Why Recruiters May Want Active Candidates More Than Passive Candidates

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

October 22, 2012

In professional recruiting circles, a lot of attention is paid to so-called passive candidates. In theory, these are people who only get jobs when recruiters reach out and ask them. Happily employed and fully engaged in their current job, they are supposedly prized precisely because they aren't looking.

This notion, which fuels much of the Recruiting Training industry, depends on a number of odd arguments.

Somehow, the thinking goes, a person who is happily engaged in their current job always makes a better employee. While it is true that the flattery associated with trying to poach someone from their employer is great for the potential employee's ego, the costs associated with targeting and convincing a happy employee to leave their job drive all labor costs up. You certainly wouldn't expect a poached employee to move for lower pay.

This is why the practice of targeting and recruiting passive candidates has the net effect of driving overall labor costs up. Once the incumbent team figures out that the new players are making better wages, the internal pressure to provide across the board salary increases grows quickly. It's a genie that can't be put back in the bottle.


Now, consider the motivational difference between someone who actively wants the job and someone who has been persuaded to take it. Which of the two has a deeper intrinsic motivation to over deliver? The active candidate has to prove merit while the passive recruit has no hurdle to jump. A critical component of managing employees who have been persuaded to take a job is the implicit sense of entitlement that distinguishes them from their active brethren.

Perhaps this is why, in spite of all of the hyperactive recruiting trainers, that 80% of all hires are active candidates.

According to a recent survey by the CareerXRoads team, over 80% of all new employees are hired from the ranks of active candidates. It's sort of easy to understand. Active job hunters are easier to negotiate with, have a vested interest in trying harder and are easier to get started. There are no messy non-competes, end date negotiations, counter offers or last minute vacillations. The active job hunter lands a job and then has the opportunity to earn it.

One of the astonishing, self-serving fantasies that the proponents of the passive candidate foolishness seem to miss is the fact that almost everyone has had some time on the 'bench' in the past 20 years. Wicked economic downturns, disruption from new technologies, re-engineering, outsourcing and bank failures have all contributed to the realities of contemporary economic life. If you haven't spent time looking for work, it's most likely because you are one of those bottom kissing toadies who always navigate the layoffs. Political aptitude is more important in those cases than actual competence.

So, in spite of the realities, the folks who train recruiters continue to rely on the fantasy that their team is somehow so compelling that top flight players, deeply engaged in their work, will flee on a moment’s notice to come to work. According to these sages, the only real contributors are the ones who have managed to survive the ups and downs of the economy without ever spending time looking for work. It really isn't like that in the real world.

People who actively seek their next opportunity come willing to learn, qualified and motivated. They are taking charge of their destinies and navigating forward.

Passive candidates are just that. Passive.

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