Thursday, December 2, 2010

Are you a passive candidate?

I wanted to clear something up because there seems to be some confusion out there about active versus passive candidates. Surprisingly, the confusion is often from candidates themselves regarding their own status as active or passive. There is also quite a bit of confusion from the folks that work for the job boards about the difference between an active and passive candidate. It’s a pet peeve of mine, so I decided it was time to write about it.

What is a passive candidate?

One thing everyone seems to understand is that, deserved or undeserved, passive candidates are the most desirable to employers. Employers pay headhunters large fees to find the elusive passive candidate. Company recruiters pay top dollar to attend training to learn how to find passive candidates. All of this buzz about passive candidates has created an elite status for anyone who holds that label. Everybody wants a passive candidate so everybody wants to be a passive candidate.

And this has led job seekers to refer to themselves as passive candidates. Read that last sentence again for me: this has led job seekers to refer to themselves as passive candidates. By definition, if you are seeking a job, you are not a passive candidate.

If you tell me, “I’m a passive candidate,” then your resume should not be in my system. If it is in my system, it’s not because you put it there, it’s because I put it there after spending a significant amount of time tracking it down. In fact, if you are truly a passive candidate, you may not even know I have your resume; and honestly, I may not even have a resume that you created, it may be more of a profile of you that I’ve cobbled together from the little pieces of information that I could find on you while doing my research. If you are a passive candidate, your resume can’t be found in databases like Monster or CareerBuilder. If you are a passive candidate, you are not interviewing with other companies at the same time you are interviewing with me. Frankly, if you are a passive candidate, you are not reading this blog post (or any other blog about job searching).

Just because passive candidates are desirable does not mean that active candidates are undesirable

I am NOT saying that active candidates are bad. The reality is, the large majority of people who get hired in any economy are active candidates. They have a few advantages over the passive candidate – they are more readily available, much easier to find and more agreeable to work with. Generally speaking, active candidates return my phone calls, they are usually polite, and they have one thing going for them that you almost never find in a passive candidate: they are eager for the job.

With passive candidates, you have to twist their arm, plead with them, and woo them; hiring managers find this absolutely annoying. Conversely, hiring managers love it when they find someone that is genuinely excited about their job, and this level of excitement is often found in active candidates. So rather than pretending to be a passive candidate (which is pretty transparent by the way), embrace your active status and let your enthusiasm, passion and excitement for the job shine through. That is your secret weapon.

Let’s be honest

Be careful when you use the term “passive candidate” with me. Don’t tell me you’re a passive candidate because you think I’ll like you better because of it. Don’t tell me that your friend told you about my job posting, because of course you weren’t looking for a job and would have never known about my job posting unless someone else brought it to your attention. Don’t wait a few days before returning my phone call because you think it makes you look busy or more interesting. I’ve been doing this a long time, I can see through it, and frankly, it’s insulting to my intelligence when you try to play me like that.

You can be (and should be) selective in your job search. People often tell me, I’m only willing to make a move for the right opportunity. And that’s wise. But, let’s be clear, being selective and smart about your search still does not qualify as being a passive candidate – it simply means that you are looking for the right opportunity. Passive candidates are not looking at all; this is why they are so hard to find and so difficult to recruit. That is why headhunters get paid such big fees to do the hard work of finding and recruiting them.

And for the job board companies who claim to target passive candidates, I get what you’re saying. You place advertisements in places where a person who is not actively looking for a job might see it. That person is then compelled to click on your link, and then the next thing you know, they are on your website and then the next thing you know, they are registering with your database. And you think you just snagged a passive candidate and now you can go market your product to people like me and charge me money to access your database that is chock full of these passive candidates.

It’s funny how, once I’m in your exclusive database, I’m finding candidates who are also in Monster, CareerBuilder, and even my own system. Access to your database is expensive, so you can only imagine how irritated I am when I look around and find a bunch of people I already know about, when you told me there would be passive candidates there. If you really think you have something special, give me some kind of trial – whether it’s a free peek or a big discount to take a closer look inside. If it’s as great as you say it is once I’m able to look under the hood, I’ll buy more.

Personally, I think we’ve all given too much weight to the value of the passive candidate, and this focus has given active candidates an undeserved lower status. I’m interested in great candidates, whether they are active or passive. Great candidates are always hard to find, but I’ll save that topic for another post.

As a contract recruiter, I am actively looking for great candidates (both active and passive) for my Washington DC based client. Visit my LinkedIn profile to learn more about my recruiting work:

Orignal "An Honest Day's Work" Posting

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