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What it Really Takes to Win Over Passive Candidates

In Hiring Strategy — by Erin Engstrom

One of the biggest challenges recruiters face today is the fact that some of the best candidates already have a job. When these candidates are open to considering a new job but aren’t motivated enough to apply for one, they’re called “passive candidates.” They’re 25 percent more likely to stay at a company long-term, and their overall performance is nine percent higher than active candidates. So it’s no wonder recruiters want them. What does it take for employers to truly shine in the eyes of qualified passive candidates?

Making Contact

The key to recruiting passive candidates is making that initial contact. Seventy-three percent of candidates, both passive and active, are at least somewhat interested in hearing from a corporate recruiter . This means you should always approach a candidate feeling confident that they want to learn about your offer. Focus on the benefits of the job, not why you think they’d be interested. They probably already are.

What is it they actually want to hear? According to the LinkedIn survey, more than two-thirds of candidates want to hear more about the responsibilities of the job; many also want to know why you’re reaching out (69 percent and 64 percent of candidates, respectively). So lead with a friendly intro about why you’re calling, but make it quick to highlight what the actual job entails. Make the first few minutes informational. You can pitch much more effectively that way.

Using the Buddy System

Because passive candidates aren’t looking for a job, you may not have success if you’re reaching out to them directly. This is where employee referrals come into play. Having your employees refer their friends is an incredibly efficient way to hire, since referred employees make up about seven percent of the candidates but end up being 40 percent of the hires .

Referrals can do wonders for reaching passive candidates. Some passive candidates might be interested in working with a friend of theirs, even if their job responsibilities don’t cross paths. So it’s important for companies looking for passive candidates to create better incentives for their employee referral programs, such as a bonus for both the referred and referring employee, or some sort of regular contest and prize .

Finding the Right Reason

Be warned: With some candidates, using the most common methods of enticing passive candidates to the open role isn’t a surefire plan. Depending on what kind of position you’re offering, you’ll need to emphasize different aspects of the work. Lou Adler ( @LouA ) offers a great glimpse of what candidates want out of different kinds of career changes .

“If the job is a lateral transfer, the only reason the person will take it is for more money and more convenience. If it’s a downgrade, they’ll only take it for a lot more money. And if it’s a major career move, they’ll take less money than initially desired and sometimes no increase at all if the upside career potential is huge.”

While compensation is one of the biggest factors driving passive candidates, even a higher-paying job may not always be enough for a candidate to make the switch. Depending on how your job compares to their current one, talk up certain parts of the job more than others. Don’t underestimate the power of workplace culture , commuting time, work-life balance, PTO and retirement benefits.

Passive candidates mean more active recruiting for companies. But when you dedicate your process to finding a better entry point into the conversation, leveraging employee referrals, and taking a new approach to your pitch, there’s no reason you can’t activate a few passive candidates.

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