in any industry aren’t passive candidates, they’re employees of another company just waiting to be recruited. People want to be told how great they are and what their next opportunity can be.

    The so-called “passive candidate” is just a web-using, smartphone-apping, social media-sharing consumer of media. It’s our job as recruiting and talent acquisition professionals to either recruit them, or strategically place nuggets about our employment brands and career opportunities in places where they mingle. Or maybe not, maybe they’ll just all magically go to our ATS to apply to our jobs.

  4. Great article. For so long the message has been you are a “loser” recruiter if you do not solely focus on the passive candidates. Thanks for articulating what so many of us have been thinking!

  5. Morgan… Great topic to discuss. I am not sure when the term “passive candidate” came into vogue? I don’t think the term is going away soon. The difference between a “Passive” and “Active” candidate is that a passive candidate is not actively looking; but could be swayed with the right opportunity. It may be a semantic difference, but is it not more rewarding for a recruiter to sell a position to someone that appears to be content at current job?

  6. Thanks for this article.
    I believe we are missing the point of why passive candidate search is a trendy word.
    In North America we are currently in a candidate market where professional jobs are hard to fill. The reasons varies but my opinion is skill gaps. So when we have (let’s exaggerate) 10 mechanical engineer jobs available for 5 candidates the word passive candidate search takes all its meaning. To prove this point, in Europe, passive candidate search is not as trendy? Why? because we are in a employer market where you have 5 jobs for 10 candidates. So my point is yes, all your statements above are totally right but the reality we are confronted in is that we need to be pro active to get the most talented active AND passive candidates.

  7. Good article. Just find the best for your need because everyone is an active job seeker…some candidates just don’t know it yet!

  8. Amen, Morgan! Well said!! I have changed jobs twice in my career and both times I would have been considered a passive candidate, but guess what? The only difference between me and an active candidate is that I was active but quiet. I didn’t seek out recruiters, I didn’t post my resume anywhere, but I was definitely interested in leaving and it was only a matter of time before calls to select people in my network got the word out to the right people. Whether candidates are well displayed on job boards or hidden on blogs, it’s our job as recruiters to find them…plain and simple. And the most important part of our jobs is to find the best people for our jobs and the best jobs for our people, regardless of whether or not they’re working at this very moment. Maybe we need to change the terms from “active” and “passive” to “vocal” and “quiet”? 🙂

  9. Yay! I too am tired of hearing Passive candidate, so what?

    Our mission is to find the best qualified candidates no matter where they are period. End of statement. A recruiter worth their salt is always adding to their list of potential talent leaders.

    Thanks for pointing this out. Let’s end the conversations on passive candidates.

    Mary Spilman

  10. Good stuff! I also challenge the notion that Passive is better than Active. Further, I think the it is hard to define what each state really means, and the line between these two ill defined states is equally blurry. On any given day, someone go from active to passive. In fact, the second I call and successfully recruit a so called passive candidates, he/she becomes instantly active! Or, say there is a bunch of developers in a software firm, none are looking for new jobs…they are all happy…let’s say passive. The next day, the company announced cut backs, layoffs and hard times…they all become active that day! All it takes is a bad day for someone and they can turn from passive to active. It is WAY to complicated to track. So, just call everybody!

  11. Thanks, Morgan. I think we have a very deep instinct going on here as to the desirability of the “passive” candidate. I think it’s similar to thew attraction people have for the “cool” rather indifferent person as opposed to the enthusiastic “eager beaver”, or the woman/man that plays “hard to get”. Behavioral Recruiting (the application of Behavioral Economics to Recruiting) recognizes that there are a large number of very strong, often unconscious biases at work in the desire for a given candidate, and the key is to be aware of them, however difficult that may be. I’m not saying go with the prejudice for passive candidates, but rather to work with the hiring manager and discuss it openly.



  12. Morgan – what a wonderfully provocative article…(its interesting to see such overwhelming affirmation from the comments with only one person pushing back).

    I too make no assertion to candidate quality based on a candidate’s job seeking activeness (great hires come from every source) – BUT…you’re all missing the point. The passive/active question has nothing to do with candidate quality and everything to do with quantity!

    BLS statistics make this point extremely clear. At any given snapshot, anywhere from 14-32% of the workforce are actively or semi-actively looking for a new job. If you’re in a business where there are a high percentage of people with the skills you seek that are looking for a job – you’re all set – advertise smartly and watch the resumes flood in…but if you seek a smaller group where up to a third of the workforce won’t be enough…then fishing in a place where ads are ignored (68% of the workforce) won’t work very well.

