Last week I wrote about the possibly discriminatory but certainly stupid new trend where job boards and employers are requiring that applicants have a job before they can apply. Now I’d like to take my hand at busting another myth, that of the wonderfulness of the passive candidate.
We all know about conventional wisdom. These generally accepted ideas are often left unexamined. And in recruiting, conventional wisdom has it that the passive candidate is the holy grail. Entire recruiting models have been built around the idea that the passive candidate is the one to seek out and recruit.
A passive candidate is defined in its simplest terms as someone who is employed and is not actively seeking a job. Other definitions include someone who is ‘content’ in their job.
I would suggest that while at one point the search for the passive candidate may have been relevant, it’s a concept that doesn’t work in today’s working world. I think that’s true for several reasons, including the reality of today’s economy, generational shifts, and the changing nature of work itself.
In the first place, I think we can all agree that in work life today, there are plenty of very astute and admirable professionals out of work. As someone who has always networked, I’ve never seen so many quality people out of work …. and this is my second recession (at least!). Between downsizing, restructuring, outsourcing, and the economy, you’ve got plenty of potential great hires out there.
As a corollary, we all also have friends who hate their jobs but are staying put because…. “Hey, it’s the economy, stupid.” We all understand this. Some are looking for work, true, but many are being…. passive. It’s easy in these troubled times to keep your head down and accept the status quo. The attitude of these workers is understandable, but these aren’t necessarily the energized workers and future leaders you want to recruit, are they?
the search for the passive candidate doesn’t work any more
On a different tangent, I would also submit that the nature of the workforce has changed. The dissolution of the employee/employer contract has been well documented. And as far back as “Free Agent Nation,” (Daniel Pink, 2002), if not before, the rise of the independent worker has been a growing factor in the workforce, and only increasing with the rise of the millennial generation.
The fact is, many people today, through circumstances or inclination, are now working on their own. These talented workers are overlooked in the traditional passive schema. They might be happy going it alone but they might also like to know about a great opportunity.
Beyond the fact that for these reasons you may not want to recruit passive workers is another motivating factor. Studies have shown that passive workers cost you more money to recruit, not only in time but also in placement fees. For practical reasons alone you may want to discount the myth of the passive worker.
So when an active job seeker (Isn’t that adjective “active” nice?) comes in your door, here’s what you can do as an active recruiter: Check their resume for gaps. Ask them what they’ve been doing to keep busy during their down time. Ask them about activities and interests. Have they been taking some classes, or training, or doing volunteer work? And your true holy grail may actually be when someone is referred to you …. Yep, that is conventional wisdom that actually works.
It’s time to explode the myth of the passive candidate and look instead to the many talented workers who are either not currently employed or not employed in a conventional mode. These may be some of the most talented workers you can find, and place. It’s not so much thinking outside of the box as it is about considering a new way of doing business.