It’s Time To Shut Up About “Active” vs. “Passive” Candidates in Recruiting.

post-57238-Mr-T-shut-up-fool-I-need-work-SgUJIf you know me, you know that I love to eat. This hasn’t always been the case; the concept of “good” food is a relatively new discovery for me, and it’s only recently I’ve found out that when it comes to eating, finding food that’s both good tasting and good for you aren’t always mutually exclusive concepts.

Of course, having grown up in a family where “advanced cooking techniques” involved putting a dish in an oven for 10 minutes at 450 degrees, I can’t take all the blame for my ignorance; hell, I didn’t even know what a beet tasted like until I was in my mid twenties, which was around the same time I found out not all vegetables came in cans.

My mother, despite being a capable military officer and devoted parent, really had little to no ability, desire or time to cook elaborate meals; instead, eating was seen strictly as a nutritional necessity, not as some sort of lifestyle luxury.

There’s No Accounting For Taste.

About the only thing I can remember her cooking from scratch were a batch of mashed potatoes a few years ago, which came out with the same consistency as congealed chowder, and about as appetizing. But, bless her heart, she tried – it’s just that wite hout any real skills or experience in the kitchen, and having neither the time or the money to really invest in meal planning & prep, we were stuck with the easy stuff.

We stuck cheap frozen foods in the microwave, added boiling water to our Ramen and Easy Mac, and, occasionally, we’d spurge and have a pizza delivered for a special occasion (or when we ran out of canned pasta). It was enough to keep us from going hungry, and let’s face it, saturated fats and sodiums taste pretty damn good – particularly when you’re a kid. All, it seemed, was right with the world; we were full, and we were happy.

Fast forward a few years, to when I was a recent college grad making her first tentative steps into corporate America. I was on my own, had a little bit of spending money for the first time in my life and an expense account that led to many “business dinners” with colleagues and clients whose pallets – and tastes – were far more adventurous (and elaborate) than mine. While I’ve never been a picky eater, per say (hard to be picky when you’re eating chicken nuggets, corn dogs and frozen pizza, frankly), I have to claim ignorance when it comes to the quality of the food I consumed.

Too Much Of A Good Thing.

Oh+look+people+getting+quot+tired+quot+of+something+again+because+all+_b41c8f48001780fadea29d977b086592Of course, it didn’t take long for me to turn into something of an accidental gourmand, discovering that I liked sirloin instead of a standard double cheeseburger because the quality of meat was far superior, or that the source of vegetables or produce actually has a pretty significant impact on flavor.

I even started distinguishing between stuff like a tart and a torte, and could tell the difference between Hollandaise and Bechamel sauces; I roux the day before I figured out the mother sauces of French cuisine (and yeah, I know that makes me sound a bit pretentious, but at least I don’t feel compelled to share photos of my food with the world before chowing down).

Now, I’m not really a gourmand or a highfalutin haute cuisine snob; generic commentary about whether or not a restaurant serves food farm-to-table or the particular provenance of their produce is about as sophisticated as my culinary arts actually get.

And even now, as something of a sophisticate when it comes to eating, I’m still not above slumming it under the sneeze guards at an Old Country Buffet once in awhile (as I admit I do about every six months or so).

Full confession: you haven’t really lived until you’ve taken a swim in that chocolate fountain, my friend. Chain restaurants and comfort cooking might not be great for you, but hell, they taste pretty damned good, and sometimes, that’s really all that matters.

Some people, though, take their adhesion to “slow cooking” and “eating local” a little too far – while I think it comes across as a little pretentious, and a whole lot of douchey, asking where everything on the table comes from and how it’s prepared, I guess that’s what separates me from the hipsters who get off on this sort of specious “social responsibility,” a dynamic evidenced in the following clip from Portlandia, which succinctly (and hilariously) sums up the sentiment of so many foodies who take this all a little too far, frankly.

Think Globally, Source Locally.

While I’m pretty sure we can all agree that these characters took this game of chicken a little far, I’ll admit that there’s still some value in locally sourcing, sure. You’re not only helping local businesses and food producers thrive, but you’re helping sustain the collective health (economic and otherwise) of your community, too. But does a chicken raised across the country in some sort of industrial farm really taste any better than a grass fed, free range, organic chicken from that co-op across town?

I know all you foodies out there are rolling your eyes and screaming, “YES! IT DOES!” at the screen, but the fact is, that you have a preference puts you squarely in the minority when it comes to consumers, and most of us are more concerned about price point than proximity, and make food choices on convenience, not provenance.

Most of us just want food on the table, ideally as cheaply and easily as possible. While it matters where it comes from, sure, whether or not the dead animal you’re eating had a happy life or was surrounded by family and friends? Excuse me while I roll my eyes a little and retch – that not only defines the concept of “first world problem,” but is also taking things a little too far, no matter where in the world you happen to live (even Berkeley).

