Holistic Talent Acquisition Strategy: Targeting Active & Passive Candidates

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The approach to candidate acquisition differs from one company to another. Depending on its goals, industry, and growth rate, a company can be in need of specific talent that remains elusive or unavailable. 

Finding these candidates relies completely on who’s targeted throughout the recruitment campaign. There are a lot of channels out there, some reach passive and established candidates, others reach active talent in the pursuit of new opportunities.

The notion that active candidates are somehow less valuable than passive ones is due to the popular belief that something must be wrong with the candidate themselves if they’re looking to leave their current position. 

A survey conducted by Linkedin in 2015 showed that of the 20,000 professionals reached, 86% said their recruiting agencies focused “very much” or “to some extent” on passive candidates, a number that must have only increased in the past 5 years. 

The same survey shows that the difference between active and passive candidates is more elaborate than initially perceived. The one factor that seems to incentivize passive candidates pertains to the salary or benefits. However,  active candidates are driven by better work and superior career opportunities. 

More active than passive candidates report being passionate about their work, remaining engaged in improving their skills, and displaying contentment with their current positions. Their willingness to embrace change in terms of the company they work for is driven by motivation rather than pay.

Active Candidates

Active candidates always have a reason for their active pursuit of new employment. Either they are currently unemployed or they’ve established themselves within a company and are simply looking for better opportunities. These reasons vary from one candidate to another. They may have lost their job or be concerned about its stability, or even be dissatisfied with their employers to the point where they’re ready to move on. It’s important to keep an open mind regarding the personal circumstances that initiated their job search. 

Active candidates are the talent that proactively contacts recruiters and applies for positions listed on job boards. Top or exceptional active talent doesn’t stay on the job market for long. For example, since good developers are in high demand at the moment, active candidates in this sphere generally do not have a hard time finding work.  

Passive Candidates

Passive candidates are those established professionals who have secured their jobs and are generally happy and satisfied with their position. In fact, these individuals often have a long track record at the same company, having been on board for an extended period of time, they are most likely the talent that was involved with the development of the company’s processes, making their expertise and knowledge extremely valuable if extremely hard to find.

Passive candidates are likely extremely valued at their current company. Their contribution and insights have value and their skill sets would be in high demand. These individuals are somewhat difficult to source, but recruiters and HR professionals know that everyone would be willing to move for the right salary package.

More often than not, passive candidates do not consider themselves as a presence in the job market, but they are mostly open to the idea of change, that a different opportunity might be the best path for their career, personal satisfaction, and financial stability.

Who to target?

Let’s get one thing clear; Companies would prefer passive candidates any day. And the choice makes sense beyond the popular opinion. Passive talent brings more experience to the new company as well as insights that would have otherwise been exclusive knowledge. They make decisions tempered and oriented by the years of success they’ve already established throughout their career. Not only that, but these candidates are also more likely to stay with the company for a longer amount of time.

Recruiting active candidates, on the other hand, is the talent acquisition equivalent of Russian roulette. You never know exactly what you’re getting and only a gem or two would stand out as great hires within a list of hundreds, if not thousands. Still, this talent pool remains highly sought after, as evidenced by the various methods and strategies developed to increase inbound recruitment.

Organizations tend to place more emphasis and value on acquiring passive candidates while somewhat overlooking available active talent. On the other hand, some companies have long since given up on sourcing unavailable passive candidates and rely strictly on job boards, career pages, and listings all over the web to receive interested applicants.

But as we mentioned before, each of the two types of candidates brings value to the company. With active talent, there’s commitment, drive, and a willingness to improve. Passive candidates add valuable experience, industry knowledge, and a leader’s perspective.

According to Harvard business review, research conducted by Gerry Crispin and Chris Hoyt, of CareerXroads showed that decision-makers spend a vastly disproportionate amount of their budgets on headhunters who target passive candidates, but on average they are only able to recruit individually targeted people for 11% of their positions, This is why employers need to adjust their recruitment and begin optimizing their channels to accommodate both active and passive talent. According to the Harvard Business Review, 

Opening the company’s vision to different prospects allows it to capture the talent market’s interest and maintain a constant flow of applicants. If anything, acquiring driven and motivated candidates from active channels can be a good way to build an evolving workforce while passive candidates are pursued.  

To that end, employers should consider aggregating all recruitment channels -active and passive alike – into a single funnel, one that is constantly monitored and optimized for improved recruitment. 

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