passive candidate

What is a passive candidate?

A passive candidate (passive job candidate) is anyone in the workforce who is not actively looking for a job.

While passive job seekers may be content and challenged at their current companies, they are valuable prospects for other employers that need to fill open positions, particularly if the candidates possess niche skills. For HR managers, recruiting passive candidates is more difficult than finding active job hunters, but it is also an increasingly necessary step for successful talent acquisition.

Why passive candidates are important

The distinction between passive job seekers and people actively searching for a new job is significant. LinkedIn divides the global workforce into two simple groups: 70% of the global workforce is made up of people who are not actively job searching and are passive candidates. The remaining 30% are active job seekers.

The underlying point made by dividing the world's job market into two parts is this: Almost anyone can be convinced to take a new job with the right offer, and recruiters can't simply focus on the 30% who are actively looking at new job opportunities.

Passive candidates vs. active candidates

There are degrees of passive candidates, as some people may be more willing to jump to a new job than others.

In a 2017 survey, Gallup reported that 51% of working adults are either searching for a job or are at least keeping their eyes open for a new opportunity. It is this latter group -- the people with their eyes open -- that recruiters are especially interested in finding.

Recruiters may not know who is an active versus a passive candidate. Some professionals signal their intent to find a new job via platforms such as LinkedIn. They may change their account settings to indicate that they are open to new opportunities. But others may be looking quietly and without advertising the fact.

How to recruit passive candidates

Even though they may not be actively seeking new employment, there are various ways to reach out to passive job seekers in the talent pipeline.

HR vendors are trying to use AI technologies to identify passive candidates via social media recruiting. People who polish their resumes and job summaries posted on social media forums or development platforms such as GitHub can be identified using these social sourcing tools. They use automation and AI-type capabilities to send an initial email to test a passive candidate's interest in a new job.

Professional employment platforms can also help recruiters seek elusive candidates. For example, LinkedIn's Update Me tool helps recruiters stay abreast of people they are interested in. When a prospect makes a change to their profile, it alerts the recruiter.

There are some talent acquisition tools that mine the social connections of a company's own workers and then seek out their help to reach out to friends or contacts. This approach can be coupled with an incentive program that includes a referral bonus.

Sponsoring networking events near colleges and in cities is another way to find passive candidates, as is attending meet-and-greet events for professional activities.

Revisiting the talent pool of prior job candidates is another way to discover passive candidates. People who did well in the interview process but weren't hired can be contacted again for future job openings. Using this approach illustrates the importance of creating a positive candidate experience for anyone who applies for a job at a company.

Finally, good job advertising remains a basic method of recruiting qualified candidates, both active and passive. In the San Francisco Bay Area, a region that has some of the most expensive housing in the nation, Pittsburgh-based Duolingo, a language education platform, placed a billboard sign along a busy highway in 2018 with this simple message: "Own a home. Work in tech. Move to Pittsburgh."

This was last updated in March 2023

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