Recruitment in 2022 has been a hot-button issue, with 93% of employers engaged in some form of hiring this year – a 9% increase from 2021. This is likely to rise further in the new year, with 80% of organisations struggling to hire the right candidates.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, this past year has seen the costs of recruitment increase and the average amount of time it takes to hire someone stretch beyond previous records, as many organisations have grappled with an on-going candidate shortage. The circumstances have been so bad, that, as we’ve previously reported, there have been more job vacancies than unemployed people for the first time on record.

In these circumstances, and in an ever-more competitive market, businesses and talent acquisition teams are increasingly turning their attention to passive candidates to boost the recruitment process and fill open positions.

Organisations have become aware that top talents are not necessarily actively looking for new jobs, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot be approached. For all the concern around the discourse of The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting, one positive is that it’s clear that many candidates could be open to switching jobs, even if they are not currently actively looking.

Passive vs Active Candidates

What is a Passive Candidate?

A passive candidate is someone who is currently employed and not actively looking for a new opportunity. This represents roughly 75% of the current workforce in the UK.

Research shows that 60% of these candidates would be willing to consider a new opportunity, even though they have not yet begun their job search, or given any indication that they will begin a search for a new job in the near future. This means that employers can also be sure that these candidates have not applied anywhere else and are not interviewing anywhere else. This is a unique benefit of passive candidates, and one that does make them attractive to recruiters.

Yet there are other reasons why these candidates would be attractive to hiring managers and talent acquisition teams: namely, their experience and qualifications. For the purpose of this piece, we are focusing on passive candidates whose skills make them in-demand and desirable for those looking to fill open opportunities.

What is an Active Candidate?

Conversely, an active candidate is currently seeking a new position. These candidates are not satisfied with their current position. They are looking for a new role or a new challenge, or sometimes, simply more pay.

Unlike passive candidates, active candidates are engaged in finding themselves a new job: scouring job boards, applying for open positions, and proactively reaching out to hiring managers.

The Difference between Passive and Active Candidates

While active candidates are regularly applying for positions, using social media platforms and jobsites to find new opportunities, this is not the case with passive candidates.

Active candidates may have a current role, or they could be unemployed. Either way, they are psychologically primed and ready to find a new job. These candidates are open and receptive to being contacted by recruiters on LinkedIn. They are willing to discuss opportunities and are looking for any means of putting themselves out there to find a new role.

Meanwhile, passive candidates are currently employed. They are not generally anxious or excited to find another role. They are certainly not expecting to be contacted about job opportunities. If they’re using social media platforms like LinkedIn, it will be to network, make relevant connections, and update their skills.

Then, there is another subset of professionals, considered ‘tiptoers’ – those who are not yet actively pursuing new job opportunities but who are quietly reaching out to their networks and updating their CVs in preparation of a future job-search. According to LinkedIn, they represent 15% of the workforce at any given time.

While active candidates will make themselves immediately obvious to those looking to recruit for an open position, it can be difficult to locate the passive candidates – how to tell apart those who are simply content with their jobs from those who might be interested in leaving, or those who are ready to dip their toes in the job market.

So, how can recruiters go about finding and engaging with those passive candidates who could be ready for a new challenge?

Engaging with Passive Candidates

Tell Your Story

Because passive job seekers are not specifically looking for a new role, reaching out to them is not the same as reaching out to other candidates. They are tougher to engage and could even be unwilling to speak with you. As such, you will need to be able to sell them on your company, on the role, and on your culture. In this way, its necessary to think about your recruitment marketing: the story you are telling, and how you tell it.

Your employer brand describes your reputation as an employer – it is the way that you are perceived by the public, and the way you stand out against competitors in the hiring market.

Research from Glassdoor shows that more than 50% of employees place a higher value on a company’s culture than even salary. Job seekers – passive or otherwise – are going to be more attracted to organisations with a culture that aligns with their own goals and values, so employers need to ensure that culture and values are clearly communicated with the passive candidates that you looking to recruit.

Your employer brand helps to establish and communicate the message that your business is a good place to work, which is vital for engaging with those who are not yet sure they want to leave their current role.

Build a Pipeline of Passive Candidates

Before you engage with passive job seekers, you need to find them. This can be done both on and offline.

Employee-referral programs can be a great way of sourcing candidates – turning your current employees into recruiters and marketers who can share your employer brand and why your company is a great place to work with their networks and connections, incentivising them to find quality candidates who may not yet be looking for new roles.

Social media sites such as LinkedIn are another fantastic route for sourcing passive candidates. On LinkedIn, employers can run advanced searches based on the criteria of the ideal candidate for a given role, allowing them to find people who have the desired skills and expertise to fill an open role.

Your company site and the content you put out is also a great way to source candidates. If you are creating content around topics that matter to your industry, consider that the audience for these pieces could be future employees, and engaging content is a great way to advance your company in the minds of potential recruits.

Whatever channels you use to find these candidates, ensure that you have the right tools and technology to manage your pipeline effectively. With an Applicant Tracking System, such as Hireserve ATS, you can use tools to manage your talent pool, automating much of the process of building this pipeline and communication with these candidates.

Nurture those Relationships

Keeping passive candidates engaged means establishing and nurturing a relationship with them once you have found them.

Because these candidates are not actively looking to leave their current employer, building positive relationships with them is necessary. This means that you cannot put too much pressure on them to commit to anything too quickly. Building the right kind of relationship takes time, so if you are looking to fill a position urgently, you can only do that with a passive candidate if you have already taken the time to nurture them and primed them to be interested in your company.

Engage them with authentic communication, whether by email, social media, face-to-face, or on the phone. Understand what drives them – their short and long-term career goals, help them to understand more about your organisation, and keep that contact going to keep them as warm leads for future positions.

This is another area in which recruitment software such as an Applicant Tracking System can help – by automating a lot of the communication that keeps these candidates on the hook. Beyond that, with the Candidate Portal in Hireserve ATS, they can actively stay in contact with you as an employer, and update their contact details and experience, allowing your organisation to keep track of any changes in their circumstances as you build a relationship with them.

Make the Application and Interview Process as Easy as Possible

Once you have successfully established relationships with passive candidates, the final obstacle you’re likely to face is getting them to apply for an open position with your company.

Our research into candidate behaviour has shown that 50% of candidates are likely to abandon any application process if its too complex anyway, so passive or not, this is a necessary step anyway to improve the candidate experience for applicants.

As we have outlined previously, there are numerous ways to reduce the complexity of applications to make them more appealing to applicants. But the application process is only half the battle, as interview no-shows are also a common problem for recruiters.

All the work and goodwill that has been accumulated in the relationship building process can be undone in an instant if poor communication and trouble scheduling an interview leads to a candidate not turning up to an interview. Remember that passive candidates – unlike their active counterparts, are still engaged in their current roles and may have limited time for an interview.

Flexibility is then the key to overcoming this last hurdle. With the interview scheduling tool in Hireserve’s Applicant Tracking System, hiring managers are much more able to quickly schedule interviews.

The interview scheduling tool allows interviewers to upload their availability or set blocks of time for interviews. Applicants can then also reschedule or cancel their slots themselves if they can no longer make the selected time.

Providing a strong candidate experience throughout the process is necessary to help finally turn passive candidates into new employees.

Do you want to understand more about how an Applicant Tracking System could help you source, nurture and recruit passive candidates? Book a demo today to find out how Hireserve ATS could boost your recruitment.


About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, and The Guardian, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.