Passive Candidates Are Stronger Performers – Fact or Fiction?

Employers tend to make a big distinction between passive job candidates, who are currently employed and not necessarily looking for a new position, and candidates who are actively seeking job opportunities. Many talent acquisition professionals take it for granted that passive candidates are more qualified and higher-performing than active job seekers, especially when it comes to filling leadership positions.

However, is it true that passive candidates make more successful employees? According to Indeed’s Talent Attraction Study, 71 percent of the U.S. labor force say they are actively looking for or open to new jobs, with 58 percent reporting that they look at jobs on at least a monthly basis. Furthermore, the survey found that the people most likely to report actively exploring job opportunities were well-educated millennials.

With a growing number of employers seeking to revamp their recruiting strategy to more effectively target millennial talent, these findings suggest that it may be a good time for talent acquisition professionals to reconsider their assumptions about active and passive candidates.

Why Do Talent Acquisition Professionals Target Passive Candidates?

Passive candidates are currently employed and satisfied enough with their position that they aren’t actively taking steps to find a new job. This knowledge alone is enough for talent acquisition professionals to make a few assumptions.

Firstly, they can assume that these candidates have already been vetted by their current employers and were deemed qualified for the position. A passive candidate’s place in their current organization acts as an invisible letter of recommendation. Even if the candidate isn’t the world’s best employee, recruiters can assume that the candidate is at least capable and qualified enough to hold their current job.

For example, when trying to fill a high-level position that requires a very specific skill set to be performed successfully, talent acquisition professionals may feel that it’s easier to target passive candidates who already hold similar positions than it would be to effectively screen incoming applicants.

Employers also make some big assumptions about candidates actively seeking new positions. If a candidate is currently employed but seeking a new opportunity, they may be viewed as unreliable. Recruiters sometimes claim that a candidate looking to leave their current employer is likely to do the same again in the future.

On the other hand, job seekers who are currently unemployed are often assumed to be less talented and less valuable than their employed counterparts. A common misconception is that unemployed candidates must have either been laid off because they were a poor employee, or quit because they couldn’t handle the pressure of the job. These kinds of beliefs are disconnected from the reality of why candidates seek new opportunities.

Why Do Talented Candidates Actively Seek New Opportunities?

In reality, there are many reasons why highly qualified candidates may actively seek job opportunities. Active candidates are no less successful or driven than passive candidates. In fact, research suggests that the opposite may be true. A LinkedIn Talent Solutions survey found that the most common reason why active candidates were looking for new positions was to find better career advancement opportunities.

Many talented candidates are passionate about their careers and aren’t content to stay at a job that isn’t allowing them to achieve their full potential. In addition to seeking career advancement and higher compensation, many ambitious candidates begin to actively look for new opportunities when they feel they aren’t being challenged enough in their current position.

When talent acquisition professionals fail to seriously consider active job seekers in their recruitment strategy, they run the risk of missing out on some of the most hard-working and motivated candidates available to them. When Indeed’s Talent Attraction Study asked employers to list reasons that passive hires weren’t successful in their new roles, the most common reason given was that passive hires didn’t have enough passion and lacked commitment to the organization.

In contrast, employers reported that, in their experience, active candidates tended to be motivated to succeed after being hired. 64 percent of employed adults also said that they would be more committed and confident in a job that they actively sought out than a job that they accepted after being approached by a recruiter.

Employment Gaps Exist for Valid Reasons

Another important point is that unemployment does not imply a lack of talent. Employers sometimes fear that candidates who have been unemployed for a period of time are untalented, undesirable, or no longer possess relevant skills for the job. There is an assumption that valuable candidates should be consistently employed. However, talent acquisition professionals with this mindset miss out on many groups of highly qualified candidates with diverse life experiences.

There are many reasons why talented candidates may have employment gaps on their resumes. For many people, employment gaps actually represent periods of unique skill development and strong personal growth. Candidates returning to the workforce after time spent raising children, caring for a sick family member, or traveling the world bring to the table unique perspectives and diverse life experiences that are extremely valuable.

Another common scenario where employment gaps may be found is when former retirees decide to return to the workforce. Although these applicants may not fit into the traditional hiring mold, they often represent some of the most highly qualified candidates on the market.

If employers automatically discredit these kinds of candidates and assume that they are somehow less qualified than passive job candidates, not only will they miss out on a large percentage of skilled, motivated, and highly qualified talent, but they also deprive themselves of candidates with diverse life experiences who have the potential to bring a lot of value to their organization.

Passive Candidates Can Relieve Employer Pain Points

Passive candidates and active job candidates are both important groups to consider in an effective recruiting strategy. Especially when it comes to hard-to-fill high-level positions, professional recruiters should take into consideration the value of active candidates’ ambition, motivation, and diverse life experiences.

For projects and positions that require specific sets of skills that may be hard to accurately screen for in candidates, you may want to consider arranging a trial period of employment rather than limiting yourself to passive candidates. Applicants who seem like a good fit can be brought on fill an interim role or staff a project on a contract basis. With this strategy, you can approach the recruiting process with an open mind while still playing it safe.