Before we get started, here are a couple of quick definitions up front about passive and active candidates:

  • Passive Candidates They’re not necessarily ready yet to change jobs yet, but might be kicking tires and could be swayed.
  • Active Candidates People who are absolutely sick and tired of their ass clown boss, or recently laid off (etc.), so they 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 10 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).

Candidate strategy? What strategy?

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 percent of them never sent an email to them after confirmation. Yes, 48 percent!!!!!!!!

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 BS and you’ll never be emailed. Well, in one of two instances, you’d be right, because 48 percent 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…

Some real talk on the hiring process (if you have a second)

It’s a flaming bag of crap 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; or,
  • 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 should be this: Very few companies have a passive candidates strategy. 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?candidate experience

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 crap. 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 jerks and a**holes, you have a bad employer brand even if you artfully managed some stupid 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 is a better way to approach passive candidates?

Here are a few 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 that spammy InMail crap.
  • 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 damn about them.
  • Realize they often are better than active candidates (60-70 percent 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

Originally from New York City, Ted Bauer currently lives in Fort Worth, Texas. He's a writer and editor for RecruitingDaily who focuses on leadership, management, HR, recruiting, marketing, and the future of work. His popular blog, The Context of Things, has a simple premise -- how to improve work. Ted has a Bachelors in Psychology from Georgetown and a Masters in Organizational Development from the University of Minnesota. In addition to various blogging and ghost-writing gigs, he's also worked for brands such as McKesson, PBS, ESPN, and more. You can follow Ted on Twitter @tedbauer2003, connect with him on LinkedIn, or reach him on email at [email protected]