This cynical sense of, “come on – you’ve got to be kidding, right?” I feel when someone’s talking about the evils of GMOs or how they only buy their produce from some local farmer instead of just going to the grocery store like everyone else is exactly how I feel when I happen to listen into the never ending debate on “active” versus “passive” candidates that’s always been such a point of contention among recruiting and HR practitioners.

Whether I see yet another pointless Facebook discussion on this topic, or another asinine headline show up in my Twitter feed, I bite my tongue and do my best to withhold my snarky comments (although my editor does a good enough job on his own, frankly).

But we’ve recently reached the point where I simply can’t stay silent on this stupidity any more – the “passive” versus “active” candidate conversation continues to pop up regularly, an unwanted nuisance that, like herpes, never seems to completely clear up – and seems, if you pay attention to social media and content marketing, at least, this topic seems to be coming up even more frequently than before.

Why It’s Time To Shut Up About “Active” vs. “Passive” Candidates.

i-want-you-to-stfuThe volume of discourse on this completely specious trending topic has left me annoyed enough to actually start asking some critical questions and pushing for statistical proof that these “passive” and “active” labels even matter at all – to candidates or to recruiters.

And, while the conceptual conversation continues unabated, it should come as no surprise that no matter whom I ask for any concrete evidence or quantifiable proof of why we should even care about this distinction, no one seems to want to share anything of substance.

Proving an argument, turns out, is a whole lot harder than making one, which I suppose is the entire point of social media these days. But still. For the inordinate amount of attention we pay to this topic, surely recruiters have some sort of justification for continuing to bifurcate candidates along these sweeping and superficial labels, right? Yeah, not so much.

Here’s my fundamental problem with the “active” versus “passive” conversation. As much as we want to talk about “building pipelines” or “developing candidates” or “hiring top talent,” at the end of the day, the best a recruiter can really hope to do is to put the right butt in the right seat at the right time. So why the hell does it matter where those new hires are coming from?

Why the hell should an employer actually care whether that candidate quit a job for an opportunity on your team, or had recently been laid off from a position which required the same sort of skills and experience for which you’re looking to hire?

I’m still waiting for someone to come up with a halfway decent answer for me, but in the meantime, I’ll continue to wonder why, exactly, we care.

We talk a lot about the overlap between marketing and recruiting, and while most of that conversation tends to be a little ambiguous or high level, or else imbued with a specific agenda (often to sell some sort of product or service), this is one critical area where recruiting and marketing actually have quite a bit in common. At the end of the day, both functions just want people to show up and convert by answering a call to action, whether that’s to apply for a job or to buy a product.

But you will never, ever hear a marketer say, “well, this customer’s OK, but I really wish they came from our TV spots instead of our social display ads.”

For a marketer, a qualified lead is the end goal, and while the means matter, ultimately, transforming that lead into a paying customer is all that matters.

So why do recruiters care so damned much about where their qualified candidates are coming from and whether or not they’re actively employed or not?

Really, recruiters seem to be the only people who give a shit – and why, exactly, this is the case remains something of a mystery to me.

The Real Candidate Labels Recruiters Should Care About.

il_fullxfull.673919145_sdalMy theory is that we’ve perpetuated the myth that passive candidates are better than active ones as a means of self-preservation. After all, one of recruiting’s major functions is to act as the gatekeeper, and direct sourcing efforts are tailored to proactively deliver candidates who aren’t otherwise on the market in order to justify their jobs and the resources they’re given to go out and find the people who don’t want to be found in the first place.

While turnover is a good thing for recruiting, for some reason, the individuals impacted by this naturally occurring phenomenon are penalized for what’s more or less a necessity in business, and a necessary prerequisite for recruiting organizations – without supply, no employer could ever hope to meet their demand for top talent.

Conventional wisdom states that an active candidate not having a job is a glaring red flag, we all know that for the people we’d actually hire, their employment status is cyclical and situational.

Whether they have a job to do has, in fact, no bearing on how well they can do the job you’re looking to fill. And most hiring managers don’t really care (or even know) the “active” vs. “passive” vocabulary – and if they do, it’s only because their recruiters have miseducated them on this enduring myth and ubiquitous misperception.

Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if the “active” vs. “passive” battle is just another unfortunate byproduct of lazy recruiters finding a way to expedite the hiring process and force stakeholders into making quicker decisions and extending better offers faster; if a candidate has other options or is currently employed, then speed is essential to ensure that you’re able to land that squirrel before the competition and make them an offer that they can’t refuse.

If a candidate isn’t currently employed, there’s a whole lot less urgency involved – which inevitably extends time to fill (“they’re not going anywhere” or “let’s see who else is out there”), a metric which for many recruiters serves as one of their primary performance indicators. In other words, active candidates negatively impact a line recruiter a whole lot more than they do for the line of business who happens to be hiring.

In fact, hiring managers can actually benefit from hiring active candidates, since they generally have to pay less for the same skill set and experience while also improving retention and productivity over their “passive” counterparts, at least statistically speaking. Too bad being a gatekeeper often means recruiters shutting out the best options for the worst reasons (if they have one at all, that is).

