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The 20/20/60 Sourcing Plan

Lou Adler
Sep 7, 2012, 12:17 am ET

I was holding a confab last week with a few recruiting directors from some global companies discussing the future of sourcing and recruiting. The emphasis was how to get better results from LinkedIn Recruiter. Their contention was that more could be done, but their recruiters were balking. The discussion started with a few questions. Imagine you were there at the meeting. How would you respond to these points?

  1. Do you want to increase your emphasis on hiring passive candidates?
  2. Are you in a talent scarcity situation where the demand for talent is greater than the supply?
  3. Do you want to raise the talent level of your total current workforce, sustain it, or lower it?

All said they want to accelerate their passive recruiting efforts; they all thought they were in a talent scarcity situation for most critical positions; and, of course, they all said they wanted to raise their talent level. I suggested that to begin achieving these three results they needed to implement a 20/20/60 sourcing plan. This means that no more than 20% of their sourcing resources and efforts should be spent on job postings, about 20% on name generation and targeted emails, and 60% on networking.

This 20/20/60 sourcing plan maps closely to the job-hunting status of LinkedIn members. This is shown in the pie chart summarizing the results of a survey we conducted with LinkedIn last year. Based on more than 4,500 fully-employed members, 17% categorized themselves as active (Searchers, Networkers, and Hunters), 15% Tiptoers (only telling very close former associates), and 68% passive (Explorers were open to receiving calls from a recruiter to discuss a possible career move). To source and recruit the best of these people you can’t just post traditional job descriptions, send boring emails, or make dozens of phones call a day, and expect to attract and hire many good people.

Implementing a well-designed talent scarcity approach to hiring top talent requires that each part of the 20/20/60 plan be optimized to attract the best people in each job-hunting category. This then needs to be combined with rigorous performance-based selection standards and exceptional recruiting skills, to raise a company’s overall talent bar. I contended that without this type of overt and proactive approach it was very difficult to even sustain the current talent levels, since short-term needs dominated long-term decision-making.

The Essence of a 20/20/60 Sourcing Plan 

  • 20% of your efforts need to be posting compelling, career-oriented recruitment advertising so that the best active candidates will find it easily when searching on Google or a job board aggregator. Not only does the posting need to be easily found, but it also needs to highlight the “ideal” candidate’s intrinsic motivator. This is what motivates the person to excel and what they’re not getting in their current job. Here’s an example of how we captured this for a posting we prepared for a client earlier this year for a business unit controller.
  • 20% of your sourcing needs to be focused on preparing short, personalized career stories that are emailed to prospective prospects. These prospects are identified using “Clever Boolean” techniques plus the advanced search filters built into LinkedIn Recruiter. Using LinkedIn’s InMail or a tool like eGrabber for extracting email addresses, it’s simple to send emails in reasonable volumes within a hour after taking a search. This needs to be followed-up with timely and persistent phone messages from the recruiter. What’s left as a voice mail is as important as the email message.
  • 60% of a company’s sourcing efforts needs to networking-based with the objective of spending more time getting pre-qualified warm referrals, rather than making endless cold calls. Most of the initial names will be generated by using LinkedIn Recruiter to search on your co-workers’ connections, and before calling, getting the co-worker to vouch for the person. This is much more proactive than waiting for a co-worker to recommend someone. But this is just the first step. Once on the phone, there’s a heck of lot of recruiting that needs to be done. Much of this involves getting the person to consider the career opportunities involved in the open position, rather than attempting to browbeat the person into hearing about your “great” job, which is no different than every other “great” job the person has heard about.

We ended the meeting by creating the agenda for next month’s call. The ideas focused on what came next once a company implemented a 20/20/60 sourcing plan. I suggested that there were some prerequisites that should come first, specifically:

  1. How to obtain the full support and engagement of the hiring manager. If hiring managers aren’t willing to invest extra time upfront and spend more time recruiting candidates, it was unlikely any sourcing plan would help in attracting and hiring stronger people.
  2. Convert jobs into careers. Top people, whether active, passive, military vets, or diverse candidates, aren’t the least bit interested in taking lateral transfers unless the upside is clear and obvious. Recruiters need to convincingly make this case on each and every call, from first contact to the final close.

Implementing a 20/20/60 sourcing plan is a necessary step for any company facing a talent scarcity situation, but it’s not sufficient. To pull it off, you also need great jobs, fully-engaged hiring managers, and outstanding recruiters. However, this is just the beginning. It’s how you execute that will separate the winners from the runners-up.

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. Golie-Lorenzo Green

    This is a great article. I definitely like that fact that you pointed out how all of this is pointless without the proper backing and commitment from hiring managers.