    Morgan, trendy or not… Its a simple numbers game. Personally, I like to increase the odds beyond the 1/3 active job seeking marketplace regardless of the type of job…that’s why I go way beyond traditional recruiting methods…if the responses to your post are indicative of the market (not sure they are…), most recruiters will continue down that traditional path leaving more candidates for my clients…Yippee!

  13. Great point – and with everyone on LinkedIn, etc today – how passive is everyone really, anyway? I know a lot of “passive” candidates who readily accept calls from recruiters.

  14. (Am I the push-back?) I would be interested in some shared and accurate numbers (if any exist) about where hires actually do come from: currently employed, recently employed, long-term unemployed (we know they don’t come from there). As K.C. wisely points out: there should be a greater percentage of currently-working hires in sectors of low unemployment. I would also think that the lower the unemployment rate in a given sector/specialty might be, the more sophisticated the effort to reach suitable candidates and the bigger and sweeter the “carrot” to get them needs to be. What would be very useful would be a current, accurate, and granular source of unemployment rates in a given area for a given sub-specialty. e.g. “the UE rate for Ruby-on- Rails Engineers in the Bay Area in 11/2011 is 0.7%” or something like that….


  15. Hi Keith,
    We have a job search website/aggregator ( and I can tell you that results come for professional jobs passive search more than active and among those passive you look at their CVs and you realize that they stay no more than a year to a year an a half in their positions before moving on (they receive offers several times in a month). But again passive candidate only come from industries where the unemployment rate is close to 0%.

  16. I once worked for an F50 company that defined a passive candidate as one who responded to an ad and an active candidate as one who came in thru a referral. And “No”, I’m not joking. Needless to say we had to re-educate newly hired, experienced recruiters on the Company’s recruit-speak. Neither the HO “Field Acquisition Team” nor management understood that they were missing out on the value of true passive candidate recruiting (increasing the candidate pool) because of the Company’s “unique” active/passive candidate definitions.

    Be that as it may. Taking note of Scott’s comments: Here is the real distinction between active and passive candidates. An active candidate is a passive candidate after a bad day at work.

    The rest is just self-serving hype.

  17. Thought provoking article—great topic. I share your thinking around the concept of a passive candidate. That said, it may be a word that we are stuck with; we do not have a great word to describe a target candidate that is not actively seeking a new job. And, I suspect that it was we recruiters that gave impetus to using “passive” to describe the sourcing outreach to folks that were not looking for work. We needed language to describe a group of folks that were going to take longer to generate interest in our jobs; i.e. passive was born. Also, the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses semi passive and very passive in describing the labor pool.

    To me, “passive candidate” is a word like talent pipeline, talent pool or talent community; words that we use to describe something important to us, but may convey something totally different in the minds of our audience. This topic should make for a great conversation.

  18. Couldn’t agree more. These days a Passive Candidate is basically one gotten via any other means than a blatant job posting. I keep trying to explain to my employer that ‘passive’ candidates aren’t magical or superior in some way, and that a true passive candidate, one that isn’t looking, can take months to find and recruit via netowkring. Nor is it easy if, like me, you’re in corporate recruiting and don’t have the same network that an agency specializing in a narrow field can build.

  19. From John Miraglia”

    “An active candidate is a passive candidate after a bad day at work.”

    Simply brilliant.

  20. Interesting questions asked and comments, – however I think overall lacking in what the real issue is.
    K. C. Donovan touched upon it and explained it well with the word q u an t i t y

    The term ‘passive candidates’ is a term that deal with and cover everybody who is not actively job seeking, period.
    Various stats and figures are available varying from 10% to 20% meaning only 10 to 20% of job market (counted as all those that are eligible in market for a role) are actively looking. Coming back to the term ‘passive candidates’ therefore mean the rest, meaning between 80% to 90% of the eligible job market.
    The reason why that is of relevance/interesting is that this account for the majority and being that it has significance and interest.
    If we apply a numbers game to the discussion it will mean that if we can attract ‘passive candidates’ we can have a larger pool of potential candidates to shortlist, and from that find the best possible talent/individual, without any concern as to where or how we obtained them (that is and should not be the issue when speaking about selection of best fit)
    Slightly off subject but still illustrating the mechanisms: India has 17 Institutes of Technology and a total of 9618 student places.
    In 2011 there were 485.000 applicants, making it 50.426 (no you read the number correctly it IS that high) applicants for each available space!!! A simple numbers game, but one that is yielding students of the highest possible calibre.

