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Stop With the Recruiting Fashion Trends

by Jan 31, 2012, 5:49 am ET

It’s a brand new year, great things are on the horizon … and for me, I have had it up to my eyeballs with a particular topic. I am so fed up with this topic that I want to climb to the highest peak and scream, bang my head against a wall, and even toss my desk around the room over and over. This topic that’s making me and others so irritated is Passive Candidates.

Yes, that’s right. The topic or even the mention of passive candidates now a day makes me want to throw up. In conducting my own personal year in review and through scouring HR topics, articles, blogs, etc., it seems as if 2011 was the year of the “Passive Candidate.” My response … so the heck what.

I guess I am at a loss as to why there is so much over-emphasis on “passive candidates.” Whatever happened to simply hiring the most-qualified, best-fit individual who can add their strengths in order to advance the organization? Now we have resorted to “Commandments of Recruiting Passive Candidates,” “Rules to Recruit Passive Candidates”, “Your Guide to Passive Candidates” — you get my point.

So here are some questions for you to ask yourself and answer:

  • What does passive mean?
  • Are “passive candidates” better qualified than active candidates?
  • Are “passive candidates” perfect?
  • Do “passive candidates” even know they are passive?
  • Are “passive candidates” just acting passive and playing the recruiting game?
  • Do hiring managers even know what passive means, or are they following another trend?
  • Has a “passive candidate” ever been hired and then performed poorly, or are they all major rock stars?
  • On a company employment application, where is the check box that asks whether one is passive or active?
  • Is there something wrong with being an active seeker?
  • What is most important to you in making your next hire?
  • Why does it seem that some of these “passive candidates” seem to change companies like it’s nobody’s business?
  • How come when I am speaking to a “passive candidate” and ask that individual what other opportunities they are currently looking at, the list is most of the time extensive?

Passive, active, semi-active, inactive, submissive, reactive, retired, separated, etc. — shouldn’t we want to hire the best and most qualified individuals for our positions? Don’t we want to seek out and hire those who possess the strengths to improve the organization?

Right now, there are individuals knocking at our doors, and while not all of them are qualified, a lot of them are very qualified. Yet, a lot of these individuals are facing discrimination by hiring managers and recruiters who want someone who is working or someone who is passive. I have yet to see any study or statistical data that proves passive candidates to be more qualified, make better employees, or add additional value than those employees in the “other” categories.

I am after the most qualified individuals for my positions. I hire for experience, qualifications/strengths, and fit. I have never asked whether an individual is passive or not because to me it doesn’t matter. If you have the skills, meet the criteria of the position, and are determined to be a fit, then there is a great possibility in making a match.

I recently completed an internal search for an executive-level position in one of our most prestigious business units. After taking the order and obtaining full details, I started my search process. Fast forwarding to the end, I presented five candidates in my final slate: two passive, two semi-active, and one active. The end result — the active candidate received the offer after a thorough and extensive interview process.

It turns out this active individual came from a competing company who had shut its local doors months prior. To no fault of her own, a little bad luck had her now in a position that she had never been in before — in active search mode. In my own evaluation, I found her to be no less qualified than other passive candidates I interviewed for this same role. In fact, she was the most qualified and turned out to be the best fit.

I call on my fellow HR and talent leaders to not follow trends or fashions. Rather, stick to and follow the fundamentals of recruiting and search, build relationships, treat others well, hire for skill set, fit, and strengths, interview like a pro, and lastly maintain an open mind.

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.

  • Elad Hanns

    Good article.. in my mind passive = a candidate who is not on a job board. That is the only criteria I use. If you find a candidate who is employed BUT would consider other options if they were presented that = “passive” to me. The ONLY benefit of working with someone you contacted directly (as opposed to a board) is that you may be the only recruiter working with this candidate and subsequently presenting him/her opportunities. That means you (as the recruiter) have less competition. To your point, it should not matter to the client if they are passive or not, as long as they meet the qualifications for the job. As for me, a “passive” candidate is great because I have less competition. Other than that, you’re right!

  • Jacob Madsen

    Good comment K.C. which I share whole heartedly, and like the link
    As said stats/figures are there for a reason and whether you are skeptical Morgan they have come from facts/figures and tangible resources. Even if you allow a margin of 30% error they still speak volumes, why they have to be accepted as valid in terms of offering guidance.
    Morgan I must pass completely on your arguments as to ‘passive seekers are simply playing the passive game while actively looking’ sorry I am in total disagreement with this, it appear total nonsense to me.

  • Paul Myers

    Wow, what to say, not a lot after reading all the comments, I think I made a mess in my head!!!!

    Well…… I’m not going to follow the trends, I’m not going to take sides – I quite frankly don’t care who’s right and who’s wrong.

