Why Are We So Obsessed With Finding “Passive” Job Candidates?

Here’s a question that begs for a good answer: are we overdoing it with the search for passive job candidates, already?

It’s something worth asking, because the search for passive candidates  — defined here as “(people) who are satisfied with their current position and are accomplishing great things. They are not actively seeking a new opportunity and job hunting consumes 0% of their time — has turned into a modern-day quest for the Holy Grail.

It’s all about the notion that the very best candidates are the ones who are working away at their job, accomplishing a great deal, and not particularly engaged in looking for new employment. And, that rubs occasional TLNT contributor (and chief talent scout for Clear Channel Communications) Morgan Hoogvelt the wrong way.

He has an interesting post over at TLNT’s sister website ERE.net where he openly questions just why there is so much focus today on finding passive candidates, and, why it has become such a fad and a trendy thing to do.

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What’s the big deal about passive recruiting?

Here’s the crux of his argument:

I guess I am at a loss as to why there is so much over-emphasis on “passive candidates.” Whatever happened to simply hiring the most-qualified, best-fit individual who can add their strengths in order to advance the organization? …

Passive, active, semi-active, inactive, submissive, reactive, retired, separated, etc. — shouldn’t we want to hire the best and most qualified individuals for our positions? Don’t we want to seek out and hire those who possess the strengths to improve the organization?

Right now, there are individuals knocking at our doors, and while not all of them are qualified, a lot of them are very qualified. Yet, a lot of these individuals are facing discrimination by hiring managers and recruiters who want someone who is working or someone who is passive. I have yet to see any study or statistical data that proves passive candidates to be more qualified, make better employees, or add additional value than those employees in the “other” categories.”

Yes, it’s a good question that  Morgan Hoogvelt asks: what is the huge obsession with passive candidates, anyway? It’s a subject well worth digging into, and one that Morgan clearly knows a little about and has a great deal of passion for.

For more of his article about our obsession with passive recruiting, click here.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


4 Comments on “Why Are We So Obsessed With Finding “Passive” Job Candidates?

  1. I didn’t even know this was a “thing” – it’s very depressing to see the stigma that has developed (directly and indirectly) around unemployed people (or, in this euphemism, “active job seekers”). With close to 10% unemployment in the U.S. it’s sure there are millions of excellent, active job seekers out there.

  2. The concept of “passive” candidate is overdone: most passive candidates are not actively seeking for a job because they don’t think they need to change. Alas, most find out it’s time to move the hard way. Passive candidates are simply cool because as a recruiter you know you’re the only one with that particular asset in your hands. 

  3. This isn’t a new issue, it existed before the recession.  In my experience, it’s full time recruiters driving this desire.  Passive candidates are great for recruiters (in-house or retained) because  only they have to search for these candidates, creating some job security.

  4. I’m a full time recruiter in Singapore and I don’t have an obsession with only using passive talent – but posting an advert and taking responses from only active job seekers is simply not enough for me to fill clients briefs.  I approach passive talent because there is a shortage of active talent in this market and I have to work proactively to find my clients what they need.  

    Also, I’ll admit it, I need to offer more to my clients than posting an advert and filtering response – they want to know my network and expertise extends to more than getting lucky with an advert applicant (though I am happy to use those people too – it’s a combination which usually delivers the best result).  

    For job seekers who are ‘active’, I suggest you network with recruiters where you can and position yourself as someone in their network and not just another job applicant.

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