Tracy Smith

Nov 18, 2019

Imagine yourself traipsing through a market, on your way home from work, with myriad pressing projects consuming your mind. A chipper-voiced street vendor startles you out of your reverie and nags you to buy an unwanted trinket.

Unmoved, you brush the pushy peddler away.

What does this mean for you as a hiring manager eager to sell job opportunities to brilliant prospective employees? Don’t try to strong-arm people into uprooting themselves from their current roles to come and join your company. If you get too “salesy” with people who might not be ready to buy into your promise of a better workplace, you risk being brushed away yourself.

The Allure of Passive Candidates

You may know the term “passive candidates.” These are people who are already employed and not looking for a new job, though they may be open to new opportunities.

A recent LinkedIn report says that passive candidates—as opposed to the job-hunting active candidates who apply for your posted positions—make up 70% of the global workforce. This is too large of a talent pool for your hiring team to ignore. In today’s aggressive market where businesses compete to hire the next Steve Jobs or a possible new Oprah Winfrey, your recruitment process should target both active and passive candidates.

Besides dominating the workforce, what else distinguishes passive candidates? Especially for hard-to-fill roles, sometimes they’re your best bet for securing the skills and background you’re looking for. And there’s an excellent chance they’re so wrapped up in their current jobs that they’re not being interviewed elsewhere.

How to Engage Passive Candidates

Let’s say you’ve found a promising passive candidate online, or maybe you’ve met her in person. She may or may not want to work for you—yet your eyes light up over the credentials and experience she’ll bring to your team if you can convert her into your newest employee.

Follow these dos and don’ts for nurturing her in your hiring process … from a passive candidate in your talent pipeline to your next spectacular employee.

DO stifle your urge to demand her resume.  Top performers often don’t have current resumes. If your passive candidate has been too busy to update hers, let that go, or help her update it if needed. Check out our resume tips for guidance.

DON’T behave like the proverbial used-car salesperson. As any seasoned sales professional knows, never sell anything—in this case, your company and your unfilled job—before your prospect is ready. Until you know she’s ready to move, build a friendly rapport with her and become a trusted information source.

DO build a long-term relationship. Get to know her. What projects is she working on? What does she like about her current job? What motivates her? Where does she see herself in the future? Once you’ve built trust, consider asking her whether there’s anything she doesn’t like about her job.

Her current experiences, including any challenges she’s having, can lead into a conversation about your company and the opportunities you have. For example, imagine that she loathes her current two-hour commute—but hey, your office is only a quick bus ride away from her home.

Face-to-face time can lay the groundwork for a warm and long-lasting relationship. And stay in touch with her by continually sharing relevant information. For example, if you know she’s always trying to upgrade her capabilities, consider emailing her a report on the latest in-demand job skills.

DON’T ask her why she wants to work for your company. Yes, you need to pose this question to active candidates; after all, they’re the ones who approached you. But with your passive candidate, asking this question is presumptuous. Instead, seek to gauge her mindset. Is she open to taking a leap, or content with the status quo?

DO listen, and be flexible in your approach. Let’s say your passive candidate is happily employed. You’ll risk upsetting your relationship if you try to persuade her to see things differently. But keep the door open because her situation might change: “I’m glad you’re happy at ABC Rockets Inc. If you ever need information about us at XYZ Spaceships Ltd., I’d be pleased to help.”

But let’s say she’s on the fence. Now’s your opportunity to lay out the red carpet: “I know you’re doing well at ABC Rockets Inc. But let’s get to know each other, let me tell you about us, and let me introduce you to our senior leader.”

DON’T make false promises. We know of a salesperson who worked at Company A and got lured to Company B because it offered a fun and engaging work environment. But Company B failed to mention its arduous ongoing paperwork. Back to Company A the salesperson went.

Our point? Company B promised better work conditions, but couldn’t deliver. Don’t mislead your passive candidate into thinking your workplace is something it’s not.

DO get her in your talent pipeline in the first place. How can you keep your talent pipeline bursting with enticing active and passive candidates?

Meet people, and get them in your candidate database. Attend industry conferences, networking events, workshops and tradeshows. Stay in touch with people you’ve met in the past. Launch an employee referral program if you don’t have one already.

Source possible candidates by searching for them on social media. Post relevant, eye-catching content that attracts a following. Use hashtags to target communities.

Ramp up your recruitment marketing and employer branding with an insightful career page. Consider using email campaigns to promote your amazing workplace.


What do you think? Have you successfully persuaded a passive candidate to join your team? Sign up for Job Minister as an employer, and create your custom career page with one click. Engage with active and passive candidates through status updates, panel feedback, live chat and curated content.

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