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Get better at recruiting passive candidates

Passive candidates

Couple of quick definitions up front:

Passive Candidates: Not necessarily ready yet to change jobs, but might be kicking tires and could be swayed.

Active Candidates: Absolutely sick and tired of their ass clown boss, or recently laid off (etc.), so need a job post-haste.

The “strategy” — insofar as anything within hiring and recruiting has a strategy — for active candidates is pretty obvious. You post jobs, pray the right people apply to those jobs, and then change nothing about your process for six to ten years even though huge chunks of it are clearly not working. Keep collecting those checks every two weeks, though. Oh, and constantly discuss “needing to fill the seat now” (as opposed to getting the best person) and “the apparent skills gap” (an excuse middle managers hide behind for not owning their part of the process).

OK, so what’s the “strategy” for passive candidates then?

Seems there isn’t much of one

Check out this stat from Smashfly:

The problem is that once they get candidates to opt in, they fail to send them anything of value. Get ready to have your mind blown: Of the organizations that captured candidate information for job alerts or a talent network: 48% of them never sent an email to them after confirmation. 48%!!!!!!!!

OK. So you land on a website and the place looks interesting. You give your email for “future job alerts” even though you kind of assume it’s bullshit and you’ll never be emailed. Well, in 1 of 2 instances, you’d be right. 48% of companies never send an email to the people populating those lists. Ha. What? Why even bother to collect those email addresses, then? Just to tell someone up the chain you did it? What a joke.

The whole thing kind of reminds me of “We’ll keep your resume on file!” Oh really, will you? You probably won’t…

Real talk on the hiring process for one second

It’s a flaming bag of feces that alienates the best candidates with 27-screen applicant tracking systems no person with remote intelligence would ever fill out in full. Most people get white-collar jobs in one of a few ways:

  • Complete luck
  • They know someone
  • Their parents know someone or are rich
  • A former boss poaches them from somewhere else
  • Prayer

There’s very little science or data to hiring. That’s changing, yes — but that’s happening slower than we want to think. It’s still largely a subjective cluster-mess and will likely remain that way another decade or so.

What about the passive candidates, though?

The real talk would be this: very few companies have a passive candidates strategy, and here’s why. It’s more important for people in HR to tell everyone how busy they are than actually do anything. (This applies to most departments, actually.) If you’re drowning with current applicants as is, who has time to worry about passive candidates? There are seats to fill!

The reality is this: if companies got smart and automated top-of-funnel hiring (AI, chatbots, etc.), the recruiters would have more time for relationship development and working on what to do about passive candidates. But most recruiters realize that once top-of-funnel hiring is automated, they’ll be out of a job. The company won’t suddenly say “Hey, what about these passive candidates?”

So instead, recruiters constantly remind everyone how slammed they are to underscore their own relevancy and keep a job. In the process, no one even remotely thinks about passive candidates. Gotta keep my eye on the ball, Sam! Headcount to backfill!

The big buzzword in this space is “employer branding,” but don’t even get me going on that bullshit. The problem with employer branding is simple: companies try to manage it like a campaign, but it’s not that. It’s what people in the real world say about your processes and managers. If you have a culture of assholes, you have a bad employer brand, even if you artfully managed some fuck stick campaign about how you “change the world.” Passive candidates won’t care because every Glassdoor review says Marty Middle Manager cracks the whip harder than a Fifty Shades porn parody. (Wait, isn’t 50 Shades already porn?)

What would be a way to approach passive candidates?

Couple of ideas:

  • When they sign up for emails, actually send them emails.
  • Send your recruiters out to different types of networking events to build relationships.
  • Use LinkedIn wisely, as opposed to spammy InMail bullshit.
  • Have a one-sheet ready about the benefits of considering your company, even if you’re super happy elsewhere.
  • Don’t let your ATS be a candidate black hole; actually communicate with candidates so they’ll care about you later.
  • Give a shit about them.
  • Realize they often are better than active candidates (60-70% of applications for an open job don’t meet qualifications).

Anything else you’d add on finding and (buzzword alert) nurturing those passive candidates?

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. Good stuff, but on your last point—60-70% active candidates who apply for jobs being unqualified—that’s a statistic originating from subjective judgments made by hiring managers who have been polled on the subject, yea?

    I don’t fault you for using it—I don’t doubt a lot of goons apply for stuff they aren’t formally qualified for just to see what happens (I’ve done it a time or two)—but I would love to see an interview with a hiring manager revealing exactly what makes that 60-70% unqualified. So, say you post a job for an CFO position and get 100 applications, I wonder what it is about 60-70 of those that don’t merit an interview. Are those 60-70 a bunch of people with non-finance degrees and no experience managing budgets? People can be very dumb and oblivious, but I generally raise an eyebrow at hiring managers who complain about being overwhelmed by unqualified applicants.

    My job application strategy is usually to apply for things I have done before, have some experience in but can reasonably do with a little training and managerial support, or am a little light on hard skills wise but have a vision for growth in and a plan for how to get trained up in a reasonable timeframe.

    Most of the time, I play it safe—I’d love to be able to pitch my skills for a “reach” job that really excites me at an organization I’m interested in working for, but in my observation a majority of hiring managers seem so obsessed with formal qualifications that I usually don’t apply to jobs for which I don’t have a majority of skills mastered in. I’d never apply, say, to a job in sales, IT, or engineering, as I have no background or interest in those areas and would be wasting my time if I were called in for an interview. ::shrugs:: Maybe that’s just me, though.

    I also wonder how many bots are gumming up the works. When I used to process online volunteer application forms for a community radio station, we’d get A TON of bots—probably 60-70%, actually!—that I’d have to go through and delete one by one. Of course, this process could have been improved by adding in a CAPTCHA-type system, but the station’s board was more concerned with making sure we had the latest version of ProTools so a few whiny “audiophile” program hosts who no one listened to anyway could satiate their need for audio fidelity.

    Cheers, as always. I too wish orgs would be better at managing their talent pipelines instead of sending messages to also-rans that they’re garbage and have no business ever applying again. I’d add that encouraging managers to shift away from believing that people are lucky to have any kind of jobs and reminding them that applicants have choices for where they want to work could help improve attitudes towards active candidates, maintaining their interest should a future opportunity crop up.There’s a lot of bloggarhea out there about not burning bridges as an individual candidate and putting the onus on applicants to be as polite as possible when moving through the process so as to possibly be considered for future employment; well, employers gotta do that too.

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