A Guide to Recruiting Passive Candidates (And Why It Matters)

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Regina Welle
By
Regina Welle
|
Global Staffing Manager
Linkedin

Table of Contents

While it’s intuitive to focus on recruiting active candidates, there is a significant opportunity to recruit passive candidates in a competitive job market like the tech industry. Learn about the differences and how you can benefit from attracting both kinds of talent.
Published on
December 13, 2021
Updated on
June 17, 2024

In technical recruiting, organizations that are stagnant in their talent acquisition strategies quickly fall behind as candidates are identified, contacted, and hired by competitor companies. Traditional recruitment is typically a reactive model—as open positions become available, candidate searches begin, and applications are processed until a shortlist is created.

Companies that capitalize on other recruitment methods, such as passive recruiting, simultaneously deepen their talent pool and create a talent pipeline. The effect isn’t always as immediate as active recruiting, but companies who build their brand reputation with passive candidates set a foundation for the candidate journey much earlier than they would with active candidates.

To effectively forecast company growth, remain competitive, and gain top talent, recruiters and human resources teams must target a blended talent pool of active and passive candidates for every role.

What Is a Passive Candidate?

Passive candidates, or people who are typically employed and aren't actively seeking a new role, usually make up a more significant portion of the available labor market than active job seekers. Passive candidates are usually identified by several key characteristics, meaning that they are:

  • Currently employed in a related field or position at a different company
  • Less active on job boards and social media platforms concerning a new role
  • Selective and highly discerning about new positions and opportunities
  • Focused on a strong value proposition if approached by recruiters

Put simply, active candidates may be open to a role out of necessity, but passive candidates usually operate from a more stable position. Due to their current employment, recruiters must begin to build relationships with key candidates and bring a value that outweighs the passive candidate’s current occupation. This value most typically resembles a pay raise, but passive candidates may also want a more comprehensive benefits package, remote work opportunities, or growth along their career path.

Passive vs. Active Candidates

A critical factor to consider when recruiting both types of candidates is their level of risk aversion. Passive candidates are much less likely to take a risk on a new position unless they are confident that the value proposition exceeds their current role. 

For recruiters, building that level of trust is difficult without establishing a strategic relationship with the candidate. Conversely, active candidates are more likely to take risks due to their need or desire to begin a new role. For recruiters, this means that a more transactional relationship is likely all that is needed to secure active talent.

Most applications will likely be from active candidates when sharing a job opening on a website or job portal. These applicants may be unemployed or employed but dissatisfied with their current job. Since they energetically seek new opportunities, active candidates tend to be very excited and receptive when recruiters contact them.

Unlike active candidates, however, recruiting passive candidates may be more involved because they don't apply to new jobs organically. Instead, they may use social media platforms like LinkedIn to network and monitor new roles without actively applying. In contrast to active job seekers, passive candidates are less receptive or excited when contacted. Regardless of the type of candidate targeted, technical recruiters must stay knowledgeable of changing recruiting trends to effectively gain talent.

Why Recruit Passive Candidates?

Recruiting passive candidates, or those not actively seeking new job opportunities, offers significant advantages for organizations that want to hire top development talent in a more non-traditional approach. While these candidates are often content in their current role, they represent a large, proven talent pool that may bring new perspectives into an organization. There are several reasons why recruiters should target passive candidates, including:

  • High-quality talent: Passive candidates are often successful in their current role, meaning they have a transparent and accessible track record of past work. 
  • Less intense competition: Because passive candidates don’t usually advertise their job search, recruiters typically do not need to compete with other companies to gain passive talent.
  • Industry insights: Passive candidates often have insights from competitor organizations that may benefit your organization.
  • Potential for long-term fit: Characterized by a higher risk aversion, passive candidates tend to stay in their current position longer. 

Additionally, passive candidates may have specialized skills that aren’t as widely available in the active job market. Knowledge of niche programming languages, frameworks, or emerging and disruptive technologies may be required in your role, and it’s likely that another organization has already identified and hired top candidates in that field. 

By targeting passive candidates, companies strategically fill their talent pipeline with individuals who not only meet the job requirements but are also likely to excel and drive the organization forward. This approach strengthens the company’s overall market position by ensuring a highly skilled team aligned with long-term strategic goals.

How to Source Passive Candidates

Passive candidates constitute a large part of a global workforce, but finding them requires a strategic and measured approach that doesn’t disrupt the active candidate search. It’s critical that a passive candidate search, which typically requires more time and nurturing, does not outweigh the higher volume of active talent application processing. 

Luckily, platforms such as LinkedIn allow recruiters to do both concurrently. The evolution of traditional job-searching tools into comprehensive social hubs provides recruiters with a significant edge in locating passive talent. Some of these online platforms and more traditional sourcing methods give recruiters the tools to identify and engage top talent to grow IT teams.

LinkedIn

As the largest professional network on the internet, LinkedIn helps create prospective talent pools for recruiters. With its search functionality, recruiters can identify the exact specifications needed in a role and are supplied with a list of both passive and active candidates. 

Due to LinkedIn's ease of use and the more relaxed and private environment, recruiters usually receive more responses from passive candidates. As brand reputation and credibility grow, recruiters may experience an increase in interest from passive talent.

Industry Conferences and Seminars

Industry conferences and seminars are excellent venues for meeting high-caliber passive candidates. These events attract professionals interested in staying updated with the latest trends and best practices in their field, making them ripe for recruitment. 

Attending these events allows recruiters to identify potential candidates through presentations, discussions, or networking sessions. Engaging with these professionals in these environments helps establish a direct personal connection, making it easier to discuss potential job opportunities in a less formal context.

Professional Associations

Professional associations are hubs for skilled practitioners who are passionate about their fields. Membership in these organizations often includes a mix of active and passive job seekers who are deeply engaged with current industry standards and innovations. These well-trained professionals help bring expertise and cover skill gaps on development teams.

