photo of passive candidates on hr examiner april 21 2014

The most important thing about ‘passive candidates’ isn’t that they are passive, it’s that they are qualified.

Originally published two years ago, the meat of this post remains newsworthy. All of the falderal surrounding employment branding is focused on active candidates. There is a deeper and more important conversation to be had about reaching passive candidates.

These are the people who are working and have no idea that your company exists.

The candidate universe has six major components:

  • Active (looking right now, shipping resumes)
  • Researching (Starting to look, no applications)
  • On Alert (willing to take a job if the right opportunity presents itself)
  • Less Than Happily Employed (unsatisfied but not looking)
  • Happily Employed (not looking)
  • Disenfranchised (gave up looking)

Communicating the story behind your employment brand is done differently by segment.

You might ask yourself whether you ever want to reach some of those segments. That’s a local decision. But, there are some you definitely want to reach who won’t know about your work with the other segments.

Particularly in shortage environments, being known to people who currently aren’t in the market is really important. Having them think of you once they decide to enter the market is where you want to be.

I like what NetTemps used to say:

“While some think passive candidates include all qualified individuals who are not currently looking for a job, this is a wishful (almost delusional) way of looking at things. A passive candidate is someone who is not looking for a job, but would be open to taking one if the right opportunity came along. People who are happily employed and not open to taking a new job are not candidates for employment, passive or otherwise-and you will have to wait until they have a very bad day at work before you can consider them a legitimate prospect.”

Here’s the conventional wisdom about “passive candidates”.

  • Passive candidates are defined as candidates who are satisfied with their current position and are accomplishing great things. (Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility)
  • Passive candidates are not actively looking for a new position. They are satisfied in their current position. The best search firms are typically experts at engaging passive candidates in a 1:1 approach. (The Passive Candidate Mindset)
  • You can’t recruit and hire passive candidates using the same workflow nor the same recruiters used for active candidates. (Lou Adler, ERE) (All of the ERE articles tagged Passive Candidate)
  • A passive candidate is a candidate who is not actively applying to open requisitions and who is employed. (Lindsey Gurian)
  • Passive candidates don’t need a ‘job’, they already have one. Passive candidates need to be offered opportunities which will allow them to change the trajectory of their career. This raises the bar and makes employer branding more important than ever before. (Welcome to the Talent Economy by Daniel Shapero) (all LinkedIn posts on Passive candidates)
  • How to Be a Successful Passive Candidate: Constant Networking (Debra Feldman, the JobWhiz)
  • Sadly, the vast majority of applicants do not possess the skills you are looking for. They’re not even close. You see, the truly qualified individuals are busy working in their fields of expertise and will never see your ad. We call those people “passive candidates.” (Miller-Abrahamson)

It’s simpler, really.

Some of the experienced people who are already working in the industry don’t get jobs by sending out applications. The most important thing about ‘passive candidates’ isn’t that they are passive, it’s that they are qualified. When they want the next job, they network around the industry. When you want them to work for you before they’re ready to move, you network to them.

There are no new entrants to the market who are experienced. As obvious as that is, it gets left out of the conversation all the time. People who are new apply for jobs one way. People who are experienced do it differently. People who are really happy in their work don’t do it.

If I am new to the business, I need your website to tell me about your cultural values, the good works you do, the heroic journey of your CEO and the visionary view that drives your work. If I am experienced, I learn about you at trade shows and from the woman two cubicles over who used to work for you.

So, what is Employment Branding for seasoned professionals?

Well, it isn’t glossy and full of advertising-speak.

The employment branding task, when reaching out to experienced workers, is complicated territory that hasn’t been fully defined just yet. Here are some things to think about.

  1. Communicating the company’s reputation in a way that is consonant with the market’s view. This is harder if the company has a bad reputation or is going through a rough patch. Attempts to repair a bad reputation have to be gradual and part of a long range plan. On the other hand, if the company has a stellar marketplace persona, recruiting gets accelerated. It’s easier to recruit experienced workers to Facebook than HP right now.
  2. Understanding the company’s reputation requires constant market monitoring. Experienced people post reviews on Glassdoor. Inexperienced people read them. Experienced people don’t need to; they are plugged into the industry grapevine.
  3. The more an industry relies on contractors and consultants (say Entertainment, Publishing, Banking, Healthcare), the more these itinerant workers control the company’s reputation in the marketplace. Managing the contractors’ perception of the company is the last thing on most supervisors’ minds. They’re the first people that experienced folks talk to about what it’s like over there.
  4. Even if you have a crummy reputation, people will come to work for you if you offer them skills, money or big opportunities that they don’t currently have. Armed Forces are particularly good at this.
  5. The important things about a company’s reputation vary. Everyone knows that Great Big Consulting Company X is a sweatshop. The insiders also know that 10 years of working for them enables you to write your own ticket.

Experienced employees in your own company are the foundation of great employment branding in the industry. Figuring out how to collect and interpret their view of the firm is the first step. The Glassdoor data tells you what they are saying. That’s where you start.

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