What Are Passive Candidates and Why Should Recruiters Pay Attention?

While active job candidates are consistently expending effort toward gaining employment by answering job ads, reaching out to network contacts, and sending resumes to employers, it is the passive candidates who – although already employed and generally satisfied with their positions – would be willing to speak with a hiring manager or recruiter if a new or better opportunity came along.  According to HireVelocity.com, it may be beneficial for recruiters and employers to keep these candidates in mind.

Passive Candidates - two professional women - one smiling

Why Seek Them Out?

While passive candidates may pose a greater challenge to recruiters than their active counterparts, there are certainly concrete reasons why they should be sought out.

Expertise.  Passive candidates are employed candidates who are likely using their skills on a daily basis. Work ethic and goal orientation are almost practically a given when considering these candidates for employment.

Candidness.  When an individual is already employed, they have little reason to over-inflate their qualifications or skill set.  After all, it is the recruiter or hiring manager who initially reached out to them.

Approaching the Process

Now that we’ve isolated some of the benefits of seeking out passive candidates, how should hiring managers approach the recruitment process?

Create a job description based on performance rather than skills.  A gainfully employed candidate likely already possesses the skills to perform the job, so instead, base your description on actions and results.

Related:  “What To Look For In a Job Posting

Stay competitive.  No job is perfect, so to persuade a passive candidate to consider your company for possible employment, you will have to offer them what their current job cannot; whether it is a higher salary, a more comprehensive benefit and/or vacation package, or simply a greater sense of job security.

Be in it for the long run.  If an individual is going to consider leaving their current job, they certainly aren’t going to accept an offer that isn’t stable or long-term.  Be sure to be sincere in your presentation of a long-standing career path.

Persevere.  While you may not receive a response following your first message or email, don’t give up right away.  Situations change, and while a particular passive candidate may be content for the moment, this is not to say they will feel the same way about their job three months down the road. Of course, pestering is out of the question, as that will only drive away the candidate; however, a simple well timed check-in to keep the lines of communication open may be the key to retaining your passive candidate in the long run.

What Are The Disadvantages?

While passive candidates clearly pose a wealth of benefits to employers and recruiters, there are certain drawbacks to consider when pursuing these candidates.

Time consuming.  If a role within your organization becomes suddenly vacant, seeking an active candidate will save you a great deal of time and effort, rather than combing through the web and network associates for a candidate who is already gainfully employed.

Higher expectations.  Passive candidates naturally hold a greater amount of leverage, so be prepared to arrange for a higher salary with added incentives to make the switch worth their while. If this is not in your budget, this may not be the right course of action for your company.

Ethical issues.  If there is a particular individual whom you have been targeting to bring on board for a while, following the recruitment advice for engaging a passive candidate is understandable.  However, be sure to practice most of your hiring among the active job seekers to avoid creating a less-than-genuine reputation for your company.

Offer of employment


The main concept that recruiters and hiring managers must keep in mind is that excluding any group or demographic from their search for the best employee will only hinder the process.  Passive candidates clearly have their advantages, and often, it is simply a matter of timing that is keeping you and your ideal candidate from joining together.  However – whether seeking passive or active candidates — remember to maintain balance in your hiring strategies for the best results.


Fred Coon, CEO


Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200