    Apply the same methodology (have a substantial pool of possible candidates) when selecting candidates for open roles and it will yield a significant larger list to select from.

  21. Hmmm. How about instead of “active” or “passive” we use “open” (willing to consider a new position, however much or little) and “closed” (unwilling to consider a new position). This deals less where they come from (largely irrelevant as we have discussed) and more to their openness/receptivity to what we have to offer….

    Advantages of referring to “open” and “closed” candidates are:
    1) It uses familiar job-related words that the hiring managers are used to, and
    2) You’re no longer arguing against a given position/preference- you’re changing the terms of the discussion to something more useful (and better for you).


    Keith “If at First you Don’t Succeed, Change the Rules” Halperin

  22. FUNtastic article…..

    Ethical Influence/Persuasion transcends a candidates status. The term “Passive Candidates” is hook/tagline, to get you to buy a product/service about “How to find Passive candidates”… In the end it does not matter that status… What matters is the match!

    Best to ALL,

  23. Just to add substance to discussion:

    Extract from:
    A Guide to Recruitment 3.0 By Matthew Jeffery and Amy McKee

    The Core Philosophy of Recruitment 3.0: Not every- one’s looking
    This is the fundamental underlying core essence of Recruitment 3.0.

    Not everyone is looking for a job.

    Different market research exists, but citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for any given role, only 10% of relevant/experienced talent is looking for a role at any given moment of time.
    That means that 90% of candidates relevant for a role are not looking.The best candidates are typically among them.

    Hence in a candidate-short market, with a host of
    • When you interview them? So if they are not a candidate until they volunteer them-
    selves, what are they? They are your average person sitting and having a cof-
    fee in Starbucks, or leading a team at work, speaking at a conference, running down the road, watching TV, or having a pint at the pub.They are everyone around you.

    What turns a regular person into a candidate?
    A whole host of reasons. “I am not recognised at work for what I do.” “My boss is selfish and never develops me.” “My boss seeks all the praise and recognition.” “I am underpaid.”
    You name it, any reason can transform someone into a candidate.

    So the issue boils down to timing.

    A company either waits for the moment someone becomes a candidate and then jumps on them, or makes a proposition that is attractive and tempts them into candidacy.

    At the core of Recruitment 3.0 is that EVERYONE IS A CANDIDATE. We create candidates.
    Recruitment 3.0 companies are slow- ly realizing great recruitment is about building relationships and communicat- ing with people, (hence creating an emo- tional connection with them), before they become a candidate.
    Key is how you identify and build emotional relationships with that talent.
    The Core Philosophy of Recruitment 3.0: Employment brand is pivotal to your success in talent acquisition Before defining an employer value proposition, or employ- ment brand, it is important to understand what a brand is. The classic definition comes from Interbrand: Brand Glossary: “A brand is a mixture of attributes, tangible and intangible, symbolized in a trademark, which if managed properly, creates value and influence. Brands simplify decision making, represent an assurance of quality, and offer a relevant, different and credible choice among competing offerings.”

    Put more simply, a brand is a person’s gut feel about a product, service, or organization.
    competition for particular skill-sets, for the Best Talent is being fought out amongst 10% of active job seekers. No wonder the trend toward salary inflation and sign-on bonuses.

    Reinforcing this message: the best candidate for your role is not likely to be currently registered on a recruitment agency database or registered on a job board.They may never search job boards as they are used to direct approach/headhunting. The best candidates may never have even considered working for you; even worse, they may have never even heard of you! the Global War
    Indeed, it is not only recruiters who will be found obsolete in recruitment 3.0 but also many of the current recruiting leaders in the top companies today, criminally not preparing their Fortune 500 company to the new realities of recruiting.

    Hence Recruitment 3.0 is about identifying the best candidates in that passive 90% of non-job seekers and building a relationship, making them care about your company, even be- friend them, as this will ultimately then bond loyalty, trust, and also start to engender emotion in a candidate.

  24. The reality is that people not looking for a new job don’t see ads, don’t respond to requests for being a referral, don’t return VCM’s or emails from by recruiters and rarely want anything to do with “career” type discussions or websites. The reason has little to do with ambition or promotion and whole lot to do with the way the U.S. workforce has been conditioned to avoid job related activity – unless they have or are about to be laid off.