    I would take that a step further though and say that in order for organizations to truly master the ability of identifying and hiring top talent it needs to be a part of the companies mission and culture. Although many employers would like to say they are committed I have found that they are not. Most large organizations have no plan for how they are going to truly get there hiring managers engaged with HR/Recruiting to achieve the acquisition of top talent and as stated in this article if the people who the person your recruiting are not involved purposefully outside of the normal here is my requisition where are my resumes approach the organizations recruiting tactics will not be successful.

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  3. Jo Fletcher

    The whole hiring system needs to reset – networking past the HR gatekeeping system is mandatory if you want to get an interview. Trying to anticipate which keywords are critical to pass the screening is both impossible and depressing. Which begs the question – why have HR involved in hiring at all?!

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  5. Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Lou. I think we need to get over the the “active candiate” vs “passive candiate” dichotomy, and move toward the “quick hire” vs “slow hire” one. Accodingly we need to manage the expectations of hiring managers to even more inform them:
    “Quality of hire, speed of hire, cost of hire- pick any two.”


    Keith “Manage Their Expectations or They’ll Manage You!”

  6. Loren De Laine

    Well articulated Lou. It’s great to see recommendations supported by a model. The standout for me is the capability of the delivery – the tools, such as LinkedIn are just the enablers. Without the competencies in the team, execution will miss the mark. “High performing talent” on all fronts is the driver of business success.

  7. Lou Adler

    Keith – i think passive candidate recruiting is far quicker – we train recruiters to put a slate of passive candidates together in 3-6 days using the 20/20/60 program. The key is to define quality up front with the hiring manager, and via aggressive referrals through your co-workers it’s easy to get a slate of hot prospects in less than a week. A prospect is someone who meets the performance criteria for quality and is willing to have an exploratory call with the hiring manager. Active candidate sourcing takes much longer since you’re waiting for a good enough person to apply.

    The key to successful recruiting – think upside-down, inside-out and backgrounds!


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  9. Ryan Smith


    Thank you for the article. Big fan of your work!

    I agree that the passive candidate is the more effective and strategic choice when it comes to recruiting. Not only will recruiting passive candidates be more effective and of higher quality, I have noticed that they tend to be more engaged and committed to your company from day 1. A lot of this is attributed to the constant communication/relationship formed between the recruiter and candidate.

  10. Richard Araujo

    @ Ryan and Lou,

    I’ve asked before, has anyone ever produced a single study showing so called ‘passive’ candidates are better performers and longer tenured? I have yet to see one, and the constant communication you mention, Ryan, can be just as much responsible for the candidate’s and their manager’s commitment to the hire as the sourcing method. Until I see some demonstration and validation of the supposed superiority of passive sourcing/candidates beyond unverifiable anecdotes, I will consider the distinction meaningless. Getting the result of a successful, high performing hire is all that matters to me. Whether that involves ‘passive’ or ‘active’ candidates depends entirely on the individual situation.

  11. Lou Adler


    1st you need to know the difference a top person and an avg one.
    2nd assuming the mix of top people are evenly split between active and passive, which is unlikely, since top people are never let go first, but if the assumption is true then simple math would suggest that
    3. there at least 4x top people who are passive vs. active is since the pie is split, 80% passive vs 20% active for fully employed professional workers. This is a study I prepared with LinkedIn in 2010 and 2011.

    Since this is being written in my rv somewhere in Utah on my iPad I apologize for any spelling problems, but not the math, nor the common sense conclusion that there more high quality passive candidates that active.


  12. Richard Araujo

    “1st you need to know the difference a top person and an avg one.”


    “2nd assuming the mix of top people are evenly split between active and passive, which is unlikely,”

    Why? Once more, is there any actual data showing this? Just because someone wants to be retained by their current employer doesn’t mean they are a star candidate for the role you are looking to fill. The key indicators that would, to me at least, indicate a good candidate are a match in company cultures, the needed job and their skills, and a match between the candidate and their perspective manager, much along the lines you outline in one of your videos.

    “since top people are never let go first, but if the assumption is true then simple math would suggest that”

    Again, a top person from firm X might not be top person for you. Also, bottom 10% for firm X might not be bottom 10% for you. Also, who says active candidates are all jobless? I know many people who are actively looking for a new job for various reasons who are still currently employed. Further, I know plenty of people who had issues in one firm and who performed great in another because of different management and other circumstances. It would seem to me that the variables affecting and determining employee performance go way beyond the method by which they were sourced for it to make much of a difference.

    “3. there at least 4x top people who are passive vs. active is since the pie is split, 80% passive vs 20% active for fully employed professional workers. This is a study I prepared with LinkedIn in 2010 and 2011.”

    Where is the study, and are the methods documented? Have the results been replicated and/or validated by anyone else?

    “Since this is being written in my rv somewhere in Utah on my iPad I apologize for any spelling problems, but not the math, nor the common sense conclusion that there more high quality passive candidates that active.”

