The myth of the passive candidate

You hear a lot about the “passive candidate” in the recruiting sphere. He or she is supposed to be like the hidden job market – they’re out there but you need some sort of VIP access to get at them. Then, for the passive candidate, you need some crazy magic mojo to lure them away from their super-satisfying present situation.

But unlike the hidden job market, the passive candidate doesn’t really exist. It’s a myth.

Want evidence? Our research shows that 51% of people stay in a job for an average of two years or fewer, and 80% stay in a job for fewer than four years. We also know from our own research that a whopping 88% of the time, people have to change employers in order to advance their careers.

If you consider the first stat alone, it looks like almost as soon as people start a job, about half of them are already looking for another one. These numbers are also based on history, not future projection. And everyone in this industry knows that people are spending progressively even less time in jobs, and that the 50 year career at one company no longer exists unless you own it. As we move forward, more and more people are actively looking for work all the time.

What this means: everyone should be treated like an active candidate. You don’t need some magic access or trick to tap a non-existent passive talent market. You just need to be the place everyone wants to work.

And you know what? Forget everything I just said. What it comes down to is this: for the employer everyone wants to work for, there is no such thing as a passive candidate.

If that’s not you, start thinking about how you can fix that. In the meantime, here are four tips for accessing the talent you currently may think is unavailable to you:

Make advancement opportunities part of your employer brand. We once asked Workopolis users, “All things being equal when it comes to salary, benefits, and location, what do you consider most important when evaluating a new position?” For the largest group, 25% of respondents, the deciding factor was “Opportunities for Advancement.” People are looking for those positions that allow them to grow their careers. And since we also know, as previously stated, that 88% of people have to move on to move up, it makes sense to provide growth opportunities – then  trumpet this fact as loudly as you can.

Make your employer brand visible. No matter how great a place to work yours is, it doesn’t do you much good if people aren’t aware of it. If you’re not on top of your inbound marketing to candidates you should probably stop whatever you are doing and fix that issue. Do you think it’s some sort of fluke that everyone wants to work at Facebook, Microsoft, and Google? It’s not just because they’re huge tech companies. They make their employer brand part of their package which is one of the reasons they’re huge tech companies. Make the best and brightest want to work for you.

Grow your social network both on and offline. There’s all this backlash against social recruiting lately, but it seems to be coming from people who don’t understand how this newfangled internet thingy is supposed to work – just like companies who try to use Twitter or Facebook as a sales platform. You’re not supposed to hire people through social media. You’re supposed to meet them, get to know them as you would any other normal person, exchange ideas and maybe a few jokes, establish your credibility in your field, then hope that you are doing your job well enough that the right sort of relationships grow with the right people. It’s not that difficult to understand. But people seem to choose not to get it. Just be out there are be active. The rest will take care of itself. If it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong.

Don’t be afraid to approach anyone. As long as the legal way is clear – something you have to determine for yourself – don’t be afraid to approach anyone who interests you as a potential employee. As long as what you’re offering is better than what someone already has, they will be open to speaking with you. If it’s not, then they are obviously not going to jump ship to work for you. If it is, they will. It really is that simple.


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