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Passive Candidates: How to Attract Talent That’s Not Actively Seeking a Job

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Want to find top-caliber candidates for your team in 2024? Never mind the job postings, because a lot of the best talent isn’t looking for a new job. Attracting these candidates requires more than just posting job openings and waiting for the applications to roll in. Passive candidates, or those not actively seeking a new job, can be a goldmine of talent that can drive your company forward. Typically, they are employed, highly skilled, and may be the perfect fit for your organization—despite the fact that they are not actively searching for new opportunities.

Attracting these candidates can be difficult and requires a strategic approach and a deep understanding of what motivates them to consider a change.

So, how do you get these folks interested in your job openings? Here’s a guide:

1. Build a Strong Employer Brand

People who aren’t job hunting are looking for something significantly better if they’re going to move. You’ve got to develop a strong employer brand that showcases your company culture, values, and the benefits of working for you. This involves not just stating what your company does, but also highlighting what makes it a unique and attractive place to work. A distinctive employment brand can resonate with passive candidates, drawing them in with a clear understanding of the company’s values, culture, and opportunities.

To accomplish this, organizations should begin by identifying their core strengths and values that set them apart. This means talking about the culture, values, and real benefits of working with you. This could include highlighting your collaborative work environment, commitment to employee development, or focus on innovation.

Employee testimonials and success stories can add a human touch to your employer brand. Real-life experiences of current employees provide valuable insights into the workplace culture and substantiate the company’s claims. Sharing these stories through various channels, such as company websites, social media, or recruitment materials, reinforces the authenticity of the employment brand.

2. Get Your Team Involved

Your current employees can be your best ambassadors for attracting passive candidates. Encourage them to share job openings within their professional networks. This not only extends your reach but also adds a personal endorsement to the opportunity. Implementing headcount tracking ensures we continuously align our team’s growth with strategic business objectives, identifying when and where to expand our talent pool. Consider implementing an employee referral program that rewards employees for introducing talented individuals to the company. Personal recommendations are often more persuasive than traditional recruiting methods.

3. Use Social Media Smartly

Social media and professional networking platforms like LinkedIn are powerful tools for engaging passive candidates. Share engaging content that emphasizes your company’s achievements, workplace culture, and career opportunities. Use these platforms to build relationships with potential candidates by engaging in discussions, sharing industry news, and highlighting employee milestones. The goal is to keep your company top of mind, so when passive candidates consider a change, your organization comes to mind first.

Cultivating a positive online presence through compelling storytelling is a great way to attract passive candidates, says Pat Schirripa, CEO, People 2U.

“Showcase company culture and emphasize career growth opportunities,” says Schirripa. “This will create an appealing narrative for passive candidates. Share success stories and feature employee testimonials. This will enhance your company’s attractiveness to candidates.”

Building an online network and community by engaging in thought leadership and proactively fostering discussions, celebrating achievements, and exchanging feedback is a good way to attract passive candidates, says Max Wesman, Chief Operating Officer, GoodHire.

But it takes planning, work, and dedication. It does not just happen overnight, by attending a few industry events, or through casual social media conversations and postings.

“Growing a strong employer brand, attending events, and utilizing internal resources to attract passive candidates sounds simple and easy, but it hardly ever works in practice unless your name is Apple, Meta, or similar,” says Wesman. “As someone who has helped build, grow, and scale multiple successful startups, I’ve always advocated for tapping into professional networks and building communities through proactive actions and thought leadership. Putting your company and brand out there is the key to attracting passive talent, and you do this by actively sharing your story and journey, inviting discussions, exchanging feedback, and growing a niche community to become visible and attract the passive candidates and talent you want and need to ensure growth and success.”

4. Offer What They’re Missing

Many passive candidates are comfortable in their current roles because they value the known benefits and job security. To attract them, you need to offer something more compelling than what they have in their current employment situation. Highlight the flexibility, work-life balance, and growth opportunities your company offers. Make it clear that you invest in employee development through training, mentorship, and clear career progression paths. These aspects can make the prospect of changing jobs more appealing.

