The Psychology of Active vs. Passive Candidates

Understanding the truths and misconceptions about active and passive candidates can be key in tapping into pipelines of talent. Taking the extra steps to effectively build a rapport, conversation and relationship with each potential candidate can make all the difference. Every candidate is different, and the recruiter must utilize the knowledge they have gained in their years of experience for each individual case.

First, a look at the specifics of both types of candidate:

Active Candidate

  • Candidate is actively looking for new opportunities
  • Candidate is driving the process…candidate is proactive
  • Candidate is generally accessible… returns phone calls and emails from recruiters/hiring executives
  • Candidate seems excited…willing to comply with clients’ hiring process
  • Candidate maintains updated resume/CV
  • Generally a short hiring process

Passive Candidate

  • Candidate is not generally looking for new opportunities
  • Recruiter/hiring manager is driving the process…candidate is reactive
  • Candidate needs to be persuaded to consider the opportunity.  Needs to be “sold” on the benefits/advantages of client company
  • Candidates may seem inaccessible/inconvenienced…most do not return phone calls or emails and may not be willing to spend a great deal of time complying with hiring process
  • Does not maintain a current resume
  • Long Hiring Process

Take these myths and truths into consideration when navigating the changing candidate pool:

For Passive Candidates

Myth: To be employable you must already be employed.
Nathan Gildow, a Strategy Consultant for, says “That’s like saying only married people are worth dating.  After all, if they aren’t married then something must be wrong with them, right?”

Myth: Because the person is employed somewhere already, they’re going to be a superstar. Bad hiring decisions happen. Keep assumptions in check if someone is already in a reputable position elsewhere before pursuing. An impersonal experience within a hiring process could have led to the potential candidate being hired at their current place of business.

Truth: Recruiters who dig deeper and work to have a personalized experience with each candidate: using phone methodology, extensive conversation, asking the right questions – are much more likely to find the right talent.

Truth: Interview consistently and effectively. Recruiters should ask questions with extra oomph that will catch the candidate’s attention and reveal their character. Regina Barr, owner of Red Ladder consulting, calls this the “flinch factor.”

For Active Candidates

Truth: The definitions of “active” and “passive” are becoming blurred, suggests a recent survey by The September 2012 survey says that 71% of those searching for a job consider it a part of their “regular routine.” Thirty-five percent said they begin preparing the search for the next opportunity as soon as a week into their new position.

Myth: ‘Active candidate’ means the recruiter needs to work less.

Truth: Finding the right active candidate can be just as complicated as finding a passive one. The recruiter still needs to pick up the phone and establish a relationship with the candidate. The recruiter also must check their resume for gaps and ensure the questions are just as thorough to accurately assess competency, motivation, and drive.

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