    Decades of no feedback, or worse being told you you’re not good enough and myriad other candidate ills have made it so only the brave 5% of the workforce actually put themselves out there when they don’t have to…

    This is why the “passive” idea is not a trend…the shrinking numbers of people interested in “active” career development is such a small number – the BLS actually state that only 14% of the workforce are active job seekers – that as an industry this is the epidemic that we should all be focused on…sure as Marvin Smith points out there are levels of activity (not, casual, passively and actively looking)and that is open to interpretation, but if you are only relying on the truly “active job seeker” with job ads and employee referrals, you’re trolling in fish depleted waters…

    Not to get on a soap box – but as an industry we should be doing everything we can to make working on upward career progression a very “hip” activity and not one that we avoid at all costs…particularly with more than 50% of the workforce soon to be under 35 years of age…

  25. I like go-getters! If you are passive, couldn’t I also call that “lazy”? Seriously though, I get why we call people passive candidates, and the topic has a place. Its just funny when a topic or label starts to trend so much that it is no longer niche and becomes way too mainstream.

    Instead of calling it “Passive Recruiting”, lets just call it “Real Recruiting” because if you aren’t out there uncovering candidates who aren’t actively looking, you aren’t really a recruiter anyway.

  26. Well said! No matter what label you put on a candidate if he or she doesn’t fit, he or she doesn’t fit! It’s that simple. As recruiters, it is imperative that we are seeking to present the BEST candidates for the positions we are looking to help fill. Looking for a job takes time, effort, research and hard work. Active candidates willingly put in the work to do it. They also have the desire that many passive candidates do not simply because their situation is direr. As recruiters we need to be clear on the needs of our clients so we can be clear about who we bring to the table- no matter how we want to label them.
    Ken C. Schmitt

  27. @ Robert, thanks for the comment. In my case, I feel rewarded when I fill the position with the best and right candidate. I don’t place much value on “selling” a job, I place all my value on making the perfect match.

    @Courtney, Thank you Courtney for your candid response. I have been preaching this for years that lots of these so called “passive seekers” are simply playing the game. And guess what, kudos to you for playing the player! Thanks for your response, it is well appreciated.

    @Agreed Mary, lets end the passive discussion right here right now. Let’s hunt game changers that can add value, great point!

    @Howard, you are correct, and since your article in 2005 and until now, it is way over done. Let’s end this talk today! Too many people out there pressing this issue to simply make a buck. Passive is an over rated term and phrase. End it today!

    @Keith, I think (like everything else in this country) people find a fad and follow it instead of thinking independently. That’s what I think is the case with passive candidates.

  28. @K.C. – one of my points in this article is that a majority of the so called “passive seekers” are playing the game; meaning they are truly not passive seekers just as Courtney clearly indicated here in the comments. I really don’t put a whole lot of value in statistics, polls and so forth. It’s kind of like those stats on CNN that say the majority of Americans are unhappy with our congress leaders and so forth, yet the same knuckle heads keep getting voted into office every year – so what good are those stats?

    @Kim, exactly and great point. Passive seekers are smart and simply play the game, kudos to them for the blindness of others.

    @Lucas, great points and thanks for the info and feedback. I always see the passive seekers climbing the ladder because they know how to play the game.

    @John, well said…well said!

    @Jacob, guess my question lays in where this data comes from. One of my points is that passive seekers are simply playing the passive game while actively looking – just like Courtney illustrated in this posting. If they answer as such and play the passive game, which I find most are, then the data we pull out is not accurate.

  29. Keith, how about we just focus recruiting game changers – nothing more and nothing less?

    @Martin, not sure who that is. This is directed at a wide audience that jumps into these trends and fails to follow practical recruiting practices.

    @Ken, well put. For myself, I am after game changers. Could care less how one wants to label themselves, its what you can bring and do to elevate the organization.

  30. I agree there is too much that’s considered “fashionable” in recruitment these days.
    That said, I always thought of passive candidates as not superior to active candidates, just as an alternative in a tight recruitment market. If there is a lack of talent in the area you are recruiting for, then targeting passive candidates makes sense. When you’ve got plenty of top quality “active” candidates approaching you or applying for your jobs, there is no need for passive candidates.

  31. My thanks to the great majority of posters here for so thoroughly, and charmingly, assuming that the quality of the candidates you submit is your most valuable critical competitive advantage and the key performance indicator of greatest real, as opposed to stated, importance to your customers.