Recruiters can use this pool by participating in association activities, sponsoring events, or even accessing member directories. These associations often have online forums and publications where recruiters can contribute, gaining visibility among potential candidates.

Employee Referrals

Employee referral programs can be a potent tool for talent sourcing. Employees may refer former colleagues, friends, or peers who they know would excel in a role. These candidates are often passive in their job search and may only consider new opportunities if recommended by someone they trust. 

Employers can encourage referrals by offering incentives and making the process straightforward for employees to suggest potential candidates. This not only speeds up the hiring process but also increases the likelihood of culture fit and retention, as referrals often have a firsthand understanding of the company culture through their contacts.

Online Professional Forums and Communities

Online professional forums and communities such as Stack Overflow, GitHub, or specialized industry-specific forums are excellent for finding passive candidates engaged in their professional community. Recruiters can observe potential candidates’ interactions, contributions, and problem-solving abilities, all of which lead to increased tech team productivity after the hire. 

Engaging with these communities by providing valuable content or posing relevant questions can help build relationships. Once a relationship is established, more personalized recruitment approaches can be introduced, appealing to the interests and career aspirations of the passive candidates found within these platforms.

Tips for Recruiting Passive Candidates

Before beginning to recruit active or passive candidates, it’s important to understand what both recruiters and companies are able to offer to prospective talent. As a baseline, the candidate journey must be both accurate for your organization and easily navigable for incoming talent—drawn-out application processes drive potential hires away, especially passive candidates. On the recruitment side, there are a few key actions to ensure a smooth candidate experience and strong recruitment metrics for the organization.

1. Create an Impressive Recruiting Profile

A unique recruiting profile helps recruiters make a strong impression on passive candidates. Remember that passive candidates aren't actively looking for opportunities, so you need to create an appealing offer to attract and retain top talent.

At the beginning of the recruitment process, it’s important to supply the passive candidate with a transparent and detailed job description, which includes:

  • Large-scale responsibilities and an overview of daily tasks
  • Required hard, technical, and soft skills
  • Details about the compensation package
  • A benefits overview
  • Working schedule, location, and remote work status

Candidates are usually most interested in the role, responsibility, and salary. Consider preparing to answer all of their questions on these aspects, and if needed, open the discussion yourself. A solid first impression helps you to solidify credibility and interest, even if the passive candidate doesn’t immediately take action.

2. Personalize Outreach Methods

While targeting passive talent, recruiters should remember that active recruiting tactics are ineffective. While effective for reach, email blasts are easily spotted and ignored by passive candidates. Remember, the new value proposition needs to outweigh their current one. If all a passive candidate receives is a generic message, the foundation of that value proposition is weak.

Instead, recruiters should use several different communication templates that allow for some customization. Use the candidate’s past work or available information to tailor the content for that specific person. Not only does this allow you to begin building a profile for that candidate, but it also gives them a unique and specialized first impression.

3. Expand Your Network

Not all potential candidates are open to being interviewed, but that shouldn't discourage recruiters. Outside of securing the hire, their role is to engage the candidate and build the foundation of interest so that passive candidates may re-enter the recruitment funnel.

One way to achieve this is through networking in the passive candidate’s industry—not only will this increase your credibility and awareness in that community, but it may also lead to the discovery of new passive talent.

4. Be Generous and Flexible

Because passive candidates aren't actively looking for new opportunities, recruiters must be willing to accommodate their needs and schedules. Your approach will make them feel valued and appreciated for their skills and experiences.

Instead of treating passive candidates like active ones, give them more attention. Don't expect passive talent to act like active job seekers—they won’t organically send their resumes, portfolios, and other details. Instead, be subtle and ask for a chat or a meeting about the industry. Focus on communication and avoid standard recruitment processes. A friendly approach will make passive candidates feel more comfortable and open to your proposals.

5. Ensure a Respectful Interview Process

The interview process for passive candidates should be respectful of their current commitments and streamlined to prevent fatigue. Flexibility in interviews and developer skill assessments, paired with a clear, concise process makes it easier for the candidate to engage without feeling overwhelmed. Effective communication throughout the process is vital to keep candidates informed and interested, ensuring they retain a positive impression of the company even if they decline the offer.

Challenges Recruiting Passive Candidates

Many issues surrounding passive candidate recruitment stem from the long-term strategic relationship required before a successful hire. Because these candidates are targeted for a specific skill discovered through competency mapping, there isn’t always an obvious secondary candidate for the role. However, it’s critical that recruiters and organizations set realistic expectations. If a passive candidate hasn’t taken action in months for an urgent role, it’s usually best to re-evaluate the talent pool and find a new candidate.

Another common issue involves discretion by the passive candidate and recruiter. Often, passive candidates are employed in competitor organizations. To ensure respect for the candidate and the security of their current position, recruiters must operate carefully. Early in the engagement process, setting those boundaries with the candidate and establishing secure communication is important.

Hire Skilled Talent With Revelo

A recruitment strategy should target a combination of passive and active candidates to gain a well-balanced and skilled workforce. While active recruitment brings in a higher volume of applications and a more diverse candidate background, passive recruitment involves a long-term, resource-heavy, and strategic approach; it should be used when filling key roles. 

If you want to hire specific talent and don’t have the resources to spend on passive recruitment, Revelo can help. Using a curated talent pool, we match companies with top candidates rigorously vetted for soft skills, technical aptitude, and English proficiency. After you select the right developer whose skills match your role, Revelo assists with ongoing administrative tasks such as payroll, benefits administration, taxes, and local compliance—allowing you to focus on core business needs.

Contact us today to hire skilled developers with the expertise and experience to create your software projects. 

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