Passive Candidates: Who They Are, What They Do, and Why We Want Them

February 9, 2012

I read an interesting blog post by Morgan Hoogvelt last week titled, Stop the Recruiting Fashion Trends, in which the author begs recruiters to lose the term “passive candidates” because it does not hold much weight. Hoogvelt says,

Whatever happened to simply hiring the most-qualified, best-fit individual who can add their strength in order to advance the organization? …Right now, there are individuals knocking at our doors, and while not all of them are qualified, a lot of them are very qualified. Yet, a lot of these individuals are facing discrimination by hiring managers and recruiters who want someone who is working or someone who is passive.”[i]

I guess in order to address her commentary on this trend, I must first make clear the definition of a passive candidate.  A passive candidate is a candidate who is not actively applying to open requisitions and who is employed. In short, this is a person who is currently plugging away at their job, unaware that there may be an opportunity for career advancement just around the corner. For recruiters in an agency, these candidates are their bread and butter. I liken the passive versus active candidate debate to that of creating an athletic team. Yes, there are going to be some talented athletes who come to tryouts and walk onto the team, but for the most part, as the coach, you want to scout the top talent. What Hoogvelt deems as a “discrimination” is in fact what a recruiter is hired to do. Why would a company pay a fee for a candidate that they could get to respond to their ads? Simply put: they wouldn’t.

A recruiter or “headhunter’s” responsibility is to search for talent through your network and entice the prospect into listening to a new opportunity. Do recruiters interview people who are actively looking for a new job? Yes. Do active candidates ever get the job? Of course. Are the people who are actively looking a sampling of the best talent? No.

A good job search is comprised of screening candidates who apply for the role as well as scouring LinkedIn and networking with contacts who are experts in the field. There is no discrimination here, but rather the need to balance a job search.  The majority of recruiting I do is sourcing for passive candidates, and I am sure that most individuals in this industry would agree.

[i] Hoogvelt, Morgan. “ Stop With the Recruiting Fashion Trends.” 31 January, 2012. Web 8 February, 2012.

Senior Corporate Recruiter

<strong>Lindsey Gurian</strong> is the Senior Corporate Recruiter at <a href="">Acquia</a>. She was previously a Senior Talent Specialist at Sonian, responsible for recruiting initiatives at both the firm and its portfolio companies.