Three Things to Avoid When Approaching Passive Candidates


According to a Talent Trends study by LinkedIn in 2016, the majority of the employed workforce is open to exploring new job opportunities.  Twelve percent are actively looking for new jobs and 73% are passives – those open to exploring or hearing about opportunities.  Only 15% are satisfied enough that they won’t even consider a new job.  The purpose of this blog post is to focus on the 73% of passive job seekers, typically considered the most attractive to recruiters.  These are the candidates that are in the highest demand – they’re gainfully employed and they generally have attractive, in-demand skillsets.  But they can be hard to engage with, as they’re generally finicky about how they’re approached and what they’re approached about.

Fortunately, platforms like LinkedIn and job boards have made it easier than ever to find and reach out to passive talent.  However, easy access has also made passive candidates more immune than ever to solicitations by recruiters.  As the economy continues to hum along and job creation remains strong, the war for talent is becoming increasingly intense.  Recruiters, eager to find high-quality passive candidates, are growing more aggressive in their tactics and outreach efforts.  As a result, candidates are getting inundated and turned off by an influx of impersonal, irrelevant attempts to connect.

So while speed is critical, keep in mind that its quality that ultimately wins out.  Successfully engaging with and building a pool of passive candidates is a long-term strategy that should eventually pay dividends.  However, if you never effectively engage in the first place, you’ll never win.


Here are three things to avoid when reaching out to passive candidates:

passive recruiting tips

The Mismatch: Don’t reach out to passives about a position that is a poor fit for their experience or skillsets.  Passive candidates don’t need the job you’re representing.  If you pitch an opportunity that feels beneath the candidate’s current pay grade or experience level, they’ll feel insulted and ignore you.  If you pitch a role that’s half way across the country and the candidate has always lived and worked in the same city, it’s unlikely they’ll bite.  If the job you’re trying to fill is in an entirely different field or functional area, you’re really grasping at straws.  Make sure the job is a potential fit.  Make sure you present the upside and the opportunity.  And make it clear you’ve done some research on the candidate’s background so they feel like you really want their response.

2 junk mail

The Form Email: We’ve all received one…the email that starts in one font, shifts into another font for a while, then finishes up with the original font (different colors are fun, too).  Or the email that doesn’t address you by your first name.  Emails and intros that feel impersonal are not going to elicit a response.  The candidate is going to think you sent the same email to a mass distribution list and that s/he is by no means special.  Basically, the form email says that you’re lazy and simply casting a wide net (spamming), a method that is sure to backfire with passive candidates, and even with active candidates.

3 confidential

The Confidential: Passive candidates generally don’t have a lot of time on their hands and simply don’t want to play games.  When a recruiter reaches out with “I’ve got a great opportunity with a company based in …” bit, the candidate has very little detail to actually respond to.  Invariably, the candidate is going to ask, “What’s the company?” “Where’s it located?” “What’s the role?”  Recruiters that won’t answer these questions without jumping on a call are likely dead in the water.  Why would a candidate jump on a 30-minute call about an opportunity they know nothing about?  Give them the information they need to make an informed decision about whether to engage in a conversation at all.  Don’t make them jump through hoops – because they won’t.

There are numerous other tactics that are guaranteed to annoy passive candidates and reduce your chances at successfully engaging with them.  The three listed above just happen to be pet peeves I’ve seen, experienced, or heard about time and again. So make sure you avoid the disingenuous, disconnected, and detached labels and instead focus on being highly personal, transparent, and knowledgeable.  If you do so, you’ll get a foot in the door.  Next, you just have to find out what individually motivates your ideal candidate to seal the deal.

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