    I’ll just ensure I keep up to date with all the new whilst not forgetting the old and through evaluating what works best, adopt the approrpiate approach for each given piece of recruitment…….

  • Jim Rose


    Thanks for the well-written and just plain funny article.

    Do me a favor?? Write this same article next year at this time only insert “Social Media” for “Passive Candidate”.



  • Ruth Cognard

    Thanks for the article and for giving the opportunity to debate on this question.
    I believe the good thing about mix search (active and passive) is that we can get the best from both worlds. What recruiters have been doing in the past is not completely wrong! Let’s keep the best of both methods and find the best candidates wherever they’re from.

  • Brian Kevin Johnston

    @Donato… Spot on with “Niche” comment. I have been a niche recruiter for 10 years post DOT BOMB…

    I will say that your ability to persuade and influence (not control) passive candidates is a totally different skill set (Harder, Strategic, Sharp-Shooter, etc.) than calling someone who is active (They welcome your call). Passive recruiting requires you to be an authority figure in your niche, to pull it off, and get the call answered and candidate/target engaged within seconds…

    Best to ALL, Brian-

  • Keith Halperin

    @ Morgan: Thank you. I’m interested in hearing more about “recruiting game changers”. Also, much of ERE is devoted to promoting and following recruiting fads; as the Poet said: “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing….”
    @ Everybody: The hiring managers who are most likely insisting on closed “candidates” as opposed to “open” candidates are the ones least likely to be able to effectively use them. Why: because “closed” or “passive” recruiting is a M-U-C-H S-L-O-W-E-R P-R-O-C-E-S-S than going after someone who’s “open”. Imagine you told your hiring managers: “We can get you the perfect candidates for the positions, and they’ll all be within our budget. We know where they are and what they’re doing. It’ll take 6-9 months to woo them over here, as they’re all very happy where they are now.” Now, for some C-level and other very high-level or hyper-specialized positions this is the norm, but almost all the things I work on (and probably most of us work on, too) need to be filled NOW, NOW, NOW! I don’t have the time or inclination to deal largely with “tire kickers”. Hey: another term for passive: “tire kickers”. Think I’ll stick with this one…


  • Jacob Madsen

    I had decided n o t to post any more comments as said enough, but your comment Keith simply cannot stand unchallenged.
    Please please read Recruitment 3.0 (happy to mail to you or anyone interested just let me know) as it addresses exactly this and is also pwhat I understand KC’s company does. Build your talent community and potential pipeline well in advance so that you do not experience what every recruiter hates, starting on their back foot. The more it is possible to build interest, following, dialogue, engag
    ement the more you can reach out to a ‘ready-made’ or already established community avoiding delay.

    That is what smart and preparing for the future good talent acquisition in 2012 is about.

  • Keith Halperin

    Thank you, Jacob. I would enjoying reading your paper (see address below). I fully appreciate the wisdom and logic of having a careful and thoughtful candidate pipelining strategy. I would LOVE to have the luxury of working on slowly developing working relationships with very strong potential candidates. However with rare exceptions, companies (at least the ones I’ve worked for) aren’t careful and thoughtful in their hiring strategy; they’re highly reactive and frequently rather panicked in their needs. The sad truth (IMHO) is that a great deal of the recruiting industry survives based on the inability and/or unwillingness of companies to carefully plan their needs. In summary: it would be nice and useful to be able to do this, but in the real world of recruiting, we just aren’t able to most of the time.



  • Keith Halperin
  • Jacob Madsen

    See what you have gone and done Keith even though I promised myself to.stop commenting (ha-ha) that’s what happens when you touch subjects that really have my passion and interest!!! Look out for document in your email in box.

    I have mostly worked within and for companies that h a d to employ the best the market has, as that is their culture and necessary to stay competitive
    In a world (when talking IT, technology and telco and digital/Internet) where more and more convergence is taking place, we are seeing groupings of skill sets and abilities why we will see a bigger and bigger ‘competition fo talent’ in short the same people will be sought after by more and more companies.
    It has been going on for the last 10 years in the IT world, and the digital age and everything that follow with this will only increase that.
    It is no longer a question about the basics in becoming an employer of choice, companies and candidates have advanced and become far more sophisticated. I could talk for hours about this but will spare readers.
    Bottom.line is that if you do not embark on a pre active hire strategy/methodology talking, engaging and building relationships with an audience you as a company w i l l lose out (those with the best and strongest EVP will attract best candidates) why it is a must for survival. Any global leading and progressive and highly competitive company that intend to stay alive have this strategy and mindset at the forefront of their talent acquisition execution., take a look around and you will see.

