Understanding Passive Candidates

Understanding Passive Candidates

Author: Laura Mazzullo

Understanding the Passive Candidate: Organizations are recruiting passive candidates, more now than ever before. We need to talk about this as I believe it’s becoming an incredibly prevalent issue in recruitment. Have you noticed no one qualified applies for your open roles anymore? It appears as if active candidates have disappeared overnight. Who is left are folks who are happily employed with your competitors (enter, passive candidates). These passive candidates are not exactly interested in changing jobs. For this reason, when you contact them they may turn you down. They are not easy to entice.

Everyone wants them. But, not everyone can get them.

What should you know about Passive Candidates?

1. They don’t want the same job elsewhere

Trying to entice passive talent with a similar job at your firm is not often a successful approach. They feel if they are currently an HR Generalist at your competitor, why would they want to come do the same job for you? They may only be interested in joining your firm if you can offer them something they can’t get where they are now. In fact, I hear passive talent say all the time to me “I get tons of calls to do my current job elsewhere and am not interested. If they want me to try a new team, new department, new role…maybe I’ll hear about it”. Keep this in mind when you’re recruiting. Don’t just think about ‘who do we want for this role?’ You must also think “What candidate would want this job? Who would be interested in this and why?

2. Their boss loves them and they are heavily retained

Especially in HR, candidates are loyal to the folks they report to. With such a dynamic focus on employee retention, passive candidates know they are valued. They have been told by their boss that they are ‘on track’ for a promotion or have recently received what they’ve been asking for (flexible work hours, challenging projects, etc.). The idea of change becomes an incredibly emotional decision for Passive Candidates. They can’t envision leaving a boss who thinks they are the most spectacular employee ever! Keep this in mind when talking with them. Reassure them that your firm can also offer them encouragement, support and loyalty.

3. They don’t want to interview a million times

I’ve seen passive candidates pull out of interview processes if they feel it’s becoming too demanding, time-consuming or tedious. Yes, they need to meet with numerous people to ensure it’s a right fit for them—but recognize they are taking out loads of time from their current (and amazing!) job. So, make yourself available for them. I know, this is a huge shift in thinking for most managers. But the best firms are doing just that: they are meeting candidates for meals wherever is convenient to conduct interviews or are using Skype/Face Time to accommodate candidates. Get creative. Just know you want to let the candidate know you are willing to be flexible for them.

4. They want to speak directly with hiring managers

We are really in a ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ hiring market. Everyone is meeting these candidates, sharing their opinions, and getting involved. Passive Candidates prefer to talk directly to the person who would be their direct boss. They want to build that rapport early on and it’s that relationship that will close them on your offer. Don’t put in the most important person in the process until the end. Quite contrary, that person should be involved from step one. This means, as recruiters, we have to encourage managers to have a more frequent communications with Passive Candidates so they feel valued/courted not just by us…but by the person who will manage them.

5. They need to know how your brand is unique

What makes your culture better than the one they’re in? How does the role differentiate itself from the one they’re currently doing? These passive candidates have specific questions about your brand and want to understand its unique selling points. Talk to your Marketing team about ensuring you have distinct ways to market your opportunities and corporate culture. This is where Marketing and Recruitment work in tandem. Without knowing the specifics of why your role/firm/team is better than your competitors, it will be near impossible to entice today’s discerning passive candidate.

 6. They will be motivated by money and title

Yes, passive candidates want to hear about your stellar benefits, company culture, career trajectory and collaborative environment. But, let’s not diminish the value of money and title. If they are leaving their (amazing) job at your competitor, you’ll have to make it worthwhile in a very tangible way. If they’re currently a Manager, you may need to title them Director. They will want a substantial salary increase to come to your firm and you may start offering sign-on bonuses and generous compensation packages. Passive Candidates don’t need your job, but you can get them to want it. In order to do that, you may have to increase budgets. Annoying for your Finance team, yes, but it may be a reality in your market.

It’s not easy courting passive candidates into your organizations. I hope these few pointers help! Let me know what else you’ve noticed about today’s passive candidates that have helped you in recruitment. I’d love to hear how you’ve overcome this current tug-of-war between retention and recruitment. I also am curious as to your recruitment market: are exceptional, active candidates still applying to your jobs? Or have you found you have to entice people out of their current roles?

I know for some, passive vs. active often seems like just semantics. But in today’s market, I think this is an important discussion to have and I look forward to your thoughts!

Laura Mazzullo is founder and owner of East Side Staffing, a boutique recruitment firm specializing in the placement of Human Resource Professionals. More information can be found about Laura and East Side Staffing at www.eastsidestaffing.com.

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