When it comes to talent acquisition, the vast majority of people aren’t looking for jobs. As much as 70% of the global workforce is made up of passive candidates that aren’t actively seeking work. If you are only relying on active job seekers, you’re cutting your talent pool down to just 30%.

That 30% can be misleading if you take it at face value. That’s not 30% interested in your job. It means 30% are actively seeking new employment opportunities. Since there are some 10.4 million job openings in the US alone according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and more than 8.7 million in Europe, it’s no wonder you’re not seeing as many applications these days. Job openings exceed job seekers.

While you need to continue to screen active candidates, the key to finding the best talent is to incorporate efforts that focus on passive candidates.


the difference between active and passive candidates

There’s a key difference between active and passive candidates, and it goes beyond just whether they are in the job market. Active candidates come to you and apply for jobs. They may read your job advertising and decide it’s something they want to pursue. If they are the right fit for your position, you have a better chance of hiring the candidate.

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Passive candidates aren’t actively looking for work. You’ve got to go out and find them. When you do, they may need convincing that your company has a better opportunity.

Recruiting active and passive candidates takes different strategies as well. When you’re looking for active job seekers, you spread your message far and wide. You’ll receive applications, and then it’s up to you to sift through the resumes to find the ones that fit your needs. With passive candidates, it’s the reverse. You define your needs and then go find matches.

Attracting passive candidates can be challenging work. It takes a lot of research, cold calls and emails. Expect to be ghosted and ignored. This is why so many companies prefer to work with an HR services provider, like Randstad.

attracting active and passive candidates

Active job candidates are currently in the market looking for a new position. For these job seekers, you need to make sure they know you have openings and that candidates see you as a quality employer. When you turn your talent acquisition to passive candidates, you’ll need to approach things differently.

If you are looking to improve your talent acquisition strategy and find both active and passive job seekers, here are the things you’ll need to consider.

  • reduce friction wherever possible

Active candidates are looking to engage with you, whereas with passive candidates, you’re trying to engage with them. Passive candidates may be  less likely to want to go through multiple rounds of interviews, test assignments, and frustrating online applications. Regardless of a job seekers active or passive status, all candidates will appreciate a streamlined application process. 

Are you familiar with submitting a resume or filling out an online application for your company? If not, take a few minutes and try it out. Many company platforms waste candidates’ time with unnecessary steps, form fields, and complicated processes — applicants often have to upload their resumes, but are then forced to re-enter all their information. Active job seekers may be willing to work through long or complex applications, but passive job seekers will likely just move on.


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Since 60% of applicants don’t complete job applications already, don’t make job candidates jump through hoops.

Consider creating a special workflow for passive candidates that bypasses your normal hiring process. For example, instead of making a candidate fill out an online application and initial screening, offer them a fast-track opportunity to talk immediately to someone with hiring authority.

Before you begin your outreach, review your hiring process from start to finish and make sure you reduce friction anywhere you can.

  • improve the speed of hiring

If you’re like most companies, you already take too long to fill open positions. It’s one of the biggest complaints from job seekers.

Once you’ve found a high-quality candidate in your search, be prepared to move quickly or risk losing good candidates. When you are sourcing passive candidates, you’ve got more to lose than they do. The best ones are in demand and may be getting calls from other recruiters. They may be happy in their current position. In-demand active candidates will also move on if you take too long.

The longer you wait, the more it can cost you too. Once a candidate receives interest from other employers, you may have to negotiate a higher salary or add more incentives so they accept your offer. If you drag out the process too long, it sends a negative message about your culture — especially in an era where employees are seeking more flexibility and companies need to be more agile.

  • offer incentives

Today’s talent is looking for more than a job and a good salary. Besides an enticing culture, they are looking for additional incentives.

What are they looking for? According to Randstad employer brand research, here’s what employees value most:

  • 62% attractive salary and benefits
  • 58%: work-life balance
  • 56%: job security
  • 55%: pleasant work environment
  • 49%: opportunities for career advancement

It’s not surprising. As we’ve all managed through the pandemic, health, family, time and security have become even more valuable commodities.

