Get a room full of recruiters and inevitably the subject of “passive versus active candidates” will come up. Active candidates are the ones who apply – the ones pursuing open roles by completing online applications and such. Passive, on the other hand, are talented folks who would NEVER consider a role if not for some savvy recruiter presenting hidden opportunities in just such a way that our hapless targets are spellbound by our presentation.
Don’t get me wrong, clearly there is a benefit to being the one to bring forward an opportunity to someone not looking. The chance to close a candidate for OUR role, and setting up a relationship early (before other recruiters start calling) can pay off. Can we truly say, though, that the hotshot engineer we just called hasn’t received 14 phone calls from recruiters this week alone? Ahh, that’s where skill comes in to play. See a good, no GREAT, recruiter knows how to finesse a pitch. No canned scripts, no fluffy generalizations; just real, hard hitting, why this role is awesome. Set the hook, reel ‘em in. This is a delicate dance that requires skill and cajones – we may have to make this call multiple times to a long list of targets before we finally get the yes. I still find myself wondering – if this is such a tough skill to master, why are there so many mediocre recruiters making a decent living?
Luck. Pure, dumb luck. The kind of luck that the fresh faced 22 yr old coed at ginormous agencies experience when dialing that developer for the 17th time and he says YES. The kind of luck that the failed agency sellout sitting at corporate experiences when sending yet another templated inmail to that senior marketing manager and she says YES. Because on that day my friends, both developer and marketing manager have HAD IT. Maybe it was a bad commute, or a fight with the missus. Maybe a passed over promotion or a craptastic boss. Maybe their neighbor just got a cool new job and all of a sudden, the idea of changing roles looks appealing. For whatever reason, the outreach was made to the right person at the right time. That’s it. Oh sure, that’s the first step down a windy road fraught with peril to make it to a placement, but I would guess at least half of “yesses” we get have more to do with timing than any real skill on our part. So why do we focus on flipping passive candidates? It’s a constant topic of debate – even the moniker “passive” causes some people headaches (I’m one of those people).
In my not so humble opinion? One reason - it strokes our ego to find the unfindable. Recruit the unrecruitable.
Hell, a lot of recruiters use that as their pitch. That’s definitely a viable business model for some – retained only, exclusivity to pry that chief exec straight out of my competitor. Awesome. I genuinely have mad respect for people who can do this well. And since everyone knows statistics are made up, I’ll go ahead and say that accounts for 7% of all placements made, EVER. Where are the other 93%? If had to do guess, I’d say a good chunk of those are made by anything BUT passive candidates. They come from referrals, direct applicants, and (oh the humanity) maybe even a job board or two. My personal favorite hunting ground is my very own ATS – tapping candidates who’ve likely applied to other roles (what’s this? You like MY COMPANY?) yet for whatever reason don’t work here yet.
Some purist might scoff and say this makes me a lazy, reactive recruiter. I like to think it makes me a smart, effective one who can afford to take nice vacations and weekends off. To those who still insist that dragging “passive candidates” out from under rocks kicking and screaming is the only way to really recruit? I have just one thing to say – good luck.