    Based on my experience in other fields I can say with certainty what is often termed “common sense” is flat out wrong, and often more complicated at the very least than is assumed. And with respect, Lou, one study doesn’t mean much even if it is executed flawlessly. Back in my personal trainer days you could access the NIH database and find literally thousands of studies that found no link between calorie intake and weight gain/loss. You would have to research the studies themselves to find out their models sucked because they did things like rely on self reported calorie intake, had small sample sizes, only sampled people with extreme disorders of some kind, didn’t account for the different thermic effects of different macro nutrient ratios, etc.

    As an example of something that could skew/bias a study of active vs passive candidate recruiting, refer to Ryan’s initial point about better communication. Better communication with HMs and candidates through the recruiting process will likely produce a better hire all around regardless of sourcing method. Any study which would show the superiority of ‘passive’ candidates would have to account for whether or not there was any extra effort put in by recruiters, hiring managers, and the candidates, simply because they knew it was a ‘passive’ situation, and account for it. Likewise, if such a bias existed, the conclusion could just as easily be that better communication overall regardless of sourcing method is the best and most cost effective way to get better candidates. The basic math of including passive recruits to increase your pool of eligible candidates isn’t deniable. Whether or not they will be inherrently superior to ‘active’ candidates is something I have not seen demonstrated.

    I’ve seen a lot of people raving about passive candidates and passive sourcing, and I’ve seen my own HMs take geat pride in the passive recruits we get them. I’ve yet to see any performance data produced in my own company or elsewhere that could tell you whether a person was actively or passively sourced in either side by side comparrisons or in the aggregate. There would have to be some overall correlation you could tease out between performance and sourcing method, and even then it would be problematic to assign a cause-effect relationship without a lot more information and some kind of validation. I have seen none. My original question was for a study that showed ‘passive’ candidates are better performers and longer tenured. To your knowledge, has anyone every produced such a study?

  13. Lou Adler

    Richard, I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you’re talking about. Quite frankly, it sounds like a bunch of excuses from someone who has never recruited passive candidates and seen the benefits. But each to his own, I gues you’ll just have to go on waiting. Remember the old quote about protesting too much? In this case you have to first ask why?

  14. Richard Araujo


    Roughly translated from Marketing to English, that means you have no actual evidence and lacking that have decided instead by implication to attack my competence. Classy. As far as protesting too much, I’m not the one writing repeated articles for years proclaiming the superiority of my methods with apparently no evidence to back it up. That would be you. Nor does my personal income depend on marketing specific recruiting methods to people, it depends on recruiting methods actually working.

    It was at your boot camp that you claimed to have an Engineering background, and when questioned on the performance of recruiting departments stated, “Metrics matter.” I’m asking for the metrics which prove what you claim, apparently you have none. I find it far fetched that a person with an engineering background doesn’t know how to properly validate data, which is all I’m asking. Anecdotal experience is the same standard of evidence which ‘proves’ psychic phenomena, haunted houses, and UFOs. My goal in my career is to raise what I do beyond that level. If you are satisfied with recruiting having John Edwards levels of credibility, that’s on you.

    As far as my competence at recruiting, the passive candidates I have recruited would argue against what you imply. However, so would the active candidates, which is the issue I take with your claims. I ask again, and you’ll recall this was a general question aimed at you and Ryan, and quite frankly anyone else: does anyone have a single study which proves, or at least strongly implies, that so called ‘passively’ recruited candidates are better performers and longer tenured? Those are the metrics that would matter in this case. Personal anecdotal experiences don’t prove anything, as anyone who has had a friend visit a psychic will attest. Objective studies show psychics make many more misses than hits when talking to someone’s dead grandmother. I’m asking for the objective evidence on this issue, not anyone’s personal experience with a palm reader, analogously speaking.

    I’m still waiting for the evidence. And I strongly suspect it doesn’t exist.

  15. andy nick

    Richard does bring up some very good and valid points. I’d rather see the evidence too instead of a response that attacks the person who asked the question. After all, not everything you read on the internet is true, regardless of who wrote it…or what they are trying to sell.

  16. Lou Adler

    @Andy – Richard does not bring up one good point. I’m sorry, but I’ve had plenty of recruiters use the same excuses for the past 30 years, but in the end they weren’t comfortable calling passive candidates, and they then rationalized the need away. The same is true for sales people making cold calls. Passive candidate recruiting requires a hunter perspective, not farmer. Let’s be honest about this, rather than sugarcoat it. Some people aren’t cut out to be passive candidate recruiters. I’m not afraid to take the heat when I’m wrong, but I’m also going to directly challenge faulty assumptions and logic.


    @Richard – did you read the article re: the scarcity vs. surplus assumption? If not, then your points are pointless. If you had, you see that your points are not applicable in a scarcity situation.

    Third, do you believe the pie chart is valid info? If it is then the it’s about math.

