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A Recruiter Competency Model for Passive Candidates

Lou Adler
Nov 11, 2011, 5:27 am ET

You can’t recruit and hire passive candidates using the same workflow nor the same recruiters used for active candidates.

We conducted an in-depth survey with LinkedIn last year that indicated that 82% of their fully-employed members were unlikely to even consider switching jobs unless directly contacted by a recruiter or through an employee they’ve worked with closely in the past. This increased slightly to 83% in this year’s survey. This is shown on the graph, with the dark blue line representing the satisfaction level of those surveyed (4,550 fully-employed LinkedIn members) comparing their job seeking status and job requirements over time.

From a strategy standpoint, the idea is to find candidates either the moment they actively enter the job market, or before. But to do this, you need a different process for sourcing and recruiting the 83% who are not actively looking than used for those who are. This is what is meant by an “Early-bird Sourcing Strategy.”

The surveys also highlighted the fact that most companies spend most of their recruiting resources targeting the 17% who are actively looking. Making matters more challenging, while most passive candidates are open to a discussion with a recruiter, they would only consider a significant career move to switch jobs.

Over the next several weeks I’ll be hosting a few webcasts describing how to develop this type of early-bird sourcing program. Part of this will describe some of the workflow process changes required to support the strategy, and the specific competencies a recruiter needs to possess in order to implement it. These changes are not insignificant.

Here a just a few of the big ones:

Some Big Workflow Changes Required to Support a Passive Candidate Early-bird Sourcing Strategy

  1. Elimination of traditional skills-and-experience-laden job descriptions for recruiting advertising purposes. To be effective, voice mails, emails and job postings need to emphasize the long-term value proposition of the job plus some of types of projects the person will be working on.
  2. Implementation of a “sequence of steps” recruiting model including a career discovery process vs. a transactional (“find and apply”) hiring process. This represents the heart of the workflow changes required and why different recruiting skills are essential. Passive candidates evaluate job changes using a hybrid of long- and short-term criteria. Collecting this information often takes multiple meetings and discussions with the hiring manager. This is fundamentally different than active candidates who have an economic need driving their decision-making.
  3. Development of virtual talent communities driven by proactive In-Out employee referral programs. An In-Out auto-matching referral program is a relatively new concept. The idea is to automatically connect a newly opened job with the company’s employees’ pre-qualified first-degree connections. The purpose of this is to push compelling career messages (an outbound process) to people who are not looking. Typical talent communities are comprised of active candidates who have signed-up (inbound) to follow the company.

 Highlights of a Recruiter Competency Model for Passive Candidates

Recruiting passive candidates requires more talented and tenacious recruiters. We’ve developed a complete, multi-factor passive candidate recruiter competency model with a detailed ranking score to help recruiting leaders assess their teams. Email me if you’d like a sample version of the full recruiter competency model, but following are the essential factors (a warning to recruiting leaders: do not allow your recruiters to contact passive candidates unless they possess these skills):

  1. Partners with Hiring Manager: recruiters don’t have much credibility with a top person who’s not looking, if they don’t know the hiring manager extremely well. More important, if the recruiter and hiring manager are not both working in tandem, it’s impossible to move top people through the sequence of discovery steps mentioned above.
  2. Someone Worth Knowing and Subject Matter Expert: recruiters must know the company strategy, the company’s basic financial strength, the industry and where the company stands, the competition and why the company is better positioned, and all of the associated compensation and benefit issues. When a recruiter contacts a person who’s not looking — especially the best ones — these prospects are deciding not only if the career opportunity is worth pursuing, but also if the recruiter is credible.
  3. Develops and Implements Customized Sourcing and Networking Programs: as shown in the graphic above, those who aren’t looking need to be contacted directly either via email, through networking, or employee referral. Getting the names of these people is easy. However, getting on the phone and developing deep networks of highly qualified prospects is the difference between having a list of names and some great prospects open to talking with a hiring manager.
  4. Understands Real Job Needs and Associated Career Opportunity: passive candidates will always want to know a few things about the job just to determine if it’s worth a serious discussion. Recruiters must be able to present this on multiple levels, including the job’s importance, some of the key projects and tasks involved, the impact of these on the company’s business plans, and why it represents a career move for the right person. Most recruiters drop the ball here, and not only lose a potentially strong candidate, but also a great networking opportunity.
  5. Accurately Assesses Competency, Motivation, and Fit: recruiting passive candidates involves not only thorough job knowledge, but also the ability to assess the prospect’s ability and motivation to do this work. A key part of this is determining cultural, job, and managerial fit. Since these candidates aren’t looking, good assessment skills allows the recruiter to compare actual job requirements to the candidate’s background, and credibly demonstrate why the job represents a career move.
  6. Recruits, Advises, Negotiates, and Closes Top Prospects: Persuading top prospects who are not looking, getting them to engage in a series of career discussions, pushing the process along, and then closing the deal on equitable terms is what recruiting passive candidates is all about. Collectively this is represented by the 6Cs of Passive Candidate Recruiting. Very few of these overlap with the skills required to find and recruit active candidates.

Unless you have a big employer brand, it’s impossible to attract the 83% of fully-employed professionals who aren’t looking using the same sourcing and recruiting techniques used for the 17% who are. These are two different worlds, and while most recruiting leaders recognize the difference, I find it puzzling that only a few are willing to do anything about it.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Bill Gallop


    Great article. I wish all my clients understood this. I would love to be able to use this article in my presentations.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Bill Gallop

  2. Lawrence Stich

    Good Stuff!!

  3. Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Lou. Very sensible. A couple of points:
    1) I think it’s a very sensible idea to create pipelines and one which rarely gets the necessary resources. I have worked as a contract recruiter since 1994, and can only think of one company (a very large one) that MIGHT have had a program to develop candidate pipelines.

    2) With a few modifications, the skills you listed as parts of the Recruiter Competency Model are the types of skills that ALL the recruiters (a company has on staff) should have. These are the high-touch, high-value add, high-pay ($50+/hr) tasks that FT or contract corporate recruiters should learn and perform. Other tasks should be no-sourced (eliminated), through-sourced (automated) or out-sourced (sent away) at a cost of $6.25/hr or less.



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  7. Simon Robertson

    Just came across this article. Very interesting points made by Lou but I’m not sure we should still be using the term “Passive candidates”.

    To me, and I admit I’m British so that might explain things, the term passive implies a negative view of a potential candidate. In my experience they are seldom passive, in fact they are usually very active in pursuing their career goals. True they may not be actively job hunting but many if approached in a professional manner will say “I could be interested in a change”.

    To me these 84% are “selective candidates” or as I prefer to call them “selective talent”

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