  32. Good thought provoking article. The best candidates can come from any source. There is a big difference depending on which side of the fence you are on. If you can find candidates on the job boards, fantastic. However, it is when those sources fail that the agency recruiter is leveraged. For the internal recruiter all sources are an option. The best agency recruiters have learned to, yes, use all sources. They have also learned through the pain of lost placements, passive candidates give you a competitive edge.

    In a tight labor market, it becomes more of an issue.

    This is also the reason the top billing recruiters tend to own a “niche”. They have built a unique network of candidates over time.

    There are 2 succinct reasons to use passive candidates. Neither says they are better.

    1. There are more of them.
    2. Less competition.

    The biggest problem that exists is not finding passive candidates, it is correctly engaging with them. It takes a different skill-set than calling someone off a job board.

    The direction that I see recruiting going is neither active nor passive candidates. I’ll add a third category: “Pipelined”. In surveys done on recruiters over the past 3 years, we know that recruiters, both agency and corporate are starting to specialize more. If you are a specialist, you are building what we often hear as a “talent community” (that you control).

    The successful, highest paid recruiters in the coming years will be specialists in a few niche segments. They will continually build a pipeline of candidates.

    Yes, don’t follow trends, as you will be last in line. But, please do think and leverage whatever you can from any source.

  33. Morgan – if the “majority” of people not looking for a job actually ARE looking for a job, as you say “playing the game” – then it would mean that at least 75 million people are looking (half of the U.S. workforce)at any given time. As absurd as that sounds, it would mean that every job opening in America would have thousands of people applying for each one – obviously that’s not the case…

    There are always outliers and the ones you site may be just that, but I would challenge the assertion that these candidates are actually passive. Passive means NOT looking – not answering ads and certainly not applying for jobs. Once they apply – they’re actively looking…no? In “hot job markets” its normal to see people with numerous jobs in a short period…made better offers every year without ever actively looking… its actually the norm. In a “cool job market,” I would question whether a person with a background like that was actually passive at all…

    Not sure what to say about putting little stock in statistics and metrics since its what we gauge our level of effectiveness by…but it sounds pretty cool if you don’t have to bother with them – unfortunately we are constantly asked “how we’re doing” and using industry “numbers” is how we demonstrate it.

    …whether you view the “passive talent market” as trendy or not – if you ignore it exists, as the economy continues to heat up you’ll more than likely be at a disadvantage…

  34. OH, by the way…spot on Donato…and internally there is nothing keeping a company in a particular niche doing the same type of “pipelining or community” building for themselves for the talent they continually hire…go here if you want to learn how –

  35. Good article.. in my mind passive = a candidate who is not on a job board. That is the only criteria I use. If you find a candidate who is employed BUT would consider other options if they were presented that = “passive” to me. The ONLY benefit of working with someone you contacted directly (as opposed to a board) is that you may be the only recruiter working with this candidate and subsequently presenting him/her opportunities. That means you (as the recruiter) have less competition. To your point, it should not matter to the client if they are passive or not, as long as they meet the qualifications for the job. As for me, a “passive” candidate is great because I have less competition. Other than that, you’re right!

  36. Good comment K.C. which I share whole heartedly, and like the link
    As said stats/figures are there for a reason and whether you are skeptical Morgan they have come from facts/figures and tangible resources. Even if you allow a margin of 30% error they still speak volumes, why they have to be accepted as valid in terms of offering guidance.
    Morgan I must pass completely on your arguments as to ‘passive seekers are simply playing the passive game while actively looking’ sorry I am in total disagreement with this, it appear total nonsense to me.

  37. Wow, what to say, not a lot after reading all the comments, I think I made a mess in my head!!!!

    Well…… I’m not going to follow the trends, I’m not going to take sides – I quite frankly don’t care who’s right and who’s wrong.

    I’ll just ensure I keep up to date with all the new whilst not forgetting the old and through evaluating what works best, adopt the approrpiate approach for each given piece of recruitment…….

  38. Morgan,

    Thanks for the well-written and just plain funny article.

    Do me a favor?? Write this same article next year at this time only insert “Social Media” for “Passive Candidate”.



  39. Thanks for the article and for giving the opportunity to debate on this question.
    I believe the good thing about mix search (active and passive) is that we can get the best from both worlds. What recruiters have been doing in the past is not completely wrong! Let’s keep the best of both methods and find the best candidates wherever they’re from.