    Fourth, have you read Gallup’s Q12 research and Google’s Project Oxygen as to why people leave jobs, accept offers and stay? There’s plenty of evidence proving that there are more top performers who are passive, so if the pie chart is correct then it’s about math.

    Here’s a recent blog post from LinkedIn that might help clarify the pie chart, math, points, etc.

    There’s a white paper with the complete survey data supporting this – two years in a row – of over 4500 fully-employed professionals each year. We asked them what’s there job-hunting status, what’s their job satisfaction and what would they require to switch jobs. Google “job-hunting status of the fully-employed” for the video and the report.

    The truth is out there, you just have to look for it.

    @Richard – have you tried to find evidence to disprove your beliefs? If you’re going to make a claim, you should also back it up with evidence.

  17. Richard Araujo


    Thanks for the links. It only took a few responses and a few thinly veiled insults from you to get them. Unfortunately none of those links present one whit of evidence that passive recruits are better performers or longer tenured. All it proves is that passive recruiting is a valuable tool for increasing your choice of candidates. I wouldn’t argue that point, it’s true and the math bears that out. However, that’s all the math bears out. I agree with your point that the methods which people are using and their job hunt status are critical to understanding how to reach or ‘message’ them. However, there is nothing in any of this which would indicate a candidate who is very dissatisfied and actively looking several times a week is inherently inferior to someone who is very satisfied but open to speaking about a potential career move. The survey identifies several distinct groups of potential candidates and potentially the best ways to approach them. That’s all.

    Now, to be blunt, I’d appreciate it if you stopped with the ridiculous insults. I asked for evidence, you didn’t present it. What you have presented argues for passive recruiting as one tool among others to make sure your pool of eligible candidates isn’t shorted. I would assume all top performers at one time or another deliberately made a career move without having to be passively recruited, which means they were ‘active’ at one time themselves. Which goes to an inherent weakness in your math; the groups are not static, they are dynamic in both their composition and their relative size to one another. A top performer can be in any one of the five groups you mention at different times in their career, from Very Active to Super Passive. Likewise, any particular group can increase or decrease at the expense of, or independently of, the other four. Passive recruiting increases your chances of finding the right person. It doesn’t mean he was a lesser choice when he was actively looking.

    I’ve asked for some simple specific data, if the answer was, “No, that doesn’t exist,” I’d have appreciated getting that instead of the BS insults. It is not a personal jab at you if it doesn’t exist, Lou. I know how hard it is to get metrics in recruiting and HR, and I know how hostile the field is to data and metrics overall. However, the simple fact is I am concerned about one thing: hiring the best performing candidate who will stay as long as possible. Passive recruiting can increase my chances of finding this person, that’s all. I prefer to concentrate on specific situations and desired results, and let that dictate the most effective methods as needed. You may be different in your approach. However, one impediment in getting that best candidate is constantly having to deal with irrelevant objections and/or questions from hiring managers, one of which is often whether the person was passive or active. As if the perfect potential employee would become a loser just because he sought us out rather than the other way around.

    If a high performer is the goal, where in the equation of cultural match, managerial match, and skill set etc., does their method of getting into the candidate pool fit in as a determining factor of performance? It doesn’t so far as I can see. You use all available methods to find the right person, you hire the right person regardless of the method you used to find him.

    Lastly, my experience with agencies has lead me to believe that most people who claim to be passive sources are either severe under performers our outright lying. And please relax, that is not a dig against you, but the agencies I have dealt with in the past. Once we installed our ATS system it became very easy to track and validate this, and the result was interesting. Every agency that talked about passive sourcing would inevitably send us resumes of candidates who had already applied to either our current job ad or a recent one. In fact we’ve largely stopped using agencies except when we need confidentiality for this very reason. Either they were lying and merely posting ads, or the candidates went very quickly from active to passive for some reason. In any event, I haven’t seen the people who talk the talk of passive recruiting walk the walk in all but one instance. And, in that instance, the results were still hit or miss because other factors than sourcing method dominated the equation of long term hiring success.

    I am interested in proving what is effective with actual data. Not anecdotal experience and stories which are in the end worthless as proof. The data you have presented is useful but not what I asked for, and nothing I didn’t know already. My own opinion, which I admit is supported only by my experience and the data I’ve gathered at my last two positions which is hardly definitive, is honest communications between the HM and the recruiter, the recruiter and the candidate, and the HM and the candidate, and a managerial/cultural match, are the dominant factors in getting high performers who will stick. Passive recruiting helps me get there, it doesn’t define success though. It does however define the path of most resistance and the larger investment of time and resources, which greatly affects the ROI of the method, especially if it doesn’t inherently produce better people.

    So as I said, until evidence is presented I’ll regard both major sourcing methods, active and passive, as a distinction without merit with regard to ultimate performance of hires until someone proves otherwise.