Review your benefits to see if they align with what job candidates are seeking. While some have a hard cost, many of the things job candidates want are more about the environment at your company, such as flexible schedules and remote work opportunities.

What would it take for you to leave a job you love and work somewhere else? Job seekers are looking to you to answer that question. In a seller’s market, it’s important you have the answers ready before you start recruiting.

  • offer remote work opportunities

Even if you have not done so in the past, offering remote work opportunities can increase your pool of job candidates. Not only does it open up geographical limitations, but it provides the flexibility that many employees are seeking.

During the pandemic, many employees got to experience work at home that had never done it before. A lot of them loved it. If you can offer remote work, it can be a big advantage. If you can’t, it may be a significant impediment. A survey of 100 executives at large companies across the globe found that 90% are embracing a hybrid work model, allowing employees to work remotely at least some of the time.

Another study reported that more than a third of employees worldwide that have been allowed to work remotely now say they would quit if forced to return to the office full-time. That creates an unprecedented opportunity for you to attract passive job seekers if you can offer remote work.

  • look internally

You may already have the best candidate on your staff, but they also fall into the passive job seeker category. They may not be looking to move into a new position and may not apply. However, they may have the skills you need.

There’s a big advantage to hiring from within. It sends a strong message to employees that there are growth opportunities and helps with retention. More than 40% of people that are promoted from within stay longer at companies.

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More than 40% of people that are promoted from within stay longer at companies.

Society of Human Resource Management
  • ask for referrals

One of your best strategies may be to ask for referrals. When employees recommend colleagues, there are several benefits. First, employees know what the job requires. If they tell you someone can do the job and fits the culture, that’s a strong endorsement. Secondly, if the person ends up getting hired, it may help keep the person that provided the reference in the fold. It sends a strong message that you value their opinion.

Referrals don’t just come from your employees. Ask colleagues and customers who they might recommend. Consider offering an incentive for providing a quality referral that leads to a hire. 

  • improve your employer brand

When you reach out to a passive candidate as part of your talent acquisition program, they’re going to check you out online. What will they find? Will it fit their idea of a great employer?

It's important to evaluate your employer brand and take a close look at how you are perceived as an employer. A good place to start is by looking at your website from a job seeker’s point of view. Is your employment section all about you and what you need, or does it tell potential job seekers what you’ll do for them?

Today’s job candidates recognize the importance of a strong culture that goes beyond a paycheck. They want to work for companies that truly value their employees and support them in both their professional and personal lives. Can you demonstrate how you do that?

Depending on your industry and what job seekers value, you might want to highlight:

  • Employee testimonials
  • Community projects and outreach programs
  • Charitable involvement
  • Innovative solutions
  • Career development opportunities

Blog posts and social media are great places to spotlight this kind of content. Consider building a library of content that talks about different attributes that potential employees might find attractive. When you are talking to job candidates, and they say something is important to them, it can be impressive when you can tell them it’s important to you too, and send them a link to a blog or social post that demonstrates how.

For example, if someone says they want to be able to grow within their job, sending a video clip from one of your team members showing how they earned a promotion might help in your talent acquisition efforts. If someone wants to work for a company that invests in the local community and you can send them a link to social media that shows your employees getting paid time off to work at local charities, it might strike a chord.

When you can tell a candidate something and then immediately demonstrate you do what you’re saying, it sends a strong message.

Building a strong brand image takes time and commitment and shouldn’t just be limited to your company website. Use social media and other channels to talk about your mission and how employees are actively involved.

  • be proactive

Sourcing, attracting and closing active and passive candidates is challenging. But in today’s competitive employment environment, it’s a necessity. You cannot afford to wait for qualified job seekers to find you. If you’re not being diligent in your approach to finding passive job candidates too, you may be missing out on the best and brightest.

To learn more about the different talent sourcing strategies that can help you attract and hire active and passive candidates, download our quick guide on the best sourcing strategies for attracting top talent.

about the author

sofie maervoet

vp global concepts staffing

Sofie is one of the staffing leaders in Randstad with a track record in process optimization, training and coaching. She started her career as a staffing consultant in Randstad Belgium in 2002. Later, she joined the team in Randstad Switzerland as concept manager until she joined the global concept development team in 2018.

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