Active & Passive Candidates - What Are They?

There are no such things as active or passive candidates in the recruitment market, there are only good candidates and the rest. OK, I know that at any one time there are people out there who are actively scouring the market for a new job, and many more who are not. But the point is that this is a candidate perspective, not a recruiter one. Where recruiters can go wrong is in looking for sources of new candidates who are not looking for a new role or may be unavailable to their competitors, i.e 'passive candidates', but can still be delivered to them as if they were 'active'. 


I can understand the problem.  I worked for an exec-level job board where much of our early growth came from companies looking to us as a different candidate pool.  They and all their competitors used the same job boards and came up with the same candidates for the same jobs, for which of course they were all in competition. If we were successful for one agency, it was not long before the competition turned up in force.  Good for us, but the same problem for the recruiter.


But looking for active or passive candidates is missing the point.  And it's lazy recruiting practice. Recruiters get paid to find the right candidate. Sometimes it will be possible to find the right candidates from a job posting, as at any one time some, but by no means all of the most eligible candidates will be looking to change jobs. But to be consistently identifying the best available candidates  means getting of your butt and approaching the people your client would want you to be talking to. You cannot expect a 'passive' candidate to come to you. To find the right candidate you need more than one string to your sourcing bow, and with the wealth of information online there has never been an easier time to do this.  Recruiters - get out there and engage!

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Comment by Jerry Albright on June 28, 2011 at 2:09pm

Guys - please don't take this the wrong way - but the market is absolutely on fire right now!  I too was "less than pleased" by the latest downturn - but my desk hasn't seen this much action more than one or two other times in the past decade.


But to clarify - I'm not working in the "everyone is qualified, interested and available" pool either.  Every search requires deploying any and all means at my disposal.  Are they easy?  Nope.  Or they wouldn't be on my desk.  Are they impossible?  Also - nope, or they wouldn't be on my desk.


I'm just saying that I don't work in the "us vs. them" space.  Why would I choose to when so many other companies are interested in the end result rather than proving I don't deserve a fee.


Maybe it's because I've never felt like my job was to find the "best, Top 1% percentile, A player" happily plugging away at a direct competitor.  I place people who can DO the job - not the world's gift the particular field.


I'm enjoying the discussion guys and gals.  :)

Comment by pam claughton on June 28, 2011 at 3:00pm
I'm in the Boston area, but besides that am having same experience as Jerry. 2011 is shaping up to be an amazing year, possibly my best ever. I think the key is qualifying clients to make sure it's a partnership and working on searches you know you can fill. Most of my clients don't give me a search until they've exhausted their efforts or just don't have the bandwith to dig and recruit because of everything else on their plate. HR can be wonderful partners and allies when everyone is on the same page.
Comment by Jerry Albright on June 28, 2011 at 3:10pm
Morgan - I don't think I can agree in assuming the Active folks don't understand their career path.  What about the guy who has simply lost his job due to any number of circumstances?  I don't make any assumptions about them simply because they may have lost a job due to no fault of their own....
Comment by Paul Alfred on June 28, 2011 at 3:19pm
Pam and Jerry ... I too have clients that are not competing with us and need our help but we  also have clients who dish out 25- 30% in fees on tough ridiculously hard to fill roles while at the same time competing with us in hope that they don't have to end up paying that fee...  You don't think we would want more 17% Fee roles where we don't have to compete with our own clients - you bet .... But this is our  reality ....
Comment by Jerry Albright on June 28, 2011 at 3:31pm

Morgan - I've come to the conclusion that it is us who are the ones saying "companies don't lay off their best people" --- when in reality I can't say that's always the case. 


Engineering groups will let go of entire teams working on projects that may be cancelled due to the end client going a different direction.  One company may buy another company and not need 2 data centers.  There goes one of them. 


So I can't really say for certain the best person for a job is currently working.  I've placed many people the past few years who were not working.  Sharp people.  Motivated people. 


I've also bumped into quite a few employed people who I was quite surprised they still had a of course it all depends.  But for the overall "Active candidates" being labled as somewhat undesirable I have to disagree whole heartedly.


Paul - perhaps your clients are the ones large enough to have entire teams dedicated to recruiting.  Most of mine don't.  Though the majority of my clients are in the 500 million + in sales - they only have a few people in HR and those few are quite busy.


