The Future of Hiring: The Shift Is On to Hire Less Active Candidates

Forget active candidates. Pursuing less active candidates should be your goal. There is a major shift now underway in corporate America to find and hire less active candidates rather than continuing the ineffective and costly pursuit of active candidates. Recognition has finally come that too many resources are devoted to finding too few good needles in the haystack of active candidates. This shift will have profound implications on how candidate tracking systems are designed, how recruiting teams are selected and organized, how sourcing will be conducted, and how candidates will be interviewed and are hired. This is the future of hiring. Get ready for it. It’s coming to a town near yours. First let’s define the three broad types of candidates: active, less active, and passive.

  • Active candidates are typically those who are aggressively looking for another job and will do whatever it takes to get one. Their need for a job dominates their decision-making process and job-hunting approach. The best people are under-represented in this group. While there are a few good people who are actively looking, finding them is not worth the cost. Most tracking systems and hiring processes are designed to handle the overwhelming number of active candidates. This seems to me to be misguided use of important resources.
  • Less active candidates are fully-employed, but when their jobs become particularly frustrating they will look on job boards and career sites for something better. However, this search is typically short-lived ó sometimes it lasts only for an hour or two ó and it occurs on an infrequent basis. If nothing is found they go back to work, not to look again until the next bad day. Since they already have a job, they tend to be more discriminating and are not willing to spend too much time applying for a new job unless it appears particularly attractive. The reason this is such an important group is that the best people are over-represented in this pool. Less active candidates are strong people who tend to be underpaid, underappreciated, and overworked. If you can design your tracking systems and sourcing programs to cater to this group, you can hire some top people with relative ease.
  • Passive candidates are those fully-employed people who aren’t looking for another job. The only way you can find them is through competitive intelligence or other name identification technique and then contact via the phone. Since these candidates aren’t looking, it takes a lot to convince them to move. This is what third-party recruiters do all time. Getting their names is actually the easy part. The recruiting and closing phase is what’s time consuming and challenging. The best people are fairly represented in this pool. Who you call and what you say are the key factors for success in mining this pool, and many untrained recruiters have wasted much time and money on these candidates with little to show for it.

Shifting your resources to hire less active candidates affects a number of important activities. Specifically:

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  1. Sourcing and advertising. Standard boring ads and boring job descriptions will not attract less active candidates unless your company has a strong employer brand. For everyone else, it’s important to use compelling titles on all career advertising, not generic job titles. These titles need to stand out, so pay extra to make sure they appear near or at the top on any listing. Even then, make sure the title stands out. Sometimes a standard tagline is all that’s necessary to capture a less active candidate’s attention. For example, “Systems Administrator ? Keep Our Critical Care Center Running” can appeal to a candidate’s multiple needs. Make sure the job descriptions themselves are compelling. Start with the good stuff: the challenges and opportunities, not the list of skills and experiences required. Ad writing is just like direct mail. You want to capture a person’s attention in the first sentence, so that they’ll read the whole copy. Try these ideas out with just a few jobs, and you’ll quickly see the impact a creative, marketing-oriented approach to sourcing and advertising can have.
  2. Applicant tracking system design. This is the heart of the process. Without good systems, you won’t be able to handle the needs of these less active candidates. Some required features include the ability to apply to generic positions, the creation of a non-applicant status, a painless application process, developing ongoing automated relationships, quick identification of these best less active candidates using appropriate screening tools, and professional and personal contact. In the past few years, much of the ATS product development effort has been designed to better handle high volumes of data. In the process, some features actually precluded the best from ever applying (e.g., hard-to-find jobs, long applications). There is a shift now underway to focus on the needs of these less active candidates. In fact, we’ll be releasing a report on November 17th regarding what the major ATS vendors are doing in this regard. If you’d like to receive a copy or sign up for an online discussion, send me an email at
  3. How recruiters are selected, trained, organized. Too much time is now spent writing boring ads and processing active candidate resumes. Our rough estimates indicate that, collectively, recruiting departments spend 80% of their time dealing with active candidates and the administrative requirements associated with them. Much of this effort is wasted. This is why no one has enough time. More effort needs to be applied to developing targeted advertising campaigns, leveraging the employee referral program, networking, and building candidate pipelines. This requires more creative recruiters on the sourcing side and more skilled recruiters to build networks and contact these top people. The best people require more information, more one-on-one communications, and more convincing. However, each top person knows four to six other top people, so leveraging these networks is how you build large pools of top performers. You’ll use your ATS to manage these candidates.
  4. Change job descriptions to focus more on expectations and less on experiences. At a macro level, the future of hiring depends on reorganizing your recruiting resources to hire less active candidates. The corresponding micro-level change requires that job descriptions be rewritten to appeal to the address the motivating needs of less active candidates. There is no reason why the standard job description should be posted online for all candidates to see. Emphasizing skills and experiences is okay in a world of too many high-qualified people. However, in the real world, a top less-active person will not find these descriptions compelling enough to apply. A top person is more interested in the challenges and opportunities in the job, not the requirements needed to apply. No marketing person in the world would lead off a product demo showing the invoice before describing the features and benefits. Somehow this basic lesson has been lost on those who put job descriptions online. Try this just once and you’ll see how an exciting job description attracts a different brand of candidate.
  5. The interview, recruiting and selection process. Assessing candidate competency is only one purpose of the interview. Conducted properly, an interview can also be the primary recruiting tool. When a candidate is told about a major job challenge and then asked to describe something he or she has accomplished that’s comparable, immediate interest is created. Not only does the interviewer gain a sense of what motivates a candidate to excel, but the candidate also learns more about the stretch and challenge in the job. This is what job matching is all about, and how you recruit a candidate during the job selection process. Anyone who’s in the business of closing top performers knows that waiting for the end of the interview to “sell” a top performer is too late. Too many people use the interview to weed out the weak. Instead, it should be used to challenge and excite the strong. In the process, competency and motivation to succeed will be clearly revealed.
  6. Hiring manager competency. The two primary reasons top people decide to accept offers are the opportunity presented by the job and the quality of the hiring manager. Compensation, while important, is not the driving need and is typically considered in balance with the opportunity presented by the job. A strong manager is required to convince a top person that the job is a positive career move. The common belief that managers select candidates in their image is equally true from the candidates’ side. Candidates select jobs based on managers who meet their image of strong leaders and possible mentors. Managers need training to recognize the important role they play in selecting their team members. One thing I’ve discovered over the years is that only weaker managers tell me they don’t have enough time to spend better defining the job and interviewing new team members. These are the ones that shouldn’t be managers in the first place. Interview training won’t help.

This is just an overview of the changes that need to be considered as your gear up to hire less active candidates. The effort is not insignificant, but worth it if you want to hire more top talent more quickly and with essentially no increase in cost. This is a business proposition that any CEO will jump at. Why not lead the way? This is the future of hiring.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).