SmartRecruiters Hiring Success Journal

Are “Passive” Candidates Superior?

Are “Passive” Candidates Superior? In the olden days, before the internet, when search consultants (recruiters) received fees of 25% or more for white collar professionals with 3-5 years of experience (those were the “good” olden days, believe me!), those of us who wanted to catch the big fish, realized that the money was in finding great candidates who worked for the client company’s direct competitor. We guarded our Rolodexes with our lives. We didn’t call them “passive” candidates, but we were looking for someone who was happy with their company and not on the job market. The perception was (and I think it was reality at that time) that people who were “on the market” were there for a reason, and it wasn’t a good one.

Today, it’s a different story.

Behind the idea of the passive candidate is the notion is that if someone is happy, they are engaged in their work. This may not be the case. Perhaps they are comfortable and in a cushy situation, which is why they don’t want to leave. Sometimes (in my experience, often) someone who fits the “passive” profile is not the most engaged employee. Passive doesn’t necessarily mean better.

Active job seekers (like much of the LinkedIn crowd, except for the recruiters) may be looking because they don’t feel valued. Many people on LinkedIn are actively interested in making a job change; having an impressive profile is an alternative to shopping their resumes. Does this mean they are truly passive candidates? They may be bored. They may feel their talent is wasted. I know of a data architect who left her last job because she felt the leadership team didn’t have its act together. She decided they were wasting her time! She is now “unemployed,” but, not for long. She’s the real deal!

Unemployed doesn’t mean inferior. It may mean that the employer is unimaginative about how to effectively deploy talent or worse, perhaps the managers, who have been there too long, are incompetent. Depending on your generation, you may see Greg Smith (“Why I’m Leaving Goldman Sachs” ) as a hero or a rat, but I very much doubt that he is incompetent.

When companies have massive layoffs, do you think it’s the employees who are incompetent, or those who are responsible for developing and implementing a competitive strategy? What does it say about talent innovation when companies choose to outsource rather than invest in their people? We can do better.

While passive candidates are not a “bad” thing, they are not necessarily superior candidates for employment. Many players in the talent acquisition ecosystem have economic incentives to promote passive candidates as the preferred choice. Recruiters who get paid for placing talent have less competition when presenting someone who isn’t actively looking, but wise employers will use objective measures to assess ALL applicants to choose the best. They will cast a wide net and seek out diverse sources of talent.

Pat Sharp, The Talent Architect blends strategy, technology tools, and assessment tools with marketing magic to create unique talent solutions. Past and current clients include: Motorola, Deloitte, TiVo, and Cloudscaling. Visit The Talent Architect or drop her a line at Photo Credit MyPencil.


Talent Architect Pat Sharp

Pat Sharp, The Talent Architect blends strategy, technology tools, and assessment tools with marketing magic to create unique talent solutions. Past and current clients include: Motorola, Deloitte, TiVo, and Cloudscaling. Visit The Talent Architect or drop her a line at

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