Romancing the Passive Candidate

The job market is slowly heating up, and to complicate things, everyone seems to have access to the same candidates, thanks to social networks, job boards, and the internet. Increasingly, one way to locate qualified workers is to call passive candidates—those happily employed, not actively looking, with little motivation to make a change . . .  but who might consider jumping ship for perks such as compensation, a more promising career opportunity, greater stability, or a better location or work environment.

Identifying, approaching, and recruiting a passive candidate, however, takes extra time and special training, resources, and skill. This is why many companies rely on their staffing agency partner to handle this aspect of the hiring process. Many are wondering if pursuing passive candidates is worth the extra effort, in light of the abundance of available active (unemployed) candidates. If, as a hiring manager, you decide the answer is yes, you will need to answer five important questions in order to equip your staffing agency or internal recruiter to romance that passive candidate. For the sake of our discussion, let’s name your candidate Patrick and call your recruiter Regan.

First of all, if Patrick is already successful at his current job, he is going to want to be certain he can become a top performer at your company as well. You will need to define for Regan what the major accomplishments are that Patrick will need to achieve in order to be considered a success. Since you know your open position best, you can equip Regan with the details she needs to assess Patrick—and to help him picture himself fully mastering the new job.

Second, since he is already comfortably employed and now in demand, Patrick will need to be sold on your open position. Why would he want this specific position? Does your company offer extra development opportunities, flexibility, or earning potential? What is special about your open position, environment, or offerings? Be prepared to tell Regan specifically why Patrick will want this job and what is unique about your company.

Third, Patrick already knows how to navigate obstacles at his current company and probably doesn’t want any surprises. What significant challenges will he have to face while working for your organization? Regan will want to know what possible hurdles Patrick may have to overcome, both to ensure that he is equipped to meet them, and to allow him to make an informed decision. Chances are, if Patrick is entertaining the idea of a move, he will likely welcome new challenges and opportunities to grow, as long he isn’t ambushed by them.

Fourth, to help Regan eliminate unqualified passive candidates, think about what you will expect from Patrick in terms of leadership and strategy. Define specifically what his role will be and in which areas you will want him to plan, direct, and make decisions. If your recruiter has a finely tuned idea of what skills and knowledge Patrick needs to successfully fulfill his role, she will be better able to screen for those qualities to ensure a good fit.

Fifth, as a hiring manager in a competitive market, you will want to consider all the options available to you. Ask yourself, if Patrick were qualified and able to perform all of the work listed in the job description but had a background different from that listed on the job description, would I agree to interview him? With today’s increasing demand for knowledge workers comes the need to consider candidates with transferable skills and experience.

The day of the employer’s market has passed, and your organization may need to recruit passive candidates in light of the growing competition for qualified candidates.  If so, your knowing the answers to these five questions will help prepare both you and your recruiting partner to romance them over to your side.

By Marcianne Kuethen ©Amtec 6/2011


Lou Adler, “Why You Must Kick the Sourcing Habit,” 3/29/11

Yasmin Taj, “Hiring: Passive Candidates in Demand,” 6/22/11

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