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“Passive candidates” are such a maddening group. (And if you saw me speak at #SRSC, you saw my frustration live in person.)

It’s no wonder we call them purple squirrels because cripes, they are squirrely. They don’t wake up in the morning wondering what role we are actively hiring for. They’re not waiting for your next talent network email. They probably don’t even really know what will entice them to make a career change. All of which makes it incredibly difficult for talent acquisition teams to attract and convert them into applicants.


Are Passive Candidates a Real Thing?

I have a confession to make: I don’t think passive candidates are a “thing.” Exhale. I mean, I’ve wondered for a number of years: Do passive candidates even exist? Or are they really the recruiting world’s version of the Kardashians – famous for no reason at all? Are they just a good marketing soundbite?

Now, I know this sounds a little insane, but hear me out for a minute. You see, the notion that we should seek this population of people who are passive job seekers – people who are currently happy in their role and are not actively looking for jobs – doesn’t make sense to me. Just because a person has a job and is happy there doesn’t make them a rock star employee. It makes them happily employed, nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t mean they are a high performer. It means that as a happily employed person, they are harder and more expensive to attract because they’re simply not in the market for a new job. It means that you and your talent acquisition team will spend more time and money to attract their attention and convert them.

The same is true of a consumer packaged goods company, say for instance, that sells laundry detergent. The company knows they will have to pay more to attract a “switcher,” someone who ditches their age-old product, tries a new one and becomes a loyal advocate. But, attracting, hiring and retaining a passive candidate isn’t at all the same as getting someone who is loyal to Tide to switch to Gain. Why? It is WAY easier to switch detergents than it is to switch jobs! And if you do switch detergents, no one will call you a “detergent hopper” or refuse to sell you laundry detergent in the future because of your fickle reputation.


Passive Candidates are Just Passing Time 

The fact is that 90% of people are open to new jobs. That’s the large majority of the labor force (nearly all of it), and it’s the first indicator that tells us passive job seekers aren’t so passive after all. Indeed also found that 50% of adults who earn between $100,000 and $110,000 start reviewing new job opportunities within just 28 days of the start of their current role (!!!). Topped with the eye-opening, but not unbelievable, stat that only 32% of people are engaged at work, it seems to me that the majority of the workforce isn’t really passive – they are actually just passing time until the they find the next best thing – or it finds them.

OK, so what if you have the next best thing? An amazing brand purpose, strong culture, happy employees, a great mission. Why aren’t they doing what we want them to do? Visiting our career site? Signing up for our talent network? Looking for our jobs? Applying to our jobs? If the workforce universe isn’t so passive, what gives?


Our Career Search Experiences Drive Complacency

The process and experience of looking for, applying for and interviewing for a new job kind of sucks. When 19% of people would rather wait in line at the DMV all day than apply for a job, you have a problem. When 30% of people would rather do all their Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve than apply for a job, you have a problem. We are making it too difficult and not valuable enough for potential candidates – we are driving complacency because the next best thing is either too hard to find, too time consuming or too underwhelming.

It’s important to know that the right people who will fit your organization are out there. They are interested. They are open. But, the experience has to be worth it. The brand has to be worth it. And it has to be communicated upfront. If we want to win with this audience, the 90% that are open to new job opportunities, we have to create an experience that is brand-led, easy and enjoyable. From consumers to candidates, if it’s not enjoyable, they simply won’t do it.


Creating a Brand-led, Value-driven Experience 

This audience is seeking opportunity at the right time. Instead of thinking of them as passive job seekers, think of them as right opportunity shoppers. It’s the simple difference between shoppers and buyers. When you’re not in the market for an airline ticket or a pair of pants, you’re not visiting an airline site or a retailer site, but it doesn’t mean that the right destination or pants at the right price at the right time from the right brand won’t change your mind. This is why marketers continue to advertise everywhere – the right opportunity in the right experience can drive a purchase, and even better, drive loyalty. So the lessons of consumer marketing, using an multi-channel, brand-led approach, should be applied to recruiting this opportunistic candidate audience.

The audience is there, and they are open to being wowed and impressed. The experience is not there … yet. If we want to impact the experience for right-time, right-opportunity career shoppers, we have to start thinking about how we can create messaging, content, campaigns and interactions that drive the right talent further along the candidate journey with our brand.

As you embark on developing your recruitment marketing practice, it’s pivotal to focus on your audience and what they seek in a career search experience. When you lead with brand, you give yourself the agility to influence the candidates who aren’t “job seeking” – and instead are looking to connect with a brand and employer on a bigger purpose, mission and values.

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