What Is All This Business About Passives vs. Active Candidates, Anyway?

Aug 31, 2009

You cannot step twice into the same river; for other waters are continually flowing in. — Heraclitus

There’s a huge controversy that raises itself now and then here in the Recruitosphere and that’s the idea that one type of candidate (passive) is better than the other (active). The thinking goes along the lines of “If they’re looking, there must be a reason they’re looking!” There’s probably something wrong with the guy.

On the other end of the spectrum glistens the shiny new: that person popularly known as the “passive” candidate. The accompanying reasoning goes something like: “If he’s out there and nobody’s talked to him before, I’ll be the first one at the table to get the best (and biggest) portion.”

In reality, both lines of thought are problematic.

I’m reminded of the Clay Walker country song line, “What’cha gonna do, When the new wears off And the old shines through…?

In defense of the actives, there are good people represented in the mix – and they’re going to turn up in some of our “passive” searches anyway. It happens the more thorough we become in our sourcing skills. I try not to leave anyone “behind” when I’m phone sourcing, unless the customer asks for a specific number out of a certain company.

The reality is, passives aren’t always truly “passive” and actives aren’t always “active.” Some “actives” have gone to ground, so to speak, and are fully engaged in another job that really gives them those desirable “passive” characteristics again that are so highly regarded nowadays. Skipping over them in any job search is a mistake. Keep in mind that anything we put out on the Net is going to stay out on the Net, regardless of our efforts or desire to remove it. So if someone has a resume, say “out there” somewhere, at some time, he or she could turn up in a future search regardless of whether they’re looking at the present time or not.

There are passives who really aren’t passive at all. They know what they’re doing to market themselves. They know how to glisten beneath all that fallen snow that assures they’ll be the first snowflake picked out of the landscape. This is the person who’s active on the net, who does a lot of posting (or a little) that includes a lot of biographical information that, at first glance, appears innocent. It’s not, usually. Those tagline signatures that give us names, titles, addresses and phone numbers should be approached with some hesitation. The question to ask is: “If I found them, who else hasn’t?”

I know it’s exciting when your Boolean search ferrets out that exact title in the exact location that the job is calling for and it appears that all you have to do is dial the number and confirm that the guy’s still there. I know very well that temptation to end there and call it finished.

Don’t! Doing this is short-shifting your customer as well as yourself. This little “gem” you uncovered as a result of your knowledgeable Boolean entry (you did work so hard to learn Boolean, didn’t you?) sometimes is tantamount to someone’s resume being posted out there – it screams, “Hey recruiter, look at me – I’m what you want – call me for your new job opportunity –I’ll make it easy – here’s my office number and my cell!”

No one understands that you have given everything. You must give more. — Antonio Porchia, Voces, 1943, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merwin

“Foul!” you cry. “They’re mine to find!”

Yes, they are yours to find if that’s all you’re interested in finding. That “passive-active” usually has a team of coworkers he interacts with everyday. The best way to set that little hard rock into your job setting is to build his organization out around him. And that usually means (actually I don’t know of any other way) that you must get on the telephone and call him, or call his Administrative Assistant, or call his manager, or call the guy in the cube next to him, or call someone in the Mail Room who delivers mail to him and his group everyday, or call the VP of Engineering’s Executive Assistant, or call someone, anyone that will give you the names of the other people in his group!

Chances are they’re the truly passive candidates in the mix!

You must remove (at least one hand, momentarily) from the alphabet portion of your keyboard to dial that number. These days, and it’s going to become ever-more-important moving forward, you must become an active names sourcer vs a passive names sourcer! If you don’t do this your research will suffer the consequences as more and more people are learning (and depending) on Boolean to fill their searches. Set yourself apart by honing your telephone techniques. They’re the ones that are hardest to master and they’re the ones that return the most unique results! They’re the ones that give you the only advantage to finding the truly passive candidate – the guy sitting at his desk doing his thing, 8 to 12 hours a day, too busy to even think about another job. The guy who doesn’t “post” for ulterior reasons or isn’t listed in some fabulous online gathering. He’s the guy who’s gainfully and masterfully employed doing what you need him to do for you – go get him!

Keep in mind the overall quality of the pipeline. Proactively adding both passive and actives into it at the same time is going to give you a healthy mix in the end.

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