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Published: Jun 13, 2023 14 min read

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Passive job seekers are a bit of a holy grail. They come with significant benefits for employers, but attracting passive candidates can be a bit of a challenge, especially in a tight job market. Making the right impression is essential when recruiting passive candidates, and your talent acquisition strategy will likely need a little fine-tuning to have the best chance of success.

Where an active job seeker may be one of the over 685k monthly profiles on ZipRecruiter, a passive candidate is a little different.

Keep reading for an overview of what defines a passive job seeker, the benefits of passive candidates, the difference between active vs. passive job seekers and some helpful tips for how to recruit passive candidates to quickly fill skilled positions.

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What is a passive job seeker?

A passive job seeker is someone who may be thinking about or looking for a career change but hasn’t begun actively searching job boards or applying for new jobs. Passive job seekers are often generally satisfied with their current position but are aware of and open to better job opportunities. They’re likely already employed and may only be reachable through networking, online recruiting and other channels targeting passive candidates that differ from those used by typical job seekers.

Active vs. passive job seekers: What’s the difference?

Active job seekers are those who are actively searching for jobs through the usual venues, submitting resumes and filling out applications in hopes of securing an interview. They’re generally either unemployed or otherwise highly motivated to find a new position.

The chief difference between active and passive candidates is that passive job seekers are those not actively engaged in the job search process. These are individuals who, while not generally looking for a job, may be open to exploring new opportunities if they’re presented in the right way.

Passive job candidates are likely to be already employed and working within the industry of their choice. They’ll typically want to stay within that industry and need to be approached differently by employers looking to woo them from their existing positions. Even highly skilled professionals firmly entrenched within their current job can be open to working for another employer if approached directly with an advantageous offer.

4 helpful tips for finding passive candidates for a job opening

Understanding how to attract passive candidates means understanding the comfortable, unhurried nature of how these individuals are likely to regard the hiring process. They’re not directly motivated to change jobs, which can be especially true of qualified candidates in technical positions.

Sourcing passive candidates requires a deft touch, and you may find the usual talent pipelines insufficient when trying to recruit an employee who can afford to hold out for the most attractive offer. Here are four excellent ways to engage passive candidates to give your offer the best chance of being recognized as the right opportunity to advance their careers.

1. Use social media sites

Social media is a great way to reach out to and build relationships with passive talent and one of the best ways to find great candidates for a job. Many currently employed professionals are active on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and some of the other best job posting sites for employers, even though they’re not currently using those venues for an active job search.

They may be open to exploring career opportunities, and reaching out to them with a description of your open position and a compelling reason that makes your company a good move is a great way to start a conversation.

You can also cast a wider net and use these channels to share updates about your company, including any job openings and other information likely to attract passive candidates. Social media is one of the best ways to network with potential passive talent, which can be accomplished by emailing passive candidates, sending direct messages and even hosting virtual events they may be likely to attend.

2. Attend conferences and networking events

Another excellent method for contacting passive candidates with a more personal, face-to-face introduction is through conferences and networking events. These events can provide you with a unique opportunity to find passive candidates open to considering a position with a new employer.

It’s critical to do your research beforehand to ensure the events you’re considering attending target the type of passive job seekers you’re looking for. Don’t forget to bring business cards and other promotional material to share with potential candidates, and be prepared to offer in-depth details about what makes your offer particularly suited for where they are in their careers.

3. Establish an employee referral program

Leveraging your current employees’ extended networks is a great way to find the most qualified candidates. While this may be more effective for highly technical or specialized positions, it’s one of the best techniques for finding passive candidates.

Your current staff likely has contacts outside of your organization that work in the same field. Getting the word out about your job openings can be as simple as encouraging current employees to refer their friends and colleagues for any job openings you may have.

Keep your current team briefed on the range of roles and positions you need to fill, and consider offering incentives or finder’s fees to those who refer successful applicants.

4. Revisit previously rejected candidates

It may be tempting to disregard a job candidate that you may have initially rejected. Though it may seem counterintuitive, doing so could mean missing out on a great talent. It pays to stay in touch with these candidates because even if they didn’t seem like the best fit the first time, they may have gained valuable experience at another company and may now be a better fit for the job.

If you want to make sure you don’t miss out on a great hire, periodically reach out to these candidates and check in to see if they’d be interested in hearing about a new opportunity with your company. Even if they’re not currently searching for “full-time jobs near me,” on a job search site such as ZipRecruiter, keeping an open dialogue with previously rejected candidates is a smart move that could end up paying off in the long run.

