Sourcing Passive Candidates: Techniques That Work

Passive job candidates are often considered the most valuable candidates for critical positions and are frequently the most qualified individuals as well. The reason a person is considered a passive candidate is that he or she is not actively seeking a new position, although they might be open to a new opportunity if one were presented to them.

When an employee is not looking for a new opportunity, it generally means that they are well engaged in their present position, and are being treated well by their current employer. This usually also means they are valued for their experience and dedication to their employer’s success.

It’s easy to see why people in this position might be considered more valuable than those who are actively seeking employment, because those who are actually out looking for a new position may be unemployed for some reason, and that reason could be a negative one. Any recruiter who becomes successful at sourcing passive candidates is likely to be a very good recruiter and a tremendous asset to an organization.

Finding passive candidates

There are a number of ways to find these valuable passive candidates, and since we live in an online world, that is one of the best places to start. You can use platforms like Facebook and Twitter since they have literally billions of users online at any given time. Facebook has a graph search which can aid you in finding candidates who match specific criteria, and Twitter has an advanced search feature that will allow you to use hashtags to find passive candidates.

LinkedIn is one of the best social media platforms for finding professionals, although there is likely to be fairly heavy competition from other recruiters. For less competition, you could try using Reddit or Snapchat, or possibly even Xing, to search for discussions of interest and for candidates who appear to be knowledgeable about specific topics.

One other good online source for passive candidates are portfolio sample sites, which allow you to review candidates’ actual work samples and achievements. Sites such as Carbonmade, Github, Dribble, and Behance have a great deal of work contributed by professionals like designers and engineers. Two other sites for this type of talent where you can review work samples are Codercred and Hackerrank.

There are a number of ways you can actually meet passive candidates face-to-face, such as at events and conferences which you can attend. To find where these events are being held, check out or, and you may even be able to learn about candidates of interest beforehand. When there are listings of attendees which you can consult, you can use PeopleSearch to learn about their credentials.

Many times, the best passive candidates are those who are referred by other employees or colleagues. If you have recruiting friends that you can trust, you could solicit candidates’ names via email or phone calls, but you’ll need to be very specific about the kind of candidate you’re looking for. You may also be able to find good passive candidates by checking your existing database for candidates who may not have been the best fit in the past but are a good fit for a current opening. You may have had several really good candidates who made it to the final stage of interviews before losing out to someone else, and these candidates are worth checking out again and possibly reaching out to again.

Communicating with passive candidates

Once you have identified one or more passive candidates that you’re interested in, you’re ready to begin the really tough part of recruiting them. The worst thing you can do at this stage is to send out mass communications, in the hope that one or more will strike gold and receive a favorable response from someone who’s happy at their work.

A far better approach is to personalize every attempt at communication you make with a passive candidate. Right from the very first line, you have to convince a candidate that you’re interested in them, and that you do in fact have a very advantageous opportunity which they should check out.

It’s essential, however, that this is done in a very subtle way, rather than forcing them with details about the opportunity right off the bat. The best way to spark interest from a passive candidate is to reference some achievement of theirs which shows you have done your research on them, and that you appreciate their accomplishments.

This could be some kind of sporting affiliation they have, a particular academic achievement, work which they have published and can be read online, or a charitable work which is listed on their LinkedIn profile. All of these accomplishments can be discovered online and can be used in a cleverly worded opening remark to kindle interest from your passive candidate. You will get a lot more responses from candidates with a line that starts out like “Jane, I loved that blog you wrote about stress in the workplace…”, rather than “I have an opportunity that you’d be a great fit for…”.

Blending personal and professional content will generally achieve the best results with passive candidates, all this although this takes some practice to achieve just the right balance. Keep in mind that many passive candidates will be receiving a number of contacts from recruiters and that yours will need to stand out among them so the candidate doesn’t just hit the delete button on your message.

If you are obliged to contact between 15 and 30 candidates a day, you may not have the freedom to dream up all the content you send to individual passive candidates, and you may be tempted to use a template for the sake of saving time. Templates themselves are not a bad thing, it’s how they are used which can become problematic.

If you’re going to use a template, make sure to use it as your base for a communication attempt, and flavor it with personalized facts which you have researched about your passive candidate. Chances are, if you reach out to a passive candidate with something that even sounds remotely like a template, it will be rejected and ignored.

Take as much time as you need to prepare a really good communication based on your template, and you’ll likely have much greater success than if you simply dash off a number of communications in the hope that one or more will bear fruit. It’s also important to keep in mind that templates you use should be carefully tailored to the kind of position you’re trying to fill.

Wrapping it all up

Passive candidates are considered passive for a reason – they’re not looking for a job. In order for you to generate some interest from them about a position you have open, you’re going to have to reach out to them in ways that are not overt and are different from what other recruiters might be doing.

The most successful recruiters for passive candidates research their candidates heavily before communicating with them and then use a blend of personal and professional information to craft an interesting reach out. After going to all the trouble of finding good passive candidates, you have to communicate to them in ways that won’t scare them off but will instead pique their interest in your opportunity. It may take some trial and error, and repeated attempts but if you can perfect this technique, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a proficient recruiter of passive candidates.

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