How To Recruit Passive Candidates

Time to Read: 8.1 minutes

Updated: December 20, 2022

We wrote about passive candidates last year and noted how valuable they can be to an organization. These often highly skilled candidates comprise a large proportion of potential hires, but they’re not necessarily easy to recruit.

As candidates grow more digitally savvy, so too should hiring professionals. Hiring, however, is not just about the technological tools. It’s also the old-fashioned power of interpersonal relationships.

In this post, we look at the recruitment market and how passive candidates will continue to be prized among employers. And, of course, we will show some of the new techniques to find them.

Unemployment Is Down, and Finding Candidates Is Tougher

The unemployment rate in the US is falling. This is great for the country, but the work of recruiters and hiring professionals will get a little tougher as a consequence. We’re not complaining, of course, but it does mean hiring professionals will need to engage clients with greater focus and diligence.

Joe Matar at Brazen writes that an unemployment rate decreased from 4.8 percent to 4.1 percent is equivalent to around 800,000 potential hires finding jobs. Through a “talent acquisition lens,” that’s 800,000 fewer candidates looking for work.

That’s good news, though. The economy is growing and looks to remain that way, according to Dan Schawbel at Forbes. If unemployment continues the way it’s going, 20.5 million jobs will be created by 2020.

The problem is trying to find the best candidates, as they usually have a job already and may not be looking for a new role.

Added to that, it’s very much a candidate’s market. Kristina Martic, at TalentLyft, says the job market is 90 percent candidate-driven: “That means you don’t pick talent anymore. Talent picks you.”

To deal with this, an employer’s brand needs to be attractive, genuine and engaging. But this doesn’t mean looking for the right candidate will be any easier, quicker or cheaper.

This is what makes recruitment marketing strategy — the implementation of marketing tactics in recruiting — so valuable. Martic says it’s about “nurturing and attracting talented individuals” through marketing methods and tactics. It’s proactive, and the goal is to keep that talent pipeline loaded.

Passive candidates need to be wooed and won over by a role they didn’t know they wanted.

Passive Candidates Make Up a Big Chunk of the Workforce

Data from TalentLyft suggest that 73 percent of candidates are passive job seekers. These tend to be high-quality candidates, too, and recruiters should engage accordingly.

Aoife Geary at Jobbio says passive candidates are attractive to hiring managers because they’re up to date with industry developments and will most likely take a job due to genuine and considered reasons. “They’re not looking for any job,” Geary writes, “They’re looking for a job where they think they can add real value.”

And they usually do add value. According to The Undercover Recruiter, passive candidates are 120 percent more likely to want to impact an organization positively. This is likely because a third of these candidates take on a new role because they want more challenging work.

Beware of the Downsides of Passive Candidates, Though

Alicia Hill at Undercover Recruiter says a potential problem with passive candidates is that they may love their current roles and won’t want to change. Recruiters and hiring managers can devote a lot of time and resources to building a relationship with them. Yet this could all be in vain when, in the end, the candidate declines to move to a new position.

“However, if you find the perfect candidate through this recruiting technique, it will be worth the extra effort,” Hill says.

Regardless of the outcome, treat them with respect and integrity. “It’s important to come across as approachable and caring when hiring late millennials,” Hill writes, “or they may turn their back on your company and seek a more comfortable atmosphere.”

Communication is key for any hiring relationship, but especially so when trying to attract, retain and nurture top talent. Lindsay Grenawalt, head of people operations at Cockroach Labs, says the human aspect of recruiting must always be at the core of the job.

“At any stage of the process, you can lose a candidate because you reject them or they reject you,” Grenawalt says. “It is important that once you engage with a candidate, you listen to what motivates them. If it’s not your company, that’s okay. If it is your company, make sure you take notes at each stage of the process to understand how your candidate’s motivations may be changing.”

Use Different Social Media Platforms to Build the Employer Brand and Create Meaning

Hiring professionals need to communicate openly and effectively with passive candidates. How do they do it?