  18. Lou Adler

    @Richard, I don’t mind the insults, they’re refreshing. So keep them coming, and I’ll continue to only place and recruit passive candidates, even though there is not enough evidence for you that there are at least 4X top-10 percenters in the passive candidate. It’s just simple math.

    Although you didn’t answer my question – where is your evidence that in a talent scarcity world there are enough top people in the active pool to go around? Why would you assume this as the default when even the so-called scanty evidence shows that it’s not true?

    BTW – here’s a video on how to define quality of hire using many of the factors regarding fit you mention. There is no question that fit is essential, but that still doesn’t mean that better fit overcomes the basic math. Link: The video explains in more simple math terms the hiring formula for success = (talent plus management plus team plus thinking) in relationship to (job fit plus cultural fit plus managerial fit) and time motivation squared.

    My point still holds that even with a proper assessment of talent and fit on all dimensions there are more top people in the 80% passive pool. Even better: they’re easy to recruit if you know how to do it. So in the end, I’m not sure why you’re even fighting this point. I contend that passive candidate recruiting is more direct and efficient and timely than active candidate recruiting. But it does take a attract the strong approach vs. weed out the weak.

  19. Richard Araujo


    If you’re happy with the insults I guess that shows your maturity level. Incidentally, you’ll find other people similarly lacking evidence to support their claims, such as psychics, will also often try to insult people rather than answer them. You’ll see this for example with the likes of John Edward, who after throwing out a ridiculous number of guesses at a dead family member’s name with no hits, starts brow beating his subject for not being receptive enough or some other such nonsense. I asked you for evidence, you failed to produce it. And in predictable fashion, your lack of verifiable evidence is my fault apparently, for not being a good enough recruiter. It’s good to see you have implicitly admitted you have the credibility of a palm reader. Incidentally, I’m sure John Edward has many people who will anecdotally vouch for his authenticity and success. The numbers are never there to support it though.

    I have never claimed one sourcing strategy is superior than the other; you are the one making that claim and presenting no evidence to support it, and trying to make your lack of supporting evidence my issue. Sorry, but you’re making the claim, you provide the proof. It’s humorous to read you mentioning ‘logic’ while completely trying to avoid your own burden of proof for an affirmative claim on your part. I have repeatedly said I will regard both passive and active sourcing as equally useful tools, but neither as the end all be all of recruiting, until I see performance/results based evidence that can be verified. Further, is there even an objective standard for determining in which group someone falls? I have to wonder how ‘passive’ someone truly is if, as you claim, a 15 minute exploratory interview is all it takes to get them to consider a career move.

    My question once more was simple: is there any objective verifiable evidence that passive recruits are better performers and longer tenured when compared to active recruits? You have utterly failed to provide such evidence, and have repeatedly tried to make my recruiting skills the issue rather than simply answering the question. That to me is the mark of hucksterism. So, answer the question or not, that’s on you. I find your methods useful and instructive despite the dearth of actual verifiable evidence to support them, I find your maturity lacking and your lack of forthrightness a little ridiculous. You could have simply said there is evidence that heavily implies passive recruiting increases your chances of getting the right hire, and that it definitely increases your candidate pool, but nothing that directly links the method of sourcing a candidate to their long term performance. Unfortunately a simple, direct, and honest response like that was beyond your ability to provide, as was any evidence.

  20. Lou Adler

    @Richard, let’s start over
    1. I sent you a bunch of links regarding research as to why people changed jobs, why they looked for jobs and why they accepted jobs. The links I sent would take at least 3-4 hours to read the articles and the research behind them – one of the books sold 14mm copies – First, Break All of the Rules.
    2. I sent you a video link that describes how to measure job fit and assess quality of hire – the video is an hour long and covers and agrees with your beliefs that fit is critical – fit with the job, fit with the manager, and fit with the culture. Of course, the person needs to be talented enough to do the work, too.
    3. I also suggested by pure math that if red marbles (representing top performers) are equally common in two buckets let’s say 10% of the total – that if one bucket (the passive bucket) was four time larger than the other bucket (say active candidates) that there would be four times as many red marbles in the bigger bucket. You seem to disagree with this, too, for some odd reason.
    4. I also suggested in the article that if the demand for top talent is greater than the supply, than you should have a balanced plan to fish in both buckets.Why do you find this point objectionable?
    5. I also suggested in the article and other ERE articles that sourcing passive candidates requires more skilled recruiters, but if they were capable they could find great people in a shorter period of time, at less cost, and at higher quality. The reason for this is that they were getting warm referrals of pre-qualified people and recruiting them rather than having someone wait to apply. LinkedIn Recruiter allows this to happen since the links are visible and searchable. LinkedIn has sold 50000 or so licenses for this product and recruiters who are using it to recruit passive candidates seem to be having great results. There are plenty of case studies supporting this, including LinkedIn’s business success, so I’m surprised you find this alone wanting.