To me, if someone asks you if a candidate is active or passive, there’s only one real answer: “why the hell do you care?” From my experience, there’s a good chance they won’t be able to justify this bias beyond simply repeating the same erroneous myths and misperceptions that caused this staffing schism in the first place. Either way, it’s not meaningful enough to waste the sheer amount of time and energy recruiters spend discoursing and dissecting these concepts, yet here we are, still talking about the same shit.

Source of Hire Optimization: Why Active Referrals Beat “Passive” Candidates.

57078056So, instead of determining candidates’ viability through their current employment status, maybe we should focus on the stuff that really matters when it comes to attracting, hiring and retaining top talent – a list that inevitably begins by analyzing source of hire. And no matter how you cut it, referrals have long been the highest performing, lowest cost source of hire, accounting for more than half of all external hires last year (as they have for well over a decade).

Unlike other sources, employees are actually more likely to refer an active candidate than a passive one for a position – after all, we only hear that someone’s looking, in most cases, when they’re an “active” candidate – hence, why they’re reaching out about jobs, employment status be damned.

Yet, ignoring the “passive” and “active” labels, looking at referrals, it becomes pretty obvious that this is a label that’s far more important in determining quality of hire, regardless of that candidate’s current employment status.

Referrals have the highest applicant to hire ratio (estimated at over 400%, according to recent CareerXRoads data), enjoy the highest retention rate and play a critical role in the overall development of your company’s culture, employee engagement and overall job satisfaction.

Referrals mean that not only are your current employees willing to recommend working at your company to their friends and family – a fairly telling endorsement that people actually like working for you – but are more likely to be able to present candidates with the soft skills and cultural alignment that most recruiters and hiring teams might miss during the standard sourcing and screening process.

There’s no better person to tell whether or not a candidate can cut it at a company than someone who’s already working there.

So, let’s shut up on “active” and “passive” candidates and spend that energy on figuring out how to crack the code for driving more qualified referrals and optimizing employee referral programs, instead. At least there’s going to be a payoff that’s greater than another disposable blog post or unsubstantiated social media update – and for recruiters and employers, that’s really the bottom line.

Now that I’m done venting, here’s some actionable advice, along with some real tips and tricks, that really work for building a world class referral program.

After all, I wanted to provide some tangible takeaway in this post – if I wanted to idly sit around and bitch about what’s broken, well, I’d probably crank out more crappy content on how awesome passive candidates are (barf).

3 Simple Steps for Creating A Killer Employee Referral Program.

asset-company-workplace-ecard-someecardsSo here are 3 easy ways to get the most out of your employee referral programs and eliminate the need to even care about “passive” and “active” candidates once and for all (and about damn time, too).

  1. Make sure your company doesn’t suck. You won’t get referrals to a culture that sucks. It just won’t happen. So if you’re at a startup, start getting those referrals in now. If you’re at a big company, start giving teams ways to build morale. Most of us, unless you’re working with a bunch of interns, have worked with other people who do jobs like ours before. Incentivize us by making us love our job and want to include other people.
  2. Make the referral program known. Your employees need to know it exists or they won’t do it. I’d add that a certain level of gamification also helps here. That means prizes that people actually want, points and leaderboards – that kind of thing. Make it a competition if that motivates your employees. Then, recognize winners.
  3. Treat referral candidates with some damn respect. Give your team no more than 48 hours to respond to referral candidates. Reward your current employee’s time by getting back to their friends quickly. No one wants to have to keep telling a friend “well, I don’t know the status.” It’s not their job to inform the candidate and improve the candidate experience. It’s yours.

If you’re going to try to tell me that “active” and “passive” candidates are more worthy of your focus than referrals, you’d better have the facts to back you up – and I’m talking citable statistics and reliable resources, not some entrenched, erroneous opinions and anecdotes from other recruiters or hiring managers.

While many may prefer to cling to the conventional (and stupid) mindset of only wanting to look at currently employed candidates, it’s your duty as a recruiter to change those minds – after all, if you don’t coach them about what matters in recruiting and what’s a load of horseshit, then you’re not doing your job.

And the last thing you want is to become an “active” candidate yourself. Because, well, we all know how that goes.

katrina-300x300About the Author: Katrina Kibben is the Director of Marketing for Recruiting Daily, and has served in marketing leadership roles at companies such as Monster Worldwide and Care.com, where she has helped both established and emerging brands develop and deliver world-class content and social media marketing, lead generation and development, marketing automation and online advertising.

An expert in marketing analytics and automation, Kibben is an accomplished writer and speaker whose work has been featured on sites like Monster.com, Brazen Careerist and About.com.

A graduate of Pennsylvania State University, Kibben is actively involved in many community and social causes – including rooting for her hometown Pittsburgh Steelers.

You can follow Katrina on Twitter @KatrinaKibben or connect with her on LinkedIn.

 

Katrina Kibben


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