Passive Candidates: Who They Are and How to Find Them
While some think passive candidates include all qualified individuals who are not currently looking for a job, this is a wishful (almost delusional) way of looking at things.

A passive candidate is someone who is not looking for a job, but would be open to taking one if the right opportunity came along. People who are happily employed and not open to taking a new job are not candidates for employment, passive or otherwise-and you will have to wait until they have a very bad day at work before you can consider them a legitimate prospect.

This does not mean that passive candidates are not plentiful, however. The key to finding them is to have a realistic understanding of who they are, and how you can reach them with your recruiting message.

Passives Are Plentiful
The good news for recruiters is that, even when you exclude all the individuals who are not open to taking a new job, there are still three times as many passive candidates as active candidates, and they constitute a sizable pool.

A WetFeet.com survey of more than 3,000 experienced professionals conducted in August 2000 showed that more than a third of respondents who were currently employed were open to accepting a new position in the next six months.

How the Total Experienced Professional Population Breaks Down
Currently "between jobs" (unemployed), seeking employment 2%
Currently employed, seeking new employment 9%
Currently employed, open to accepting a new position in the next six months 36%
Happily employed, not open to accepting a new position in the next six months 53%
Base: experienced professionals (n=3371)
Source: Recruitment Marketing Strategies: Building Employer Brands That Attract Talent 2000 WetFeet.com

Half (53 percent) of all respondents were not open to accepting a new position, so they would be more expensive and time-consuming to reach, and less likely to respond positively if you did succeed in getting their attention.

So the smartest move is to concentrate on recruiting the other half, made up of active job seekers and those who are employed but are open to a new job. The latter (passive candidates) constitute three-quarters of the pool from which you can legitimately expect to hire employees.

Active Job Seekers Still Account For Most Hires
Although passive job seekers outnumber active job seekers nearly four to one, the vast majority of all professionals WetFeet.com surveyed were actively looking for a new job at the time they found their current job. Only 5 percent were not at all active, and 14 percent were not very active.

The greatest percentage of employed professionals39 percentreported that they were extremely active at the time they switched jobs.

graph: how actively were you looking for a job
Source: Recruitment Marketing Strategies: Building Employer Brands That Attract Talent 2000 WetFeet.com

Four times as many candidates are active as passive at the time when they are hired. This is in spite of the fact that there are three times as many passive candidates as active candidates in the talent pool.

It's not news to most recruiters that the conventional hiring process is set up to deal with candidates reactively rather than proactively. It is easier to deal with applicants who come to you than to try to seek out new applicants. Without doubt, that is why actives account for such a disproportionate percentage of hires.

How to Attract Passive Candidates
So how can you attract passive candidates more effectively? The key is to generate awareness of your company among such candidates before they're ready to start searching actively. That way, when your passive candidate does have a bad day, you'll be on his or her mental list of employers to consider.

Personal networks are the most common means by which passive job seekers learn about new employment opportunities. Almost three-quarters (73 percent) of all passive job seekers who responded to the WetFeet.com survey said they relied heavily on their personal networks to gain information about potential employers. Unfortunately, employers can't control whom candidates know or whom they talk to. However, they can attempt to leverage their own employees' personal networks by introducing employee referral programs.

Advertising is another way to get the passive job seeker's attention. About a third (30 percent) of all passive candidates who responded to the WetFeet.com survey said they had investigated employment opportunities at a company after seeing an employment-related ad. Almost as many (28 percent) had investigated employment after seeing a general, nonemployment-related ad.

Finally, a quarter (24 percent) of all passive candidates who responded to the WetFeet.com survey said that they used news media to learn about potential employers. Therefore, a corporate PR initiative focused on getting positive news about your company into the media could have a significant effect in attracting not only customers or clients to your company, but passive job candidates as well.

Learn more about how passive candidates differ from active candidates in their employer preferences and their job-seeking behaviors by reading the WetFeet.com research report, Recruitment Marketing Strategies: Building Employer Brands That Attract Talent. The report will also help you identify the most effective channels for reaching both kinds of candidates, and will help you develop a message that will draw them in.


Author Bio
Laura Sewell is a syndicated research analyst at WetFeet.com. E-mail the author.