    Since I’ve been doing this and training companies around the world – India, Russia, South America, Asia, China, Europe, etc. – for the past 30 years – to successfully do this, where is the “hucksterism” part? I know you responded within 20 minutes after sending you the links to the evidence – including the one about the 80% passive vs. 20% active – so I find it hard that you actually read any of it. The research my company did with LikedIn was exhaustive and at least 100-200 total hours were put together creating the survey and analyzing the results. Did you read this white paper?

    Interestingly there is not one shred of evidence that what is described doesn’t work. Do a Google search for yourself on Performance-based Hiring as part of this. In fact, I’m now having the number one labor law firm in the world reviewing my next book (The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired) from a compliance standpoint. So far, their reading is that passive candidate recruiting might be in more compliance, The book will be published in Dec 2012.

    Somehow what you propose seems to lack the same evidence you seem to require for the value of targeting passive candidates. You seem to be avoid providing this, despite my continued request to better understand your protestations. This is my reason to suspect there is an ulterior motive behind your disagreement.

    What have I stated here that you find missing or flawed or representative of “hucksterism?”

  21. Richard Araujo


    I’ll spell it out one more time for anyone else who may be interested in my reasons, I’ve kind of lost hope on you understanding.

    Passive recruiting is a numbers game, nothing more. There is nothing to prove the inherent superiority of a passive recruit over an active recruit. What’s more, I’ve actually seen people look at resumes with reverence when told they were passives when they were really actives, which is no surprise with you and others harping on the subject like it was a magic elixir to cure all hiring ills. So, let’s look at the practicalities of the process.

    First, how do you know someone is passive as opposed to active when you cold-call them or get their info as a warm referral? Put differently, what in the passive recruiting process ensures you will actually get passive candidates? Nothing; there’s nothing in the process that ensures you will preselect people from the less active groups of searchers you delineate. For all you know the guy you got as a warm referral has applied to 24 jobs in the last 24 hours. Should we ask him his status? Gee, that’s reliable. Especially with the general attitude regarding active vs. passive candidates, I can’t imagine a single reason why someone would want to characterize themselves as something other than actively looking… Which also begs the question, if you take the same resume from the same guy in the same position, 12 months ago he was passive, now he’s active, what’s the difference? Is he less of a performer or a less viable candidate? No. People leave their jobs and become active the more dissatisfied they are. So what? Neither their dissatisfaction nor their satisfaction with their current employment tells me a damn thing about whether or not they would be satisfied or dissatisfied in the position I have to offer.

    Second, how does passive recruiting positively impact the other aspects of the hiring process? It doesn’t. All I’ve seen is people up their investment in the game when they think the recruit is passive, even when they’re not. What specifically about passive recruiting makes it more likely the candidate is a cultural match? What specifically about passive recruiting makes it more likely the candidate is a job match? What specifically about passive recruiting makes it more likely there will be a managerial/subordinate match? Nothing, on all counts. For every argument to be made for passive recruiting conferring an advantage on those criteria there’s a counter example/argument where it wouldn’t. I don’t doubt your success, but without direct evidence that shows passive recruits are inherently superior to actives, all it indicates is you are just good at matching people to jobs regardless of the method used to source them. Likewise in my experience, when people are invested in the process it results in a good hire regardless of where they came from. If you want to judge that part of the process itself, you need to isolate it as best you can from other variables that affect hiring. You haven’t.

    Third, fishing in both ponds is a nice, but off analogy. It’s a stream not a pond, and the fish in that stream that are closest to you are the actives, the ones furthest up stream are the passives. There are high performing candidates at all points within the stream. It also follows, as I’ve readily admitted, that the math says there are more candidates upstream than right next to you. It does not follow that they are any better. It also does follow that they are more work to reach. From a managerial standpoint that means ROI in the process goes down the more you go the passive route. This means you do, as you have said yourself, need to be in a talent scarcity situation or a talent drought as I call it. Which goes to my last point.

    The opening three questions in your article are virtual Barnum Statements. Look it up. There’s not a hiring manager alive who wouldn’t answer yes to the first two and “upgrade” to the last. That makes them meaningless questions unless there can be some validation attached to their answers. I moved from the agency side to the corporate side a while back, the advantage on the corporate side is your hiring managers are your partners, not your customers. As such you can call them on their BS when appropriate, and I have. Most talent scarcity situations have ended up being gun shy or uninvolved hiring managers. Your techniques for ‘taming hiring managers’ have been very helpful in those instances, but they’ve also had the curious effect of making it increasingly less likely that any passive recruiting is needed. Which makes me wonder, legitimately as far as I’m concerned, about the relative merits of any claim of scarcity or drought.