I'm not on many vendor lists where we all get the same email from HR of the week's hot jobs.  I couldn't succeed in a rat race like that.


But when we talk about all this competition, etc. - I expect it.  I'd be a fool to assume I'm all alone with any of this.  But I perform well, build a "call me any time" relationship with whoever my contact is and stay as connected as I comfortably can until the mission is accomplished.


P.S.  You don't have to cut your fees so low just to find cooperation.  Plenty of organizations will be a reasonable fee and not go out of their way to beat you to the punch.  I just couldn't work that way.

Comment by Paul Alfred on June 28, 2011 at 3:53pm
I never cut my fees been in the the game too long - but I am really surprised that you guys do not see this in the market place ... And I am yet to hear a company say I am crazy when I say "the Best candidates are not on the market" - Its even in our Company's motto literature and business cards ... I also 100% believe in that statement too for the markets we serve ... Because the first question I ask my old new and current clients is "Where would you like me to get this candidate from?" Our Clients love that question with a Capital L .... I guess the American Market is however a big monster compared to the Canadian Markets ... Our American Clients really don't care as long as you are speaking their language but our business is only 30% US based ...
Comment by Sandra McCartt on June 28, 2011 at 3:58pm

Morgan, would you call those entry level to three years experience people who had a hard time finding something in their field or got laid off one year into their career due to the downturn penny slot players?  If they are i just hit the jackpot on the penny slots last week. 


If finding good candidates were easy the internals would just do it and they do with the easy ones.  There are however many companies who do not have good internal recruiters or any internal recruiters at all.  They have people who look at the applications that come in through the career site or the ones that apply to a posting and half the time they don't know what they are looking at for mid to upper level or technical positions.  They are more than happy to have a TPR take over a search and keep their hiring managers happy.


the problem i see with calling a seasoned poker player a passive candidate is that they are playing ergo would not be passive.  Stretching my imagination the only person i could classify as a totally passive candidate would be the person who is close to retirement and is going to stay put until they can retire.  Course they will call you back about five months after they retire and tell you they are bored to death and would like to work at least part time until they die in traces unless they have started their own business.


If we don't have a job that is interesting to a potential candidate i think it's a misnomer to call them passive because they aren't interested in that particular job.  I placed a candidate several months ago whom i had been in contact with for over three years.  I would run something by him, he would say, naw, i dont' think so.  When i called him about the job he took his comment was, "I knew sooner or later you would call me about the one that rang my chimes, ok here comes the resume."  He wasn't passive, i just had not hit the right fit for him until i hit it.  My thinks that is the name of this game.


Comment by pam claughton on June 28, 2011 at 3:58pm

Strange, I accidentally just deleted my last post! Am on vacation as I write this, on the way to NYC and the internet connection as I travel is in and out and I keep losing things.


Anyway, that is interesting Paul on the Canadian/US thing, maybe the emphasis on passive vs. active candidates is more important outside the US. My experience has been that my clients don't care and don't ask where our people come from, they just want the best talent available and I haven't seen the correlation between passive candidates being higher quality than active. Often times, it's the opposite in fact. But, generally, there's no hard and fast generalization that I feel comfortable making.

Comment by Jerry Albright on June 28, 2011 at 4:02pm

Paul - of course a client is not going to disagree with your "the best person for this job is not on the market" statement.  I suspect they may just be going along with whatever you're saying...and by doing so you're somehow thinking it's a fact.  Well - it's not.  It might be the case often, but in no way summarizes the total availability of qualified candidates.  Frankly I think it's foolish to assume it to be the case.


The fact that it's in your company motto offers no particular merit to the statement either.


Let's refresh ourselves with the theme of the original post here "There are no such things as active or passive candidates in the recruitment market, there are only good candidates and the rest."  We could have just left it at that.



Jerry (a guy in Indiana somehow pulling off miracles on a daily basis....)


Comment by Sandra McCartt on June 28, 2011 at 4:23pm

It's my observation that when there are that many definitions of the status of anything that it's the definition that is a mess. 


Jerry, if you are a miracle worker would you please find me a Manhattan WMS configuration manager for Atlanta.  AS/400 iseries.  I am it seems in need of a miracle.  :)


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