With a Passive Candidate, How Do You Know When an Applicant is Truly Interested?

As the market for talent continues to get more competitive, companies are increasingly turning to Talent Sourcers to find and recruit the best people.

But remember, candidates simply don’t apply for jobs like they used to anymore — and that’s why sourcers are needed to find interested applicants.

The term “passive” candidate has become a buzzword to reflect the state of the market, however, it’s become an overused phrase that may not even reflect what’s happening anymore.

The majority of applicants we speak with today are considered to be “passive.” Being a talent sourcer myself., the majority of applicants I speak with on a daily basis fall into the passive candidate category.

The hard work of finding a passive candidate

Here’s how we define the term “passive” candidate:

A passive candidate is employed but not currently looking for a new employment opportunity. When you include the 15 percent of professionals who are tip-toers defined as (those who aren’t actually applying for jobs but are preparing to move) this group accounts for 75 percent of the workforce, according to LinkedIn’s Blog.

The true benefit to speaking with passive candidates is that they may not be looking for a new opportunity, and that means they may not be interviewing with other companies. With 60-70 percent of the workforce not actively looking for a new role, it takes skill to actively engage these type of individuals.

You may already know this, but it takes a lot of boolean searching, cold calling, and social media outreach to find an applicant. You also have to go through a lot of initial rejection before you actually get to speak with someone on the phone.

So, how do you actually know if someone is truly interested in your job opportunity?

Winning the conversation by asking these questions

You might have to cast a wide net when you first start doing your outreach. The role you’re looking to fill might be very niche and require an immense amount of time searching for candidates.

So, you finally convince 2-3 applicants to speak with you further. Now, how to do you distinguish between active and passive candidates?

Junior level recruiters fall into the passive vs. active trap frequently, and it’s good to trust your intuition and experience when speaking with applicants. Overall, it’s a hard game to play, because an applicant might say all the perfect things.

I recommend going through all the possible barriers before you proceed further. Here are some important ones:

  • Are they within the compensation range?
  • What’s their commute time like?
  • What team, project, or culture are they looking for?

After, you’ve addressed all the barriers, try to dig for more intelligence on the candidate:

  • How many interviews are you taking?
  • Are you the first recruiter to reach out to them?
  • Why are they looking to move? You need to address all the reasons for why they are now looking.

Make sure they’ve answered all your barrier and intel questions thoroughly. If your gut is telling you differently, make sure you proceed with caution. Sometimes, an applicant may be talking with several recruiters at once, and it’s important to encourage your applicant to be honest and open with you throughout the process.

Finally, have the applicant directly apply for the job, and then, submit them to the lead recruiter.

As a sourcer, it’s your job to keep them updated on the process, because focusing on the candidate experience should be a top priority for your team and success.

If the process takes more than a week or so, make sure to send follow-up emails, or perhaps even reach out to them over the phone. You can leave this up to the recruiter on who should handle the candidate updating duties.

Some things to remember with a passive candidate

Since the majority of applicants today are passive I would consider treating everyone like they are passively interested in your job opportunity.

Never just focus on one candidate. My goal is to have at least three (3) submittals for each role I’m finding candidates for because the market is very competitive and you need to have several options for your hiring manager.

Remember, the term “Passive Candidate” is an overused buzzword that shouldn’t be relevant anymore. You need to make sure you treat EVERYONE like a passive candidate, and make sure that the candidate experience is a key concern and at the top of your mind throughout the entire sourcing and recruiting process.

Good luck — now go find those “passive candidates”!

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Jonathan Kidder has over six years of full-cycle recruiting and research sourcing experience, and he currently works as a Senior Talent Acquisition Sourcer at Vista Outdoor Inc. He started his career in employer branding at one of the largest RPO staffing firms in the world, and he has managed several Fortune 500 brands with social media recruiting campaigns. He’s sourced and recruited for many different industries including Information Technology, Finance, Banking, Engineering, Healthcare, Biotechnology, Medical Device, CPG, Marketing, & Sales. He started WizardSourcer as a way to freelance his talent sourcing abilities. He offers everything from candidate leads to retained search services. Follow him on Twitter @WizardSourcer or connect with him on LinkedIn.




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Jonathan Kidder has over six years of full-cycle recruiting and research sourcing experience, and he currently works as a Senior Talent Acquisition Sourcer at Vista Outdoor Inc. He started his career in employer branding at one of the largest RPO staffing firms in the world, and he has managed several Fortune 500 brands with social media recruiting campaigns. He’s sourced and recruited for many different industries including Information Technology, Finance, Banking, Engineering, Healthcare, Biotechnology, Medical Device, CPG, Marketing, & Sales. He started WizardSourcer as a way to freelance his talent sourcing abilities. He offers everything from candidate leads to retained search services. Follow him on Twitter @WizardSourcer or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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