  40. @Donato… Spot on with “Niche” comment. I have been a niche recruiter for 10 years post DOT BOMB…

    I will say that your ability to persuade and influence (not control) passive candidates is a totally different skill set (Harder, Strategic, Sharp-Shooter, etc.) than calling someone who is active (They welcome your call). Passive recruiting requires you to be an authority figure in your niche, to pull it off, and get the call answered and candidate/target engaged within seconds…

    Best to ALL, Brian-

  41. @ Morgan: Thank you. I’m interested in hearing more about “recruiting game changers”. Also, much of ERE is devoted to promoting and following recruiting fads; as the Poet said: “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing….”
    @ Everybody: The hiring managers who are most likely insisting on closed “candidates” as opposed to “open” candidates are the ones least likely to be able to effectively use them. Why: because “closed” or “passive” recruiting is a M-U-C-H S-L-O-W-E-R P-R-O-C-E-S-S than going after someone who’s “open”. Imagine you told your hiring managers: “We can get you the perfect candidates for the positions, and they’ll all be within our budget. We know where they are and what they’re doing. It’ll take 6-9 months to woo them over here, as they’re all very happy where they are now.” Now, for some C-level and other very high-level or hyper-specialized positions this is the norm, but almost all the things I work on (and probably most of us work on, too) need to be filled NOW, NOW, NOW! I don’t have the time or inclination to deal largely with “tire kickers”. Hey: another term for passive: “tire kickers”. Think I’ll stick with this one…


  42. I had decided n o t to post any more comments as said enough, but your comment Keith simply cannot stand unchallenged.
    Please please read Recruitment 3.0 (happy to mail to you or anyone interested just let me know) as it addresses exactly this and is also pwhat I understand KC’s company does. Build your talent community and potential pipeline well in advance so that you do not experience what every recruiter hates, starting on their back foot. The more it is possible to build interest, following, dialogue, engag
    ement the more you can reach out to a ‘ready-made’ or already established community avoiding delay.

    That is what smart and preparing for the future good talent acquisition in 2012 is about.

  43. Thank you, Jacob. I would enjoying reading your paper (see address below). I fully appreciate the wisdom and logic of having a careful and thoughtful candidate pipelining strategy. I would LOVE to have the luxury of working on slowly developing working relationships with very strong potential candidates. However with rare exceptions, companies (at least the ones I’ve worked for) aren’t careful and thoughtful in their hiring strategy; they’re highly reactive and frequently rather panicked in their needs. The sad truth (IMHO) is that a great deal of the recruiting industry survives based on the inability and/or unwillingness of companies to carefully plan their needs. In summary: it would be nice and useful to be able to do this, but in the real world of recruiting, we just aren’t able to most of the time.



  44. See what you have gone and done Keith even though I promised myself to.stop commenting (ha-ha) that’s what happens when you touch subjects that really have my passion and interest!!! Look out for document in your email in box.

    I have mostly worked within and for companies that h a d to employ the best the market has, as that is their culture and necessary to stay competitive
    In a world (when talking IT, technology and telco and digital/Internet) where more and more convergence is taking place, we are seeing groupings of skill sets and abilities why we will see a bigger and bigger ‘competition fo talent’ in short the same people will be sought after by more and more companies.
    It has been going on for the last 10 years in the IT world, and the digital age and everything that follow with this will only increase that.
    It is no longer a question about the basics in becoming an employer of choice, companies and candidates have advanced and become far more sophisticated. I could talk for hours about this but will spare readers.
    Bottom.line is that if you do not embark on a pre active hire strategy/methodology talking, engaging and building relationships with an audience you as a company w i l l lose out (those with the best and strongest EVP will attract best candidates) why it is a must for survival. Any global leading and progressive and highly competitive company that intend to stay alive have this strategy and mindset at the forefront of their talent acquisition execution., take a look around and you will see.

