“The Day After” – Rethinking Passive Candidates

 In HR Tools, Recruitment Strategies (TA)

Rethinking Passive CandidatesLast week I was on the phone with a potential business partner and he said something that I found quite extraordinary, given the current state of affairs. Here it is:


“What you really want are passive candidates. These are the better quality candidates the ‘cream of the crop’…the ones with the best skill sets that really aren’t looking for a job.”

My immediate thought was, “are you kidding?” My paradigm-shift alarm went off big time.

With unemployment reaching a 50-year high in this country, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t been affected, either directly or indirectly by job loss. I count among my personal contacts a high performing executive in the entertainment industry whose entire department was summarily eliminated last week by bean-counters located at a corporate headquarters thousands of miles away in a Far-Eastern country. Is he a so-called “undesirable” candidate?

What about candidates whose spouses are being relocated due to a merger, or who are actively seeking employment because they suspect an impending legal action, bankruptcy or massive layoffs? Are we actually saying that these forward-looking people are somehow less desirable because they are attempting to adjust to life-changing events?

Turns out, the old active versus passive candidate conversation is currently being hotly debated all over the Internet.

According to The Staffing Advisor the conventional wisdom that good people don’t look for jobs in tough times meets the key qualifiers for a challenge: “It’s widely repeated, it’s simplistic, it’s unexamined AND it’s outdated.”

In his excellent article for ere.net, What’s So Great About Passive Candidates?, Ronald Katz quotes that famous Groucho Marx line “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have someone like me a member.” Katz points out the absurdity of recruiters who don’t want anyone who shows the slightest bit of interest in joining their organization!

Says Katz, “Most of us assume that the passive candidate is better because these are the people who are currently employed and therefore, employable. They are doing a good job for someone. Why do we assume that they’re doing a good job? Because they are not out there looking. How circular is that logic? Unless you have access to their personnel file and can review their last three performance evaluations, how do you know this person is doing a good job? If you use only one metric ” employed ” to validate their candidacy, you may be putting too much weight on a flawed criteria.”

Recruiting Industry oracle Lou Adler points out that candidates pass through a variety of stages as they transition throughout their careers. So, where does one leave the state of “passive” and turn “active?” According to Adler, the best candidates actually “tip-toe” into a job search, initially performing research on potential target organizations and gradually moving through social networking sites (like Linked In) and registering on niche job boards (like CPGjoblist). It is at this tiptoe stage that candidates are going to be most open to having a conversation with a member of your recruiting staff.

Good recruiters never use a single metric to determine the viability of a candidate. Good recruiters – and those who will survive this economy – will have the courage to question old paradigms even as the landscape is shifting. This may require changing the way you’ve been working for the last ten years.

Today you’ve got to:

  1. Use online networks to make contact with professionals in your area of interest (or let a company like CPGjobs do the work for you).
  2. Focus your efforts on your targeted search areas (like the CPG niche) to avoid wasting time. Professionals in a particular field maintain multiple relationships with others in their field. These are your best networking referrals.
  3. Actively engage potential candidates in conversation and create systems that allow you to maintain these contacts for future use.

“The Day After” the floods of layoffs, bankruptcies and closures there will be a lot of really terrific candidates available. They want to work for you, and they are anxious to do a good job. As Ronald Katz says, “Ignore them at your own peril.”

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