  • K.C. Donovan

    Jacob, Keith, Everyone: It’s kind of funny actually – we see comments like Keith’s as the reason that we’re in business…

    Almost ALL companies are focused on getting HR to fill jobs NOW and Keith’s situation is the norm…tactical “butts in the seats” mentality. There is a reason for this in my view, and that is the “black hole” mindset that most hiring managers have (not all mind you…) for HR based on what historically has been delivered. They can’t understand why the recruiter doesn’t understand their business as well as they do, they can’t understand that people aren’t just waiting in the wings to work for them and they know that without a full hard working staff that they won’t ever meet their goals and get that next promotion…so Keith, and those in roles like his, get constant pressure…

    The interesting thing is that when the same hiring manager is given a strategic approach to their openings based on planning and forward thinking about openings to come throughout the year (a workforce plan), their tune completely changes. The constant griping about HR and recruiting becomes one of praise – especially when the openings are delivered with top 20% talent cultivated from the best of the pool or community… Of course you have to then deliver on the plan, but then that is the idea!!

  • Jacob Madsen

    OK late eve here in the UK why that may influence following but b e a u t i f u l l y written and very insightful
    and with depth and panache.

  • Morgan Hoogvelt

    @Jacob – Glad we can disagree and I too once thought like this thought is nonsense. But then I started finding the more “passive” candidates I spoke to were all involved in career searches and always had an ear to the market to find the next best role with more money, more responsibility, etc.

    I am sorry, but while I am sure there are those people who are out there that are simply not looking for a new job what so ever, the smart ones will always have an ear to the ground. Heck, they didn’t get to where they are by not playing the game. Take it how you like.

    @Jim, nice and you are right. Social media is another topic that is over-saturated. Kind of reminds me of the Y2K bug – “If you are not on social media – your world is ending.”

    @K.C., I just call it like I see it, nothing more and nothing less…simple. While I dont think that everyone in the country is looking, I think most passive people just play the game as mentioned before. Thats all. I see C-level resumes on a daily basis that have bounced around from place to place to place and are claiming passive. Thats not passive.

    I appreciate everyone’s comments and feedback with this article.

  • Keith Halperin

    @ Jacob: Thank you- I try to get people here on ERE to think and feel strongly about the discussions, and sometimes amuse them in the process. ISTM that very, very few people in recruiting can concern themselves with the big picture, if only because they (and a vast majority of employees) won’t be there very long. We live in an “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone: let’s do the deal!” and “loyalty = cash flow” world. Beneath a thin veneer of profit-maximizing rationality, ISTM most organizations are run based on the GAFI Principles: Greed, Arrogance, Fear, and Ignorance/Incompetence. Often the reality is that sr. executives want to be caught appearing to make a positive difference, while actually further entrenching the status quo. Finally, you and I may believe something very strongly, but unless we have evidence, we shouldn’t give them as facts/directives: “no longer a question”, “if you do not”, etc. (The vast majority of what I say [unless I have links] are my opinions.)

    @ K.C. Thanks. Re: the strategic hiring manager being happy about getting the strategic plan: I agree they would be happy if the hiring manager has had a strong say in its creation and implementation. I disagree if they don’t have much of a say and they feel that it’s something imposed upon them.


    Keith “Ruffling Feathers for Over Half a Century” Halperin

  • Jim Sullivan

    Only one question after all the debate – “candidate” – if they are a candidate then they are “active”, they are willing to consider a new opportunity – yes or no? So the whole passive or active thing is a misnomer. They are either a candidate (willing to consider a move) or they are not.

    I believe that Doug said it “HR and Talent Acquisition still refers to “passive job seekers” like they’re a demographic. Either you’re looking for a new job, or you’re not.” And IF the person you are connecting with “will consider” an opportunity – they can be a candidate – that means they are actively looking to make a change – will consider a change – can be sold on a good opportunity, etc.

    It all boils down to WHERE you find them, HOW you approach them, and do you have what they want to see in their future. Use all the tools at your disposal new, old, phone, internet, media, etc. Then connect with people to solve your hiring problems.

    We have all talked to someone that has said “I’m not looking for a new position” but when presented with the “right opportunity” says “Yes, I would like to be considered for THAT!” You are now talking to a “candidate”.

    Happy Hunting!

  • K.C. Donovan

    Jim Sullivan: What you say makes a TON of sense – once they say YES – they are active/candidate…

    The part about delineating passive from active is merely to direct the sourcing approach…people that will consider only “THAT” as you say, will not be open to ads or pushed out job content…the method of getting them to become active candidates is different than what is predominantly in use today by corporate recruiting…

    Changes are being made by the early adopters – no doubt – and there are a handful of service providers ( for example) that are providing the means to improve the instance of dialog with these types of career consumers…as we evolve we will continue to push up the number % of workers that are considered “active.”

