It’s commonly accepted that passive candidates are more desirable to recruiters and employers than active job seekers. Why is that? Why are active candidates looked upon as lower caliber? First, it might help to explain the difference between the two.
Active candidates are those who are intentionally seeking a new role. These are the people who apply to your openings. They may be unemployed. They may dislike their employer, boss, or job. They may like their job, but don’t see a career path if they stay. The organization may be struggling, so an active candidate wants to make a move before becoming unemployed. It is incorrect to assume that all active candidates are unemployed.
Among active candidates, perhaps there is a case to be made that individuals who have been unemployed for a long time might be less desirable. But that should not be a hard and fast rule. There are many good, valid reasons to be unemployed that do not reflect poorly on the skills or talent of an individual.
For example, right now the entire hospitality and leisure sector is in a steep decline. Many hospitality professionals have been laid off and there simply aren’t a lot of openings. It’s unclear when a sustained uptick might occur. As hotels continue to enter into bankruptcy or permanently close, it’s a good bet that some hospitality sector jobs aren’t coming back. This could mean a lengthy unemployment period as hospitality professionals look to other industries/sectors for their next career step.
On the other hand, passive candidates are not intentionally seeking a new role. They may be open to entertaining a conversation (or more) for the right opportunity, but they’re certain to require more convincing. They haven’t mentally considered a job change or a possible relocation. They likely haven’t had any discussions with their family about a career move. If they own a home, they haven’t thought about selling if relocation might be required. There is also nothing that says they’re a top performer just because they are employed and not looking. A passive candidate may never have heard of your client and whether or not they’re an interesting future employer.
I believe the pool of passive candidates is greater than the pool of active candidates. Furthermore, there is likely less competition involved. If they’re not looking, they’re probably not entertaining multiple interviews or offers with your competitors. They’re harder to find – after all, they aren’t coming to you, they aren’t posting their resumes on job boards (they may not even HAVE a resume), they may not have a current LinkedIn profile, and they’re not leaving breadcrumbs all over the internet to make it easy to track them down.
For a passive candidate to listen to your pitch, you will need to have an impeccable opportunity. The job, salary, or other benefits must be too good to turn down … in other words, strong enough to make them choose the “devil they don’t know.” That can be a tall hill to climb. A great recruiter can often move mountains, but why start with the hardest possible option?
If the best candidate in the world came directly to you, would you reject them for being an active job seeker? Of course not. Candidates are candidates. Lumping them into categories like “active” or “passive” doesn’t measure qualifications, skills, or talent. They’re simply adjectives to describe a person’s search status, which is ultimately not very meaningful. Recruiters and their employer clients should be focused on hiring the RIGHT candidates, and active or passive labels don’t help answer those questions.