    In summary passive recruiting is a good way to get more candidates in the mix when needed, nothing more. There’s nothing about the process itself which would make the sourcing method of a candidate outweigh or even significantly influence the other aspects of hiring that can’t be achieved by simply giving HMs a reality check and getting them to put some skin in the game. However, it is by its nature a more significant investment of time and resources which in itself is not always necessary, and does nothing in itself in my experience to give even a slight advantage at a better result, while it virtually guarantees your ROI on resources invested in the hiring process will drop. There’s nothing about the process itself which inherently targets superior candidates, it just lets you target more candidates. For that purpose it’s useful, and that’s all. It’s good to have another tool to use, it doesn’t mean every problem is nail if you have a hammer, or that your new shiny hammer is the best tool for all jobs just because you like it best.

    Which is why in this field of recruiting and HR in general, I’d prefer to see more actual data, decent studies with some attempt to control variables, as opposed to buzz words and catch phrases of the week constantly surfacing and resurfacing. Hell, look at all the hype surrounding social media recruiting these days. It’s the next big thing, you know! Of course, someone like me would first ask how many high performing hires the method has actually produced for the resources invested before I get all hot and bothered about upgrading my company’s Facebook site. I’m sure the people marketing ‘solutions’ for social media recruiting would argue otherwise.

    And finally, that’s where I see the hucksterism. I asked a simple question. I asked for evidence that shows passive recruits are inherently superior to active recruits. I didn’t ask for an in-depth analysis of why people leave their jobs. You have not produced the evidence I asked for. Instead you went the typical internet ‘guru’ route of attacking anyone who even implicitly challenges the message you’re trying to sell. Psychics do the same thing. If the thirty or so guesses they throw out about your dead relatives aren’t hits, it’s your fault for not being sensitive enough to allow their obvious gifts to work. They even brow beat people into accepting non hits as hits, usually tell them something like, “Well, I’m getting a ‘P’ and it’s relative of or relevant to you, so take that home and keep it in mind…” Of course, the next time anything vaguely relating to the letter P happens, it’s OMG time! The psychic was right! No, in actuality he just used the way the human brain works and some basic assumptions and pattern seeking behaviors common to all people to get them to make unwarranted and questionable connections. I’ve seen similar presumptions made about so called ‘passive’ recruits, when in reality the only verifiable difference between a passive and active recruit is you called the passive one first rather than it happening the other way around. You’ll have to excuse me if I think people assigning some cosmic level significance to the results of the hiring process based on that fact alone is less than convincing.

  22. Leela Srinivasan

    Oh my! Against better judgment (please don’t start abusing me too, Richard), I spent a couple months earlier this year interviewing several talent acquisition professionals to find out why they bother with passive candidates. A sampling of the quotes are below.

    While this isn’t quantifiable data on passive candidates being ‘better’, Richard – and I agree that there could be great candidates within the active mix – what’s clear is that

    - these organizations are intent on hiring the best people, and in order to do that they need to go outside of the stream of active applicants they get

    - this is especially true in IT where talent scarcity means few worth their salt are actually looking

    - this is also especially true in companies which see direct benefits of hiring talent from outside their industry. What financial services professionals would typically think about joining an energy co? Therefore the best candidate for that role is passive, or at least not actively considering the hiring organization.

    Last point I’ll make (even if you hurl abuse at me) is that separate research we conducted suggests that passive candidates are 120% more likely to want to deliver an impact at work than their active counterparts. Doesn’t mean they’ll deliver impact, of course, but it does mean that they might be the kind of fine folks you’d want at your organization. Here’s a recap of that research:

    And now, those quotes I promised…

    “Often, the best candidates are not out there looking for jobs. SanDisk hires the best people to advance our technology so we can continue to be the world’s largest provider of Flash memory storage solutions…SanDisk always pushes the engineering envelope, researching and developing state of the art technologies, and the Talent Acquisition team needs to target, contact, attract and hire these amazing people.”
    Tom Brouchoud, SanDisk:

    On why TinyCo hires passive candidates almost exclusively:
    “With only about 100 employees, there isn’t room for anyone who can’t start contributing from Day One. Our people not only have incredible technical aptitude, but also fit in with our very strong culture. We seek very specific needs and attributes and we have a very high bar.”
    Greg Harezlak, TinyCo:

    “The best people won’t always come to us, so we need to go to them. Looking to other industries is one way we bring in the best talent.”
    Jacqueline Benedetti, Tim Hortons:

    Active candidates are only about 20 percent of the talent pool, and we want to see 100 percent of the talent pool! At the senior level, all of our recruiting is based on passive candidates.
    Rachel Riddington, Betfair:

    “Like any organization intent on hiring the best of the best, we have our work cut out finding the right candidates… Which is why, despite our brand position, recruiting passive prospects has never been more critical to PepsiCo.”
    Jim Schnyder, PepsiCo:

    “We didn’t choose to focus on passive talent – it’s the reality of IT. The industry is booming, and top candidates aren’t generally looking for jobs, but we need to always be engaging them.”
    Camilla Tartari, ThoughtWorks in Brazil:

