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Are passive candidates necessarily better ones?

There may be very few truly passive candidates

By Brian Kreissl 

Both a recent article published by Workopolis and a session I attended at the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) conference a couple of weeks ago questioned the prevailing wisdom that passive candidates are somehow inherently superior to those who are actively seeking work. The session was called “Science of Talent Attraction: Understanding What Makes People Click” and was hosted by director of employer insights Kevin Walker at the job board Indeed. 

Obviously, one could argue this message is somewhat self-serving given that both organizations are job boards and it's in their best interests to promote the recruitment of active candidates. However, this is based on empirical research, and I do tend to believe that many recruiters, HR practitioners‎ and hiring managers may be a little too focused on finding so-called passive candidates in the mistaken belief they are better candidates. 

The principle is basically that people who are actively pounding the pavement aren’t generally the best candidates for job vacancies because they’re likely to be unhappy or even downright disengaged in their current roles. The idea is that employers prefer candidates who are happy in their current roles and aren’t necessarily thinking of making a switch. 

There’s also the problem that a huge percentage of the candidates who are applying online these days aren’t even remotely qualified for the jobs they’re applying for and are simply applying for anything and everything. Because of that, many employers prefer to seek out and find more suitable candidates through other channels such as direct sourcing, networking and referrals. 

In many ways, a targeted search can yield stronger candidates who are more likely to be a good fit for the role and the organization — particularly when they are sourced from a direct competitor or are already known to the recruiter or hiring manager. There is also the belief that recruiters and HR practitioners should be more proactive in attempting to fill vacancies and successful recruiters shouldn’t simply rely on the “post and pray” method of sourcing candidates. 

But just because someone is actively looking for work doesn’t make her a bad candidate. For example, the Workopolis article “The myth of the passive candidate” quoted a statistic that 88 per cent of people have to switch companies in order to advance their careers. An active candidate could simply be investigating other opportunities because there is no room for advancement at his current organization. 

Very few truly passive candidates 

Secondly, there may be very few truly passive candidates out there. For example, a study completed by Harris on behalf of Indeed found 84 per cent of Canadian adults look at job opportunities and 61 per cent review job opportunities at least monthly. Worldwide, 65 per cent of candidates hired on Indeed start to look at online job postings within 91 days of being hired. 

Just because someone isn’t an active job applicant for a vacancy doesn’t mean he isn’t actively looking at opportunities elsewhere. The Harris survey found 96 per cent of new hires within the past year took some level of effort to get hired, including browsing online job postings, asking family, friends and connections for referrals or using professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. 

Kevin Walker at Indeed points out active candidates may be better prepared mentally for a job or career change. They also tend to feel better about their decision to make a change because they are in control and have had a chance to explore other opportunities before making a decision. 

Improving quality of active candidates 

None of this is to say employers shouldn’t seek out so-called passive candidates or they should rely on post and pray alone. But rather than focusing so much effort on passive candidates, the better approach might be to improve the quality of active candidates applying to the organization. 

Employers can facilitate this by improving their employer branding. Elizabeth Bromstein, author of the Workopolis article, argues that becoming a best employer where people want to work negates the need to recruit passive candidates because essentially everyone turns into an active candidate. 

Improving an organization’s employer brand and including targeted messaging in job postings will improve the quality of candidates. It’s also important to improve the candidate experience, engage with candidates and be real and transparent about the organization and the recruitment process.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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  • Re: Use social media to build talent pipelines or 'streams'
    Wednesday, February 3, 2016 9:50:00 AM by Brian Kreissl
    You make a valid point, but employer branding and becoming an employer of choice involves far more than just tweaking job postings. Part of that process involves really engaging with candidates on social media, but more importantly, it's about actually modifying the employment value proposition to actually become an employer of choice.