Active vs. Passive Recruiting

We’ve all heard about active and passive candidates. It’s often bandied about that passive candidates are the holy grail. And while the industry accepts this divide, it’s really not central to effective recruiting. It’s about advertising.

When you think about it, the distinction between ‘active’ and ‘passive’ refers to whether someone is looking for a job. ‘Active’ candidates are looking for a job (and likely to see your ad) while ‘passives’ are not. This illustrates how deeply the advertising paradigm pervades recruiting. Further, the holy grail is to get passive jobseekers to see the ad.

There’s an inherent stupidity here. Most people avoid ads whenever possible. Where is the value in advertising at disinterested people?

Say what you will, but defining the population relative to your ad – as ‘active’ or ‘passive’ – infers that the ad is the center. I suppose it is if you’re in advertising, but it’s lousy recruiting.

In our shop, we have great results defining recruiting as either ‘active’ or ‘passive’. Running an ad is passive. Instead, we focus on qualified prospects – regardless of employment. If they meet the criteria, we talk. Over time, we’ve found ‘active’ recruiters are the only kind worth having. Passive recruiters don’t cut it.


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