    “Interestingly, many of our most successful individuals haven’t come from our industry: they tend to come from Retail Banking, Financial Services, Telecommunications, IT – they are all fast paced, complex, multi-channel businesses. Our downstream business model is more in line with theirs, but they may not be thinking about a career in Energy. Therefore we have to headhunt the right talent.”
    James Dowling, Centrica (UK):

  23. Richard Araujo

    “While this isn’t quantifiable data on passive candidates being ‘better’,”

    Which is what I asked for; quantifiable data. More of same doesn’t add up to anything. To keep the psychic analogy going, often when performing paranormal investigations people will admit the paucity of individual pieces of evidence, but claim that, “When you add it all up”, it ‘proves’ something. It doesn’t. Evidence of nothing plus evidence of nothing equals evidence of nothing, no matter how many factors you throw into the equation.

    “what’s clear is that – these organizations are intent on hiring the best people,”

    Why, because they say so? I’ve worked with companies that say they are looking to hire the best people. Did they offer the best package? The best compensation? The best work environment? The best career opportunity? Did they actually define what ‘best’ means? Did they realize that ‘best’ might mean something different from candidate to candidate?

    “and in order to do that they need to go outside of the stream of active applicants they get.”

    Problem again, how do you know this is correct? I’ve dealt with many people who claimed they were in a talent scarcity situation, only to find out they were incorrect. They were however, for various reasons ranging from lack of confidence to incompetence to internal politics, not willing or felt unable to make a hire on their own. In that situation the standard CYA answer is to blame a scarcity of talent, especially in corporate cutlures which are more blame than solution oriented. Which is why a claim of talent scarcity is something that has to be qualified, not simply assumed and accepted. The quotes you provide are nice, but again, ultimately useless for people who want to make data driven decisions. Case in point:

    The link you provided was for an infographic, all it says is that the results were compiled from 3,300 interviews. This is not data, this is nonsense. And to be blunt, it’s coming from an organization – LinkedIn – with a vested interest in pushing passive recruiting. For me or anyone else looking for hard data that would be like the FDA accepting the “9 out of 10 doctors recommend…” claims from drug and toothpaste commercials as ‘proof’ of the product’s effectiveness and safety. And again, claims of how wonderful passive candidates can just as easily be the result of higher level of investment in the process itself. Companies that emphasize hiring and bringing on top talent and growing those people are by default going to get better results than those that don’t.

    Of course the point remains that no one has yet answered my request for something even approaching a hard study on this particular issue. If you can provide it, I’ll look at it. Testimonials are marketing material, not evidence. What’s more, I also haven’t gotten an answer on a specific question I raised in my last post: how do you know passive recruiting is going to target passive candidates? My experience with all agencies but one that have worked for me suggests that the pool of candidates is essentially the same; again, these agencies which made proud claims of passive talent sourcing, and charged accordingly I may add, invariably sent us people we’d already sourced actively. And that one agency that did walk the walk on this issue still didn’t produce candidates that were measurably or perceivably different from the ones that simply responded to ads.

    You and Lou are saying that in your experience passive recruiting gets the best candidates and hires. I’m saying in my experience it’s merely a tool to get candidates which may or may not be superior to the active candidates out there. I’m more than willing to admit I may be wrong and you may be right, but I haven’t yet seen evidence to prove your view, and while I sure as hell don’t have scientific evidence on my side, I do have a couple companies worth of data from source to hire to departure/termination which strongly suggests passive recruiting is one tool among many which can influence the hiring outcome, but ceteris paribus doesn’t make much of an impact.

  24. Keith Halperin

    Hi Folks,

    Remember our recent discussion about using LI Recruiter and alternatives?
    Well, a friend of mine is able to provide 75-85% of the emails (and presumably even higher percentage of the main company phone numbers) when given a LI Profile or just a complete name and company, using a combination of tools and techniques.

    A customer would only pay for what is confirmed, or at least “*not unconfirmed”.
    Question: what would the company you work for pay to get direct, verified email and phone numbers of LinkedIn and other candidates without contact info? If YOU (and not your company) had to pay, how much would you pay for each verified name? A deep, intense telephone sourcer charges something like $44/name, but this is NOT that- it’s not sourcing of new, hard-to-find candidates, it’s just confirming contact information.

    Your thoughts….

    Keith D. Halperin,
    Sr. Recruiter and SPHR Emeritus

  25. Richard Araujo

    @ Keith,

    Comparable to the labor I’d have to pay to get it done myself. I’d say the best price model to start from is to calculate how much it would cost direct and also through a temp agency using standard data entry type rates, and maybe get an average and tack on a premium. Here in NY I’d expect to pay 10-15 an hour for a data entry type, 20-25 through an agency I would think.

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