If you’re choosing to automate part of your job search, some of the best recruiting software provide tools that can make these periodic check-ins even easier.

Best practices to follow when hiring passive job seekers

Though every job (and every job seeker) is different, hiring passive job seekers requires a slightly different approach. Here are some best practices you’ll want to consider adopting when looking for this kind of specialized candidate.

Improve your branding and company culture

Contacting passive candidates with a job offer may only provide a certain level of success without a strong company culture to back it up. Creating a robust, well-developed and positive company culture is essential to attracting passive job seekers.

A well-crafted employer brand can make all the difference to those who may not be actively seeking a job but who would be willing to consider a new position if the opportunity is exciting and rewarding enough. This requires investing time and effort into developing a unique and competitive employer brand that’s worth the effort for a passive candidate to check out.

Identify and delineate what sets your company apart, and strengthen your company culture to better reflect those values. Using this as a foundation for your branding can help you reach passive job seekers in a way that appeals to this unique and in-demand talent pool.

Invest in marketing materials that showcase your company culture and values, and make sure to use social media to highlight your company in a positive light. Additionally, reach out to your current employees and use their experiences to create a powerful narrative that will attract passive job seekers.

Have a recruitment plan in place

When recruiting passive job seekers, having a clear and comprehensive recruitment plan is vital. Crafting a timeline for each step of the interview process will help to ensure that the process runs smoothly and efficiently, which is key when trying to successfully attract passive talent.

When working with passive job seekers who can afford to be more circumspect and choosy, ensuring the application process is as simple and efficient as possible is essential. This not only helps attract the right candidates but also makes the process more enjoyable for them.

Your timeline should include steps for introducing the job opportunity, obtaining an interview and finally making the job offer and beginning the onboarding process.

After applications have been received, the next step is to review and shortlist candidates. This process should be done quickly, but thoroughly enough to ensure the best candidates are selected for an interview. Making thorough notes through the pre-selection process is essential, as comparing these notes can be critical when choosing between two great candidates.

The interview phase is the most crucial step in the recruitment process. It’s best to use behavioral interview questions tailored to the job to assess the candidates’ skills and experience. After the interview, it's important to provide feedback to the candidates promptly and, once the successful candidate has been chosen, to make the job offer as soon as possible. Don't forget to rely on the best background check sites to vet your top candidates.

Know when to hire passive and active job seekers

Though passive job seeker statistics show that most workers are open to new opportunities even if not actively searching, these types of candidates can afford to take their time and carefully consider their employment options.

Understanding that some roles can more easily be filled with active job seekers is integral to finding the right fit for your open position. For empty roles that may be especially urgent to fill, active job seekers ready to make quick moves may be a safer bet, and the extra effort required for recruiting passive talent may not be your best option.

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Benefits of recruiting and hiring passive job candidates

Passive talent provides the employer lucky enough to land them with some significant advantages, including the following:

They already have the required skills, experience and knowledge

When hiring a passive job seeker, you’re typically acquiring talent that can hit the ground running. They already have the skills, experience and knowledge needed to do the job and generally require little training or orientation. This can help speed up the recruitment and onboarding process immensely and can significantly reduce the time it takes to get your new hire operating effectively.

They’re in no rush

Unlike active job seekers, passive job seekers aren’t actively searching for employment and feel no pressure to accept a job offer right away. This can benefit you as an employer as it gives you the time to thoroughly vet each individual and get to know them before making a job offer.

They chose you

One of the most significant benefits is one of choice. When you acquire a passive job seeker, you gain a new employee who chose your organization as the better option. It’s a great sign that your new hire believes in you and your company, which helps create loyalty and can work to ensure the longevity of the working relationship.

Summary of Money’s how to find passive job seekers

Finding and hiring passive job seekers can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be daunting. Knowing the difference between passive and active job seekers and being proactive in your recruitment efforts can make the process much smoother.

Making good use of social media and job search sites, attending conferences and networking events, creating an employee referral program and revisiting candidates you may have previously rejected can all help you tap into the passive job seeker talent pool and find just the right fit for your open job.

It’s also a good idea to take the time to refine your company’s branding and culture and to bolster your efforts with a comprehensive recruitment plan. Remember that it’s essential to know when hiring active job seekers may be the more practical option and to reserve the extra time and effort needed for attracting passive job seekers when it won’t harm your core business operations.

However, it’s equally important to know when the slow burn approach is best. Sometimes, the additional resources needed to attract passive job candidates can pay off, as they come pre-equipped with the right skills, experience and know-how.

*ZipRecruiter internal data. Jan 1 to Dec 31, 2021.