How to approach passive candidates (and do truly passive candidates still exist?)
Recruiters have traditionally separated active and passive candidates, focussing on those actively searching for new positions. 

But in today’s tightening labour markets, do ‘passive’ candidates still exist? Is every employee in fact open to new job opportunities? 

And once recruiters find a passive candidate who is ideal for the job, what’s the best way to approach them and keep them on side?

What is a ‘passive’ candidate, and are they really passive?

Passive candidates – those who are not looking for a new job opportunity – may be an untapped source of talent in industries facing skills shortages. 

However, Natalie Firth, co-founder and CEO at Think Talent, believes everyone is open to hearing about new job opportunities, and that there are no truly passive candidates. 

“There’s no such thing as a passive candidate anymore. On our database we actually don’t have passive and active candidates. If there is a role, I will contact the best candidate that I can find. Whether they’re active or passive, to me that’s irrelevant.” 

Firth’s experience tells her that almost everyone wants to keep an ear to the market. “They might say no at that point in time, but I think everyone likes to get that call personally.” 

David Wilson, director at Davidson, agrees that truly passive candidates don’t exist anymore. “We find certainly in our very big network there is no difference between a proactive and a passive candidate.

“They may have interest in hearing about what’s going on in the marketplace, but they might also want to refer somebody else.”

What’s the best way to approach talent?

Candidates aren’t always open to being approached by recruiters. At worst, they could have outright distrust for recruiting agencies, and see recruiters as pushy and time-wasting.

So how should recruiters approach candidates, especially those who are comfortably employed and aren’t looking for new job opportunities?  

Be prepared and know the role inside out

It’s vital that recruiters can give detailed information about the job when making initial contact. Candidates will want to know specific details of the job, the salary range, location and the job type (whether it’s full-time, part-time or contract). 

Candidates in regional areas will be more interested than those in metropolitan areas in getting an overview of the role and its location.

To convince a candidate to consider a new position, there are a few things recruiters need to do: 

  • Offer a better salary or financial incentive package than the current role
  • Give honest information and insight about the position 
  • Show a good understanding of why the job would uniquely suit the candidate and their needs 

SEEK research also reveals that passive candidates would immediately reject the role if recruiters: 

  • Didn’t have enough detail about the role
  • Offered a clearly unsuitable role
  • Appeared to be driven by self interest

How do passive candidates react when contacted by recruiters?

SEEK research reveals that two in every three passive candidates feel curious or grateful when contacted by a recruiter, while a slightly smaller percentage (29%) feel surprised by the approach. 

Interestingly, males were more likely to have been contacted by a recruiter than females (73% compared to 53%), while females were more likely to feel flattered than males (33% compared to 21%).

Only a small proportion of passive candidates (10%) have felt inconvenienced or impatient after being contacted by a recruiter.

More than half of passive candidates (60%) are open to being contacted by recruiters when there is a specific job opportunity. 

Less than half, or 43%, are open to being contacted when recruiters are hoping to establish a relationship.  

What are the best channels to use? 

Overwhelmingly, candidates prefer to be contacted by email for the initial contact, but like getting a phone call when scheduling or following up an interview, SEEK research reveals.

Personal networks are just as important as databases, says Think Talent’s Firth. 

“We’ve got such an extensive network and it’s so important to have access to those databases, but also to our personal network,” she says.

“We can very quickly get cut-through by simply ringing someone we know and asking for referrals, and that’s often how we will place roles.” 

Two out of five, or 41% of passive candidates use SEEK Profile. When recruiters contact them through this channel, they’re seen as efficient and professional.

Candidates were potentially annoyed when contacted by recruiters through SEEK Profile if they believed the recruiters were “lazy” by sending out mass messages, were impersonal, or weren’t genuine because they didn’t follow through on their initial message.

How to stay in touch with placed candidates

It’s vital to treat candidates as individuals and not just another client, SEEK research shows. 

Recruiters can also make themselves stand out by maintaining communication over time to establish a relationship. 

Candidates appreciate recruiters who keep in touch regularly, but who don’t bombard them with emails and phone calls. 

Candidates also appreciate recruiters who: 

  • Spend time getting to know them enough to make a personal connection
  • Know what their specific job interests, skills and qualifications are, and match the roles to them 
  • Respond to emails
  • Let them know about jobs that are better than their current one 
  • Give current industry insights and professional development advice 
  • Are honest, reliable, trustworthy and friendly 

Source: Independent research conducted by Perspicacious on behalf of SEEK. Interviewing 4,000 New Zealanders annually