Are Passive Candidates a Waste of Time in a Volume Hiring Model?

Mar 14, 2005

Let’s first agree that no staffing model is solely based on identifying and finding only passive candidates. It makes sense to have a solid strategy built around quick hits, such as candidates in your own ATS or candidates on job boards. Most companies still need an active component to their hiring process, even as they attempt to identify and hire passive candidates. We have seen many an article about passive candidates, semi-passive candidates, and semi-active candidates, and how the overall passive talent pool (90%) is made up of candidates that are not actively looking. But has anyone taken the time to actually sit down and capture the pre-ATS activities and metrics here?

  1. Identifying prospects. How many prospects (to steal a sales term that refers to people before they become candidates) actually need to be identified through primary and secondary research? This could be through personal networking, name-generation services, cold calling, etc. These are basically candidates who are not in your ATS or active on job boards.
  2. Pre-qualifying interest. How many prospects that you’ve identified are actually interested in talking with you about potential opportunities with your company or client?
  3. Qualifying candidates. How many of the remaining pool are actually qualified?

I will argue that most companies don’t even think of these metrics. Of those that do, most can’t or don’t know how to capture them. Let me give you an example of how this might look. Some companies will have better or worse ratios than this so I have taken a conservative middle ground (based on data our team has captured through numerous projects as a reference point and questions asked of other companies working in a volume model). Example scenario:

  • 80 passive candidates are actually identified through primary and secondary intelligence for a research project.
  • 25% (or 20 candidates) are actually interested in talking with you to further explore the opportunity.
  • 25% (or five) of those interested candidates are considered pre-qualified, based on a look at the resume, an initial phone call, or biographical data you’ve captured elsewhere.
  • Still fewer of the five pre-qualified are actually fully qualified, thus the numbers dwindle down even further.

If we assume a short-list-interview-to-hire ratio of 5:1, and further assume that the five pre-qualified candidates are actually fully qualified, then the above scenario would result in one hire. Now let’s imagine you represent a company that needs to make 500 hires in a year. Reverse the metrics back up, and you will see that you would need to initially identify 40,000 passive candidates to meet your hiring goal. Scary, huh? While you’re considering the implications of the above, consider the following questions:

  • Are you resourced to handle a true passive candidate model?
  • How many of the other four candidates on the shortlist above might map to other roles in your business? Do you know the most effective method to shop them around?
  • Do you know how to improve this number and metric to your favor?
  • Can you keep the candidate experience high while volume sourcing?
  • Does an active candidate strategy make more sense? It might seem like it, but are you really getting top talent that way? For that matter, can you even reach your hire numbers through just an active strategy alone (job boards and candidates coming to you)?
  • Do you know how much of your strategy needs to be passive and how many resources or costs need to be aligned to get there?
  • Do your hiring managers, staffing leaders, or business-aligned recruiters scream for passive talent they can’t find? If so, what is their real reasoning for making this statement? Are passive candidates really better anyway?
  • Does the actual passive talent pool supply equal your business demand for the target area?
  • Do you have a CRM strategy to capture passive candidates who might not be interested today but could be interested months from now? How many of those initial 80% in the scenario above who said “no interest” could transformed into interested or active candidates down the road?
  • Do you have a permission-based one-to-one marketing strategy to continually target this audience?
  • Are you aware of the EEOC and PII implications of approaching passive candidates?

Granted, if you represent an executive search firm, where you might fill a handful of positions a year, then your strategy of seeking passive candidates by reaching into your rolodex (or for the young recruiters reading this, your contact management system) and networking makes perfect sense. But what if you overload your recruiters with too many reqs that have diverse requirements? Then the passive candidate strategy becomes a little more tricky, given the fact that it takes more time to produce results. So what does this all really mean? First, I know a lot of you will be up late at night thinking about passive candidate strategies and will split the atom every which way to Sunday on the metrics example I have given above. Don’t get hung up on the specific numbers in the example. Rather, you should be thinking about what you really need to understand in order to make a passive candidate strategy work for your situation. There are lots of questions that a single article like this could not answer anyway, but I can leave you with one thought that is worth pondering: Passive candidates might potentially equal better quality talent, but ask yourself if you are ready to pay the price (in terms of cost, resources, processes, strategy, technology, etc.) to get this kind of quality in volume and whether you are structured to successfully deliver on that promise. Do you even know where to start? If you don’t know the answer to all of the questions posed here but you believe that a passive candidate strategy is critical to the success of your business, then there is no time like the present to start putting your previous assumptions under the microscope!

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