  45. Jacob, Keith, Everyone: It’s kind of funny actually – we see comments like Keith’s as the reason that we’re in business…

    Almost ALL companies are focused on getting HR to fill jobs NOW and Keith’s situation is the norm…tactical “butts in the seats” mentality. There is a reason for this in my view, and that is the “black hole” mindset that most hiring managers have (not all mind you…) for HR based on what historically has been delivered. They can’t understand why the recruiter doesn’t understand their business as well as they do, they can’t understand that people aren’t just waiting in the wings to work for them and they know that without a full hard working staff that they won’t ever meet their goals and get that next promotion…so Keith, and those in roles like his, get constant pressure…

    The interesting thing is that when the same hiring manager is given a strategic approach to their openings based on planning and forward thinking about openings to come throughout the year (a workforce plan), their tune completely changes. The constant griping about HR and recruiting becomes one of praise – especially when the openings are delivered with top 20% talent cultivated from the best of the pool or community… Of course you have to then deliver on the plan, but then that is the idea!!

  46. @Jacob – Glad we can disagree and I too once thought like this thought is nonsense. But then I started finding the more “passive” candidates I spoke to were all involved in career searches and always had an ear to the market to find the next best role with more money, more responsibility, etc.

    I am sorry, but while I am sure there are those people who are out there that are simply not looking for a new job what so ever, the smart ones will always have an ear to the ground. Heck, they didn’t get to where they are by not playing the game. Take it how you like.

    @Jim, nice and you are right. Social media is another topic that is over-saturated. Kind of reminds me of the Y2K bug – “If you are not on social media – your world is ending.”

    @K.C., I just call it like I see it, nothing more and nothing less…simple. While I dont think that everyone in the country is looking, I think most passive people just play the game as mentioned before. Thats all. I see C-level resumes on a daily basis that have bounced around from place to place to place and are claiming passive. Thats not passive.

    I appreciate everyone’s comments and feedback with this article.

  47. @ Jacob: Thank you- I try to get people here on ERE to think and feel strongly about the discussions, and sometimes amuse them in the process. ISTM that very, very few people in recruiting can concern themselves with the big picture, if only because they (and a vast majority of employees) won’t be there very long. We live in an “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone: let’s do the deal!” and “loyalty = cash flow” world. Beneath a thin veneer of profit-maximizing rationality, ISTM most organizations are run based on the GAFI Principles: Greed, Arrogance, Fear, and Ignorance/Incompetence. Often the reality is that sr. executives want to be caught appearing to make a positive difference, while actually further entrenching the status quo. Finally, you and I may believe something very strongly, but unless we have evidence, we shouldn’t give them as facts/directives: “no longer a question”, “if you do not”, etc. (The vast majority of what I say [unless I have links] are my opinions.)

    @ K.C. Thanks. Re: the strategic hiring manager being happy about getting the strategic plan: I agree they would be happy if the hiring manager has had a strong say in its creation and implementation. I disagree if they don’t have much of a say and they feel that it’s something imposed upon them.


    Keith “Ruffling Feathers for Over Half a Century” Halperin

  48. Only one question after all the debate – “candidate” – if they are a candidate then they are “active”, they are willing to consider a new opportunity – yes or no? So the whole passive or active thing is a misnomer. They are either a candidate (willing to consider a move) or they are not.

    I believe that Doug said it “HR and Talent Acquisition still refers to “passive job seekers” like they’re a demographic. Either you’re looking for a new job, or you’re not.” And IF the person you are connecting with “will consider” an opportunity – they can be a candidate – that means they are actively looking to make a change – will consider a change – can be sold on a good opportunity, etc.

    It all boils down to WHERE you find them, HOW you approach them, and do you have what they want to see in their future. Use all the tools at your disposal new, old, phone, internet, media, etc. Then connect with people to solve your hiring problems.

    We have all talked to someone that has said “I’m not looking for a new position” but when presented with the “right opportunity” says “Yes, I would like to be considered for THAT!” You are now talking to a “candidate”.

    Happy Hunting!

  49. Jim Sullivan: What you say makes a TON of sense – once they say YES – they are active/candidate…

    The part about delineating passive from active is merely to direct the sourcing approach…people that will consider only “THAT” as you say, will not be open to ads or pushed out job content…the method of getting them to become active candidates is different than what is predominantly in use today by corporate recruiting…

    Changes are being made by the early adopters – no doubt – and there are a handful of service providers ( for example) that are providing the means to improve the instance of dialog with these types of career consumers…as we evolve we will continue to push up the number % of workers that are considered “active.”

  50. @Jim: Very well-said.
    @K.C.: Very sensible. If you don’t have a multi-year, no-lay-off-without-cause employment contract, virtually EVERYONE should keep an eye on the door and be open to a new position.
    If you don’t have one and think you’re indispensable and untouchable, you’re fooling yourself.


