It’s true; most employers prefer passive candidates. A passive candidate is a gainfully employed professional who is open to hearing about career opportunities and would actually accept a new job if it made sense to them and their family.

Employers believe that a person is employed because they are the top of crop. When I say employers I refer to specific managers who maintain this mindset. I don’t personally know of any managers who think this way, but I have come across hundreds who feel this way.

Infinity Consulting Solutions conducted a study in 2009 where 400+ job seekers in the New York City area were asked whether employers preferred employed candidates over unemployed candidates, 59% believed that employers indeed preferred employed candidates.

To most of us this is no secret. So today I am going to show you how to conduct a passive job search. Once you are done reading this article, you will have learned the art of changing jobs when you want to, not when you have to!

Phase I – Things you can start doing now:

1. Take your resume off all of the job boards. You don’t want to be seen as someone who is always looking. Sure job boards are a good way to attract every recruiter on the planet, but is that what you want? My advice is to focus on quality not quantity.

2. Make a list of the following information:

  1. target companies
  2. target job titles
  3. target salary, compensation
  4. target geographic location
  5. any if/then scenario (i.e. if the salary offered is above $300k, then I will take a job in Siberia)

3. Look within your own organization for opportunities that fit your criteria. This is a very important step. It also should always be your first, second and third option. Always give your current employer more than a fair shot to meet your needs and to ensure that you are compensated at market value.

Don’t wait to engage your employer after you have accepted another offer. That is bad business and its called a counter-offer. For more information on why that is career suicide, read here:

4. Keep your ears open for any opportunity that you hear about. You will be surprised what you hear after you really start paying attention. Also, conduct targeted searches on sites like Indeed & Simply Hired and look for opportunities that fit your criteria. Remember the objective here is to build on your current career.

5. Go to the career sites of companies that you are interested in working for and submit your resume to openings that they have. If there are no openings, don’t apply. Let a recruiter do that for you. I will have to explain ”why” in another article, but for now just take my word for it.

Phase II – Find a specialized recruiter to help:

1. Ask your trust worthy peers if they know of any recruiters that they can recommend. Or look online for a specialist recruiter in your field. Notice I said specialist recruiter. Believe it or not, most good recruiters only recruit for one or two areas of specialization. A do it all recruiter will probably be spread too thin to help you in the long run. Just like you would not let your plumber pull your teeth, don’t let any recruiter find your next job. Only work with a specialized recruiter from your industry.

2. Once you have identified your recruiter, interview that recruiter. If they are good, they will gladly share their information & accomplishments with you. If they are out to make a quick buck, they will be a lot less patient with you. Learn how they protect your privacy, what companies do they currently work with. How do they plan on helping you? These are all valid questions to ask.

3. After you have selected your recruiter(s), share your list of requirements with them. And tell them that this is your criteria for entertaining any opportunity. Let them give you feedback on whether you are being realistic or not. If all is well then sit back and let your recruiter go to work for you.

4. If there are target companies on your list that do not have any external openings, then ask your recruiter to try and work the inside track. A lot of the top jobs never make it to the public job sphere. If your recruiter is really good, they will be well networked within your industry and will be able to get your name in front of the right people.

5. Most importantly be as open and honest with your recruiter. The more accurately you explain your requirements the easier it will be for them to help you.

Now that you understand the 2 Phases of setting up your passive search. Here is a bonus. Use LinkedIn until something better comes out. Update your professional profile and link to other professionals within your industry. The more visible you are on LinkedIn, the better it is for your passive job search.

If you continuously invest a few hours a week into these activities while remaining fully engaged at work, you will eventually build an opportunity pipeline that will benefit you in the long run. And at some point through these efforts a great opportunity will present itself.

After all, good things happen to those who are in the right place at the right time!

If you have any additional questions on how to conduct a passive job search, you can contact me directly at: You are at:

Views: 2850

Comment by Maureen Sharib on June 15, 2010 at 2:07am
Here's another thing you can do: Update your VoiceMail at work with your vital info:

Hi, this is ______, User Interface Engineer here at ____________. If you can't leave me a message, try me on my cell. Here it is: xxx xxx xxxx (yes, remember your area code!) If that doesn't connect you to me, send me an email at ___________@_________.whatever (make sure you spell out your name and say all of the email address s-l-o-w-l-y).

There are phone sourcers like me cruising your company directories looking for guys like you. Give us a break, won't you?
Comment by Jerry Albright on June 15, 2010 at 11:34am
Is this article suggesting we are now to coach an "active" candidate on how to appear "passive"?

Oh my. #ItsGoneTooFar
Comment by JR Fent on June 15, 2010 at 1:03pm
This article should be "How to APPEAR to be a Passive Candidate". Recruiters and sourcers do a 'passive search'.

Maureen - you crack me up. I wonder if you can get them to add 'yes - I am looking' in pig latin in their VM message too.
Comment by Maureen Sharib on June 15, 2010 at 1:58pm
Pig latin? Why not? I never thought a' that!
Comment by John Sanders on June 15, 2010 at 3:13pm
Thanks Maureen, that is a good tip for candidates to consider.

