Passive Candidates: How to Deal with Them?

Volodymyr Bilyk
17 June 2021

Passive candidates are without a doubt one of the most significant recruitment challenges there can be. There are many reasons candidates may be passive – the wrong timing, external circumstances, low demand, etc. 

However, what matters more is how to engage with passive candidates and get them interested in what you have to offer. 

This article will explain the passive candidates’ phenomenon and provide tips on dealing with them.

Who are Passive Candidates?

Who are passive candidates?


First of all, we need to nail down the definition:

  • A passive candidate is a type of candidate that is not in an active job search. 
    • Such folks don’t apply for vacant positions and are not actively looking for new job opportunities. 
    • Despite that, their expertise (in-demand skills, extensive experience) makes them attractive to recruiters regardless of their status. Candidates know that. 
  • Thus, when the offer is right, they are open to further negotiations. 

Such candidates are beyond job boards and databases. Usually, you can find them via networking or referral recommendations.

What is the Difference between Active and Passive Candidates?

The difference between passive and active candidates is in the following:

  • Passive candidates are already employed and not looking for new job opportunities. They don’t apply for open positions. You need to source them, either through networking or by boolean string approaches.
  • Then there are tiptoers, AKA candidates on the cusp. They are not applying to vacant positions at the moment, but mentally they are getting there. These folks may ask around regarding vacancies, but they haven’t made their move yet.
  • Active candidates are in the active job search. They may or may not be employed, but they are available and eager to engage. Unlike the passives, these folks apply for open positions. Some may even write a cover letter to up their chances.  
  • Then there are casually active candidates who look at new vacancies once in a while. They get involved when the interest peaks.

One more thing regarding active candidates:

  • Even if dealing with active candidates seems easier, there is a catch. Active candidates don’t last long. The competition will make sure of it. 
  • According to ERE research, specialists with in-demand qualifications are off the market in a ten-day window. Because of that, you need to seize the opportunity while it lasts. 

Why Passive Candidates are a Huge Recruitment Opportunity?

Recruiter’s interest in passive candidates is well-justified by one simple fact: many passive candidates wait for the right pitch. According to LinkedIn research, passive candidates comprise 75% of the market. Do you need any other reason to bother?

Passive candidates consider jobs they are interested in. Because of that, there is a bigger chance of hiring such candidates for the long term with fewer risks of job-hopping.

  • The thing is – if they are not actively looking for new opportunities, this means they are in limited contact with other recruiters.
  • This aspect makes it easier to maintain candidate retention upon processing the candidate.  

Consequently, chances of hiring such a candidate are much higher than a candidate who is considering five other job offers simultaneously. 

Different Types of Passive Candidates Explained 

Passive candidates explained


Understanding the reason for passiveness helps with determining an approach to engaging with such candidates. 

While you can’t get into the candidate’s head, you can differentiate the types by their priorities.

Here are some more common types:

  • Already employed and not interested. The driving force for them is the interest in the project and self-realization opportunities. The higher salary and benefits package also helps.
  • Scared to change jobs, these folks stayed in one place for too long, wanted to change jobs for something better, but didn’t commit to the cause due to employment-related reservations. This candidate type needs a well-versed explanation of why the other company is a better employer for their talents. Such candidates are often diamonds in the rough. In some cases, they need full-on assistance with self-presentation to make sure they pass the interview.
  • Bound by circumstances – such candidates stay in the current workplace because it is a platform that helps them deal with their life circumstances (paying loans, etc.). They are probably interested in changing jobs but are not ready to take the risk of changing careers. These folks need solid evidence of the company’s credibilities and guarantees of stability. 
  • On the career crossroads – these candidates are inactive because they’re changing domains (for example, DevOps to Machine Learning Natural Language Processing Engineer) or intending to do so. To engage with them, you need to provide rock-solid arguments regarding career opportunities within the domain. However, it is not a lost cause if the interest is not there. A recruiter can maintain contact with such candidates and help them find footing in the new domain. So it is a win-win.

Passive Candidate Labor Market Illusion Explained

There is also another reason why candidates are passive, and it has nothing to do with the candidates themselves. 

  • Sometimes the demand and supply can be drastically disparate. While the approximate number of specialists remains the same, the number of open positions can be bigger. Because of that, candidates receive much more offers than usually, and some get lost in the shuffle due to high request volume. 

As a result, it seems like the vacancy response is much lower because there are many more vacancies while the average response rate is relatively the same. 

How to engage with passive candidates?

How to deal with passive candidates?

Let’s take a look at the ways you can turn passive candidates into active hiring opportunities.

Employer Branding

Solid branding is half the battle won. That’s the reason why companies should invest in employer branding. After all, even passive candidates do quick research on the company they are interacting with. And if what they find doesn’t look nice – things aren’t going to go far.

However, if the candidate can clearly understand what’s good for him to change the jobs for his particular company – it will be far easier to sell him the job opportunities.

Here’s what it means:

  • Employer Value Proposition is the key. It contains tangible arguments that showcase that working for the company would be fulfilling and mutually beneficial (when done right).
  • The position description is also essential as it can incite the initial interest in the position and the project.
  • The company’s mission, vision, and values provide a solid conceptual foundation for further consideration. It is not the main sticking point, but it helps to lean candidates towards the company.
  • Culture match is critical for hiring success. Because of that, it is crucial to present company culture as an appealing environment for socializing and professional growth.  

Candidate Experience

People like it when treated with respect, especially when it comes to job searches. 

Because of that, it is essential to provide a positive candidate experience to retain candidates in the mix-up until the offer is on its way.

Here’s what it means:

  • Keep the candidate in the know. Maintaining regular follow-ups is critical for candidate engagement. Provide comprehensive feedback regarding their progress and find out their opinion regarding further cooperation. 
  • Stay in touch with the candidate beyond formal communication. When the communication is more than just status update exchange, there is more committed to the process. 
  • Keep the recruitment process concise. No one likes a long and winding recruitment process with seven interview stages with live coding sessions on top. You need to make the most out of fewer recruitment stages. In this case, recruitment process transformation is a way to go.

In conclusion

Passive candidates are a vast treasure trove of talent ready for new job opportunities when dealt with properly. However, it is quite a feat to get there.

If you need help dealing with passive candidates or need labor market research – our recruitment consultants can help you out.