“Remember, a passive job seeker is likely already employed somewhere, and they like their current job enough that they aren’t actively looking for a new one,” says Rob Boyle, Marketing Operations Director, Airswift. “This means you can’t just offer them any job, you need to convince them that your job is significantly better than their current role, to the extent that it’s worth the hassle of changing employers.”

In short, you need to make them an offer they cannot refuse, says Boyle.

5. Get Personal in Your Outreach

When you reach out to passive candidates, personalized communication is key. Generic messages are likely to be ignored. Take the time to understand the candidate’s current role, achievements, and career aspirations. Tailor your message to reflect how your job opening aligns with their skills and career goals. A personalized approach demonstrates your genuine interest in them as an individual, not just as a potential employee.

“Find out what drives your passive candidates by asking them early on about what they’re missing in their current role and looking for in a new opportunity,” says Robert Kaskel, Chief People Officer, Checkr. “You can use these drivers to sell a particular position individually when the right role opens up, so they see a real benefit in taking the leap from a role they enjoy well enough to avoid actively looking for something new.”

Over time, you will see common drivers among professionals in certain industries or roles, and you can use them to attract new passive candidates, adds Kaskel.

Example: If you hear software developers complaining about their work-life balance, this is the first thing you address in any LinkedIn messages, job postings, and emails to passive candidates.

“Become the employer that gives people what they want most, and passive candidates will move beyond the point of being interested to making real moves,” says Kaskel.

6. Simplify the Application Process

The complexity of the application process can be a significant barrier for passive candidates who are not actively looking for a new job. To attract these candidates, simplify your application process. Make it as easy as possible for them to express interest in your company. Consider allowing candidates to apply with their LinkedIn profile or a simple resume submission, followed by a casual conversation rather than a formal interview as the first step.

Passive candidates (and any candidates really) do not want to spend time using a clunky or dated software system or go through a complicated process to apply for jobs. The quicker and easier they can apply for your open jobs, the more likely passive candidates will consider and apply for these roles.

7. Create Irresistible Job Postings

To get the attention of passive candidates, your job ads need to be more than a laundry list of requirements and duties. Use persuasive language, share success stories, and provide insights into the company’s vision to create a job description that resonates with top talent. This strategy can make your job openings more appealing to those who are passively exploring new career opportunities.

“Passive candidates are often more discerning and selective about the opportunities they consider, so it’s crucial to create job descriptions that stand out,” says Phil Strazzulla, Founder, SelectSoftware Reviews. “Highlight not only the responsibilities and qualifications but also the unique aspects of your company culture and the potential for growth and impact in the role.”

The bottom line, ultimately, is that when you are writing a job description to appeal to passive candidates, it needs to have the same compelling hook and offer that you would want in marketing copy because it needs to accomplish a similar goal, says Boyle.

“Pairing a job description that adequately sells your role with creative, proactive outreach will increase your odds of attracting passive candidates better than any other method I have witnessed,” Boyle adds.

8. Be Ready to Offer Competitive Pay

While passive candidates might be motivated by factors beyond salary, competitive compensation and benefits are still crucial. In fact, this can often be the key element in a passive candidate taking a new job. Ensure your total compensation package is attractive compared to their current role and the broader market. The reality is, that even though job seekers covet work-life balance, working remotely, and other perks, a market-leading salary and above-average total compensation package can help seal the deal with passive candidates. Remember, for them to leave a job they are comfortable with is going to take something unique for them to leave. Money talks.

Wrapping Up: You Can Attract Passive Candidates, But You Have to Be Strategic

Attracting passive candidates takes a different approach than regular recruiting. It’s about showing them a compelling picture of your company, connecting on a personal level, and making the process easy and attractive. With the right strategy, you can turn these passive candidates into enthusiastic—and active—members of your team.

Matt Krumrie
Matt Krumrie
Matt Krumrie is a resume expert and freelance writer whose work has been published in over 200 newspapers, websites, and magazines. He has 15+ years of experience writing resumes for clients of all backgrounds, from college grad, to entry-level to mid-career, executive and more. Matt lives in Minnesota.

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