Enough about "passive candidates" already!

Howard Adamsky gets it right about so-called “passive candidates”.  I’ve been similarly frustrated with the staffing industry’s focus on recruiting these folks as well as the insistence that they are somehow “better”. They are in fact harder to close and less likely to stay at your company and they require significantly more work to attract. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for cold-calling and networking; just not the push to convert someone who is happy in their current job on a single phone call.

In fact, I’d take it one step further. Passive candidates don’t exist. If they are “passive”, does the fact that you call them “candidates” convince you that they want to work at your company? Because they aren’t candidates, they are leads at best, until you turn them into candidates, at which point, they aren’t really passive anymore (I’m sorry, someone who gets on a plane to visit your company is not passive).  By calling them candidates at all, we encourage negative recruiter behavior focused on the short term, which can really leave the person on the other end of the phone with a negative impression of the company. I could honestly live out the rest of my life happily if I never heard the term “passive candidate” again.

So you say you don’t have the right candidates in your company’s resume database? How about marketing to those leads to get them interested in your company so they apply? Maybe we should be talking about “prospects” and not “passive candidates”.

Comments (5)

  1. jorge says:

    and and and, don’t you forget those sweeping claims that the ‘passives’ (promise last time i write it) end up being higher-quality hires… aggh

    but it’s true: one day I got out of bed to start looking for a job and – as in Kafka’s metamorphosis – i had converted into this despicable, inept bug that was keen to make a quantum leap in his career

    blog on…

  2. I’ve written about this before, but I’m glad to see Heather Hamilton disagrees with the standard recruiting line that "passive candidates" are batter. Chasing passive candidates will just make the recruiting job a lot harder than it already is….

  3. HeatherLeigh says:

    Good…it’s not just Howard and me then that feel this way! It’s time to start a revolution. ; )

  4. ScottMagoon says:

    As a member of the candidate world and not the recruiter world, I didn’t know there was such a thing as active and passive candidates. Interesting discussion. Couldn’t someone possibly have the best qualities from both categories? That is, be actively interested in a target company, and be doing the things that draw the attention of a recruiter (i.e., have an online presence, actively participate in groups or communities, and otherwise be visible and searchable)?

    If I imagine active and passive on a continuum I would guess that just past active is the dreaded "desperate" category. Does that taint the active position?

    For that matter, what is a recruiter looking for with the question, "Where are you in your job search?"

  5. HeatherLeigh says:

    Scott-yeah, this is a real peak behind the curtain, huh? If someone has the best attributes of both, they are simply a high quality candidate. The passive piece doesn’t apply if they are looking. If they are just building a web presence but not to get a job, then they aren’t a candidate. You are right, it is a continuum. Some recruiters just need to understand that their call to someone is about finding out where they fall on the continuum, not trying to sell them into a job whether they want it or not. Too many recruiters treat prospects like candidates and then wonder why people don’t want to talk to them.

    There’s nothing wrong with feeling desperate as long as you don’t act that way (honestly, I had that feeling before when I was really unhappy in a position and could not wait to get the next one). And honestly, I wish there were more excellent candidates that were desperate…that would make my job easier ; )OK, I don’t actually wish that but you get my point.

    As far as any potential employer should know, you (the generic you) are in demand. The question "where are you in your job search?" is aimed at finding out a couple things:

    1) where you fall on the continuum: for example "I’m not super-active right now…just sending my resume around to a few networking contacts" is different than "I’ve been actively interviewing with several companies". They want to understand your interest level so they know how to approach you…the good recruiters at least.

    2) Timing: whether the recruiter needs to push you through the process quickly because you have other offers pending…or push through the process because you have not yet started to search broadly and they don’t want you to

    3) Competition-recruiters want to know the likelihood of you accepting an offer from them if you are made one. Telling the recruiter that you have negotiations going on with other companies can be good or bad. Depends on the situation.They want to feel that you are in dermand, but they also want to be able to feel that they can close the deal if you get that far.

    Hoestly. you could be asking the same question of the recruiter with regard to their search for the right candidate. It’s a market…you are both buyer and seller ; )

    Anyway, there are no right answers to that question. You need to be honest because the recruiter is going to treat you according to your answer. For example, if a company were to call me today and I was to tell them that I am not actively looking, they in turn think that I would be difficult to attract, and I shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t try to recruit me. It’s the ones that don’t listen and try anyway that are frustrating. ; )