A big part of this is through social media, and this is set to continue with fervor. Michael Altiero at Social Media Today argues that LinkedIn is still a valuable place to find and engage passive candidates. There may have been doubt in the past, Altiero says, but last year LinkedIn reached 530 million members.

Part of this is due to LinkedIn shifting from a straightforward professional networking site to a major content platform.

Instagram, too, continues to prove valuable when developing and sharing an employer brand. But the network has gotten even more effective since Instagram Stories launched in 2017.

Meaning can be created, Altiero argues, by using social media to provide useful and educational content at an organization’s target audience of passive candidates. Only by building these relationships and sharing useful content can hiring managers entice passive candidates to take on a new role. Social media makes it a lot easier to do this.

While Altiero argues for LinkedIn, Dylan Redmond at Social Talent suggests hiring professionals look beyond the familiar platforms. Tech recruiters, Redmond says, should seek more specific sites. GitHub, for example, is the virtual stomping ground of more than 26 million developers — and the site is growing.

Slack, Redmon points out, is another good way to connect with developers and UX designers for those persistently hard-to-fill roles. While Slack is better known as an internal communication platform for organizations, it can also be used by hiring professionals to join forums and engage in the right kinds of conversations.

Authentic Communication is Vital in a Social Media Deluge

The medium isn’t the message when reaching out to candidates. It’s just as important to create meaningful content that engages passive candidates while building an employer brand.

In other words, be genuine. In fact, Ben Offringa at Social Intelligence suggests “authenticity is everything” in saturated platforms filled with marketing content. “Social media users and job candidates respond better to authentic, unedited video content and images than perfectly tailored media that comes across as too market-y,” Offringa writes.

Video content in particular is set to grow more competitive in 2020 and beyond. The aspiration of virality continues to thrive.

Offringa asks: So how can you capitalize on this trend? By creating a “simple, honest video about the role” instead of a bland job description on a networking site.

The employee posting the video should explain why the company is hiring and throw in a few reasons why working there is desirable. Offringa warns that research is essential before choosing where to find passive candidates.

Contrary to popular opinion, he argues, Snapchat, despite its estimated 70 million daily users in the US, is probably not the best place for a job advert. He cites Instagram Stories, however, as a worthwhile avenue to pursue.

The figures show this is true. Instagram Stories received 35 percent more ad views than Snapchat, and that channel is more likely to be seen by maturer candidates.

How Tech Will Enhance Access to Passive Candidates

Finding a home for your passive candidate target strategy is one challenging task, but so too is identifying potential matches from a large applicant pool. As many as 52 percent of recruiters cite this as the most the most challenging part of the job.

With the average time spent on this task totalling 23 hours, it’s no wonder recruiters dread it. In comes AI, the ubiquitous talking point across multiple industries.

Not only can AI reduce the cost and time of screening candidates, but it also eliminates recruiter bias through blind matches. This means only the right candidates filter through to the interview stages.

Elisa Alston, at Nederlia, is optimistic this time-saving AI will be in all of our reach, too. The price of recruitment software is getting cheaper and interfaces easier to use, and many companies today are using data-driven and AI-assisted recruitment strategies.

“Soon software will not only be able to tell us how to recruit passive candidates and where we need to look for them,” Alston suggests, “but also when teams are stretched and what experience and skills are missing.”

By the end of 2020, she argues, data will give HR teams data-backed insight into what makes employees, teams and departments successful, and how to use this to create better job descriptions.

AI is big and it is going to grow. Gil Press, at Forbes, says 62 percent of enterprises use AI technologies. He goes on to say that AI has replaced big data as the most talked about new set of technologies and will likely receive plenty of venture capitalist funding, too.

No matter what technological advancements come along to make the job more efficient and simpler, when it comes down to the interview those soft skills remain essential. Hiring passive candidates is made easier by AI, data and social media. But it is by nurturing relationships through trust and genuine communication that will see your team secure the best hire.

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Shanil Kaderali

Shanil Kaderali is a strategic talent acquisition leader with global experience. He's managed and led recruitment functions at companies like Cisco Systems, Symantec, WellPoint, as well as having worked for several Baker's Dozen RPO winners.

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