How to Hire Passive Job Seekers — and Why You Should

By May 19, 2017 at 10:01pm

The labor market is still tight. Sitting back and waiting (and hoping) for the right candidates to apply to your job postings is not an effective way to staff your openings. You need to be proactive. Being proactive includes targeting passive job seekers. These are professionals who aren’t sending out resumes but would be open to switching roles if an enticing opportunity came along. Passive job seekers aren’t responding to job ads. They aren’t even looking at job ads.

But passive job seekers represent some of the most promising candidates available. They often have in-demand skills and, through their current roles, are continuing to build new ones. If you want to give yourself the best shot at finding the right fit for your opening, passive job seekers need to be part of your hiring equation.

You can’t hope to identify and potentially recruit passive job seekers if you are, to put it bluntly, passive. You need to take the initiative by identifying and contacting passive job seekers yourself. Here are strategies that can help you do just that:

Build your brand

You want passive job seekers to think of your organization as a place they’d love to be once they’re ready to pursue a job change. So, start building your brand as an employer of choice.

There are several ways to do so. Post photos of happy employees on your firm’s social media accounts. Run an ad in an industry publication that mentions your company’s recent appearance on a “best place to work” list. Attend job fairs, professional association meetings and even charity events so your firm becomes a recognized name in your local market.

I’ll be honest: It takes time. There’s no way to build your brand quickly. But if you begin the process now, eventually your organization can become a target destination for workers looking for something new.

Use social media as a source

Social media can be a nice starting point for spotting passive job candidates. LinkedIn offers paid tools that allow you to search profiles based on various criteria to find people with the qualifications you seek. And you can send messages to people you’re not connected to in order to start building a relationship.

Keep in mind, though, that, in most cases, it takes both time and trust to convert a cold contact into a potential hire. The people you reach out to may be unaware of your company and not consider it a possible destination for them. More importantly, it may require a good deal of convincing for target candidates to understand why they should leave a stable role for a new opportunity they know little about.

Work with a recruiter

Working with a recruiter can make the process of identifying passive job seekers much easier. The best recruiters have cultivated a rich pipeline of passive job seekers through their networking efforts and by placing professionals in jobs and keeping those connections alive over years, even decades. In fact, many job seekers work with recruiters specifically to hear about interesting employment opportunities without having to launch an actual job search.

In addition, recruiters understand what certain candidates desire in a new job and what it would take for them to switch roles. A good recruiter can quickly identify passive job seekers who would seriously consider your opportunity and help position your role so it appeals to these professionals.

Be prepared for a counteroffer

One of the toughest parts of recruiting passive candidates can be sealing the deal. After all, to land these already-employed professionals, you have to convince them to leave a job that they are more or less happy in. And, of course, the person’s current employer isn’t going to be happy to hear a valued employee is about to walk out the door.

If you do make a job offer to a passive job seeker, be prepared that the person’s employer will make a counteroffer in an attempt to keep the employee on board. This is another circumstance where a recruiter can be helpful. Since recruiters have expertise at negotiating job offers, they can highlight the benefits of the position you’re offering so the candidate feels confident moving forward with you.

Paul McDonald photograph
Paul McDonald

Paul McDonald is senior executive director at Robert Half. He writes and speaks frequently on hiring, workplace and career management topics. Over the course of more than 30 years in the recruiting field, McDonald has advised thousands of company leaders and job seekers on how to hire and get hired.

McDonald joined Robert Half in 1984 as a recruiter for financial and accounting professionals in Boston, following a public accounting career with Price Waterhouse. In the 1990s, he became president of the Western United States overseeing all of the company’s operations in the region. McDonald become senior executive director of Robert Half Management Resources in 2000, and assumed his current role in 2012. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting from St. Bonaventure University in New York.

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