Jerry + JR thanks for chiming in!
Comment by Sandra McCartt on June 15, 2010 at 11:17pm
Welcome to the land of Let's Pretend. Is it not difficult enough for people to locate jobs without having to play some sort of game or create a false persona.

Recruiters started this silly crap. Now we are supposed to train active candidates how to be passive.
What a sure fire, devious way to tell an employer that you only recruit passive candidates.

Not only has it gone too far, it has gone from the ridiculous to the sublime. We could tell them to hide under a bush but leave a trail of bread crumbs so somebody could find them and say they were the "elusive, hidden, candidate. Arrrgggh and double arrrggghhh.

This is why recruiters have the reputation for being sneaky, manipulative, worms. No thanks John i have enough to do without coaching candidates on how to lie. They do enough of that all by themselves. It appears that a lot of them got it from a well meaning recruiter trying to tell them how to game the market. Everybody tricking everybody makes me sick.
Comment by John Sanders on June 15, 2010 at 11:50pm
Sandra - thanks for your feedback. I appreciate your candidness and passion about the subject.

My philosophy is that most candidates are great at what they do, but aren't very good job changers.

That is where I come in.

I am far from coaching candidates how to lie about their status. It just so happens that a ton of great professionals made their resumes public a few years ago when job boards were all the rage.

Now something like that just cheapens a high value candidate.

Today top professionals in every industry are focusing on optimizing their social profiles and removing the "I am looking" flag anywhere it is up, especially if they are not actively looking.

I don't think there is anything deceiving about that. Actually my candidates love this sort of advice and refer me all day long to their friends. When I help my candidates, they help me 10 fold. Its like the gift that keeps on giving.

Has your experience been different when you try to help your candidates?
Comment by Sandra McCartt on June 16, 2010 at 12:46am
Sorry John, i think it cheapens a high value candidate to play games. My advice to people who are looking, might be looking or need to be looking is to network, letting people know that they are always interested in a good opportunity, build relationships with good recruiters, letting them know they want to hear about what is going on in their field.

If i call a candidate who tells me they are not looking i can find out they are in about five minutes. It has been my experience that almost anyone will look at a good job if it offers them improvement in their career or the earning ability or a move to a place they always wanted to live.

I am a stickler concerning, tell it like it is. I spend a lot of time telling candidates that they can't hide their age by leaving the dates of education and half their career experience off their resume because some recruiter told them to do it to get the interview. They loved that sort of tricky advice until i asked them if they planned to have a face lift or lie on their application or be ready for a very short interview when the employer was expecting someone 20 years younger and they came through the door.

If they put their resumes out there a few years ago it is probably a lead pipe cinch they are in all kinds of databases so it doesn't hold much water when a recruiter says, "this is a passive candidate, he/she is not actively looking. HR or a recruiter like yours truly who has been around since tennis balls were square runs a fast search and discovers that they have not one but several apps from the same candidate. Game over, candidate not being upfront. Next thought , sure you aren't actively looking that's why i have three copies of your resume. So why be sneaky and snakey when you don't have to.

If someone is interested in making a career change they don't need to be coy and in my opinion they can certainly be missed if they take down the flag that says, "interested in career opportunities".

If they are not looking they wouldn't need to be told not to put their resume out there or pretend that their status is any different than what it really is.

After i help my candidates by getting them back in the real world about letting people know their asking salary, reflecting their full career experience on their resumes and being upfront about why they are looking, as well as if and where they would relo. The question i always get is , "Why do recruiters tell you all this crap".

The only thing i can ever think of to say is, "I guess it makes them feel like they can make someone be something they aren't, i can't, all i can do is tell it like it is and find an employer who will do the same".

I am now on the third generation of candidates who refer their friends, family and business associates to me ,so upfront and tell it like it is has worked extremely well both with candidates and clients.

In my opinion it's simply disingenuious if not blatantly dishonest to pretend to be anything that one is not. In any way. Period.

No games played here. I don't have time for games or candidates who play games. I use linked in a lot. If a candidate does not have a notation that they are interested in career opportunities i don't contact them unless i am asking for a referral. When they come back and say they might be interested my red flag goes up that they are going to be the kind of canidate who goes all the way through the interview process then decides that they really don't want to move or blah, blah. I want my candidate engaged in the process of finding a good opportunity for a good reason.
Comment by John Sanders on June 16, 2010 at 11:19am
Thanks Sandra. Looks like you have a solid perspective on the subject. However we both have differing paradigms so our interpretation of the topic is different.

Fair enough, I always appreciate an opinion that is different from mine. It keeps my mind active and on point. I wrote a relevant article a while back that got good feedback. It's titled, "The Human Element" and in it I describe how there is a diminishing relationship between the recruiter and candidate and how that can be changed. You can read it here if you like:

All the best - JS


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