  51. Well put, Morgan. I agree wholeheartedly. There is no quick-and-dirty red mark across the forehead of any candidate which says, “consider me” or “don’t consider me.” That stuff went out with the branding of Hester Pryne!

  52. Not sure I understand what point you are trying to make Morgan. There is a definition for what a Passive and Active Candidate is; because you found an Active candidate for your role does not mean Passive candidates don’t exist. You asked the question in your Blog: What does Passive candidate mean – perhaps you should define it. Not sure how looking for Passive candidates has anything to do with Recruiting fundamentals – they remain the same regardless of whether or not you are looking for Active or Passive candidates. You can also have Qualified Active and Qualified Passive candidates – and I am not sure which professional recruiter would ask a candidate whether or not he is a Passive Candidate. This is a term reserved for folks who work in and blog about the industry. If your blog is about you hating the term “Passive Candidate” that is a different story- if it’s about the Passive Candidate and whether or not a Passive Candidate Market exist well it does. I founded a company based on that market.

  53. @Paul, you are not understanding my point – yet most everything you said in your comment is exactly the point. You said, ” Recruiting fundamentals – they remain the same regardless of whether or not you are looking for Active or Passive candidates.” That is one of the main points – why do we have all these seminars, conferences, books, webcasts, speakers, articles, etc. about how specialized it is to recruit “passive candidates”. When I call on someone I never stop to say, “Hi this is Morgan, I am calling about XYZ opportunity. Before I go on, are you passive or active in your search?” I go by simple and basic search principles regardless of whom I am speaking with and can adjust my style to the situation.

    Another point you mention, ” I am not sure which professional recruiter would ask a candidate whether or not he is a Passive Candidate.” Another exact point, so how do we know the person we are talking to is passive or not. People keep saying LinkedIn is filled with passive candidates; but for some reason, I keep finding all these “passive LinkedIn candidates” heavily engaged in job searches or even other Execs I personally know, have their profile up on a LinkedIn platform telling me with full intention they want to be found – this is only acting passive.

    All I am saying is for us as recruiters to not follow the hype of silly trends or fashions simply because there are groups and people marketing or in some instances scaring others that a certain topic is the way to go. Rather, stick to common and proven recruiting methods, treat all people as if the can be the next greatest hire until found not qualified, and simply stick to finding the most qualified/best fit/highest achieving candidate. Otherwise, we will continually find ourselves back in 1999 where everyone said the world was going to end as we know it because our CPU’s would fail when the clock struck 2000. Hats off to all the companies and people who raked in the money and took advantage of everyone’s perceived lack of knowledge and chasing a fad – for me, I won’t be in that crowd.

  54. Morgan … The point I am getting at is there is such a thing as a Passive candidate. I define these as folks that are not actively looking and are happy where they are. I fail to understand why some recruiters don’t get that. Also I invest alot more time ( with respect to high-end roles ) convincing folks that are not looking to look at my proposed role. The time investment(delta) spent with the “Passive Candidate” is totally different than with the “Active Candidate” and 7 times out of 10 my clients want that candidate sitting in the competition “Happy with where he/she is” that candidate for me is the “Passive Candidate”. We can’t be-little the term. My Clients want the candidate that is not looking happy doing the same job at the competition and they are willing to wait. That is the difference. Perhaps a blog on the difference between Active and Passive candidate is necessary.

  55. @Paul, I have no doubt there are pockets of people that are happy where they are career and job wise. I don’t think that factor necessarily makes those individuals better or more qualified than anyone else. I am sure there are equally qualified candidates in all groups of candidates, like anything else it is just a matter of identifying top talent and courting them as appropriate.

    If we define a great candidate as great simply because they are “happy where they are” I think that is crazy. If this is the case, then I think we could argue that in your passive group of people that are “happy where they are” include the very large group of individuals who come in every day at 9am and leave at 5pm, do enough to get by, have no initiative to move up or take on more responsibility, and could live out their careers in the company if allowed to – and I would say by my own observations the individuals I have seen like this are very happy where they are.

    So to say your clients want someone happy where they are will remain a mystery to me, seems like a very narrow scope of vision to have.

  56. @ Paul, @ Morgan: I think that there are definite needs for high-level recruiters who can take the time and effort to woo candidates that are both exceptional and happy where they are, just as there are needs for both salespeople who can work with a product/service with a short sales cycle, and those who can work with a product/service with a long one. However, it shouldn’t be the same person doing both….


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