  • Keith Halperin

    @Jim: Very well-said.
    @K.C.: Very sensible. If you don’t have a multi-year, no-lay-off-without-cause employment contract, virtually EVERYONE should keep an eye on the door and be open to a new position.
    If you don’t have one and think you’re indispensable and untouchable, you’re fooling yourself.


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  • Diane Dolinsky-Pickar

    Well put, Morgan. I agree wholeheartedly. There is no quick-and-dirty red mark across the forehead of any candidate which says, “consider me” or “don’t consider me.” That stuff went out with the branding of Hester Pryne!

  • Paul Alfred

    Not sure I understand what point you are trying to make Morgan. There is a definition for what a Passive and Active Candidate is; because you found an Active candidate for your role does not mean Passive candidates don’t exist. You asked the question in your Blog: What does Passive candidate mean – perhaps you should define it. Not sure how looking for Passive candidates has anything to do with Recruiting fundamentals – they remain the same regardless of whether or not you are looking for Active or Passive candidates. You can also have Qualified Active and Qualified Passive candidates – and I am not sure which professional recruiter would ask a candidate whether or not he is a Passive Candidate. This is a term reserved for folks who work in and blog about the industry. If your blog is about you hating the term “Passive Candidate” that is a different story- if it’s about the Passive Candidate and whether or not a Passive Candidate Market exist well it does. I founded a company based on that market.

  • Morgan Hoogvelt

    @Paul, you are not understanding my point – yet most everything you said in your comment is exactly the point. You said, ” Recruiting fundamentals – they remain the same regardless of whether or not you are looking for Active or Passive candidates.” That is one of the main points – why do we have all these seminars, conferences, books, webcasts, speakers, articles, etc. about how specialized it is to recruit “passive candidates”. When I call on someone I never stop to say, “Hi this is Morgan, I am calling about XYZ opportunity. Before I go on, are you passive or active in your search?” I go by simple and basic search principles regardless of whom I am speaking with and can adjust my style to the situation.

    Another point you mention, ” I am not sure which professional recruiter would ask a candidate whether or not he is a Passive Candidate.” Another exact point, so how do we know the person we are talking to is passive or not. People keep saying LinkedIn is filled with passive candidates; but for some reason, I keep finding all these “passive LinkedIn candidates” heavily engaged in job searches or even other Execs I personally know, have their profile up on a LinkedIn platform telling me with full intention they want to be found – this is only acting passive.

    All I am saying is for us as recruiters to not follow the hype of silly trends or fashions simply because there are groups and people marketing or in some instances scaring others that a certain topic is the way to go. Rather, stick to common and proven recruiting methods, treat all people as if the can be the next greatest hire until found not qualified, and simply stick to finding the most qualified/best fit/highest achieving candidate. Otherwise, we will continually find ourselves back in 1999 where everyone said the world was going to end as we know it because our CPU’s would fail when the clock struck 2000. Hats off to all the companies and people who raked in the money and took advantage of everyone’s perceived lack of knowledge and chasing a fad – for me, I won’t be in that crowd.

  • Paul Alfred

    Morgan … The point I am getting at is there is such a thing as a Passive candidate. I define these as folks that are not actively looking and are happy where they are. I fail to understand why some recruiters don’t get that. Also I invest alot more time ( with respect to high-end roles ) convincing folks that are not looking to look at my proposed role. The time investment(delta) spent with the “Passive Candidate” is totally different than with the “Active Candidate” and 7 times out of 10 my clients want that candidate sitting in the competition “Happy with where he/she is” that candidate for me is the “Passive Candidate”. We can’t be-little the term. My Clients want the candidate that is not looking happy doing the same job at the competition and they are willing to wait. That is the difference. Perhaps a blog on the difference between Active and Passive candidate is necessary.

  • Morgan Hoogvelt

    @Paul, I have no doubt there are pockets of people that are happy where they are career and job wise. I don’t think that factor necessarily makes those individuals better or more qualified than anyone else. I am sure there are equally qualified candidates in all groups of candidates, like anything else it is just a matter of identifying top talent and courting them as appropriate.

    If we define a great candidate as great simply because they are “happy where they are” I think that is crazy. If this is the case, then I think we could argue that in your passive group of people that are “happy where they are” include the very large group of individuals who come in every day at 9am and leave at 5pm, do enough to get by, have no initiative to move up or take on more responsibility, and could live out their careers in the company if allowed to – and I would say by my own observations the individuals I have seen like this are very happy where they are.

    So to say your clients want someone happy where they are will remain a mystery to me, seems like a very narrow scope of vision to have.

  • Keith Halperin

    @ Paul, @ Morgan: I think that there are definite needs for high-level recruiters who can take the time and effort to woo candidates that are both exceptional and happy where they are, just as there are needs for both salespeople who can work with a product/service with a short sales cycle, and those who can work with a product/service with a long one. However, it shouldn’t be the same person doing both….


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