Attracting passive candidates in a competitive market

Find out how your brand can pivot to target passive candidates in order to supplement your recruitment needs.

Attracting passive candidates in a competitive market Featured Image

The perfect storm of Brexit, Covid, an economic downturn and an international war has led to many of us reevaluating our professional status. Whether making a complete career change or getting comfortable with what you really want from your job, the market has shifted to a truly candidate-led space. Traditional means of recruitment may no longer attract the top talent. As businesses work to rebalance economically, they’re looking to find talent in different ways. 

Many companies are pivoting to passive recruitment methods in order to supplement their recruitment needs. Attention is turning to how to create a strong Employer Brand and develop authentic, long term relationships with target candidates in order to fill recruitment funnels now and for years in the future. 

“Before you start thinking about shifting your whole HR focus, it’s important to get one thing sorted. Take time to ensure your Employer Brand and your EVP … are exactly where you want them to be before you move to recruit. Passive recruitment is only as good as your employer brand and your recruitment funnel process”

– Emma Murray

What’s the difference? 

Where traditional (active) recruitment relies largely on advertising (for example job boards and position posting), hoping and waiting for the right candidates to apply and making decisions from the pool that do, passive recruitment is very different. Rather than waiting for dream applicants to engage with you, passive recruitment means defining and tracking down your ideal candidates and making the effort to engage with them. They may not be actively looking for a new position. They may not be actively applying. But they do already have the skills and talents you’re looking for. And importantly, it is possible that should the right conditions be present, they may be interested in a career move.  

These passive candidates make up around 70% of the global workforce. That’s no small piece of the employable population. So if you’re struggling to find the right talent for your roles, it makes sense to open up consideration to as broad a group of skilled, qualified individuals as possible. Social media has changed the way we consider candidates and the access we have to research and contact. Leveraging these resources and cultivating talent where individuals live online makes perfect recruitment sense. 


Pre Passive

Before you start thinking about shifting your whole HR focus, it’s important to get one thing sorted. Take time to ensure your Employer Brand and your EVP (Employer Value Proposition) are exactly where you want them to be before you move to recruit. Passive recruitment is only as good as your employer brand and your recruitment funnel process. 

From communicating the culture and mission of your organisation, to building a strong and intuitive company website, every point of contact potential or otherwise, should be on your mind. What do you want candidates to know about your workplace? What experiences can you share with them to tell the story of your mission, your working environment? Building and growing this strong proposition helps to differentiate you from your competitors.  Over time it will appeal to candidates who share your vision. 

Identify your target audiences and understand exactly what their needs and preferences are before you start to communicate with them.  Taking time to lay down this long term planning will sow the seeds of success in  your recruitment funnel now and for the future, lowering your staff turnover and building a culture that your employees genuinely buy into.

Once you’ve maximised your Employer Brand, shifting your focus to passive recruitment can yield several day-to-day advantages: 


Jump Start Pre Screening

Traditional recruitment can be a slow process. Once you have established your job description, you’re essentially waiting for the right candidate to apply. You can only consider those applicants who reach out to you and when they do, a full application review is necessary. In some cases you may find applicants completely unsuitable for your role, or at minimum, not the ideal candidate you’re looking for.

Passive recruitment encompasses the gift of pre screening. You have outlined your dream candidate and the individuals you connect with and reach out to are already those who fulfil your criteria. In one step you’re validating whether a candidate would fit your job requirements, as well as assessing their social media presence and glimpsing into their professional (and sometimes personal) character. This step can save time and improve recruitment conversation rates.

Open to a Broader Pool

A concern facing many organisations and HR professionals is the lack of candidates on the market. Especially when it comes to finding those with specific skills or niche abilities, or those who are interested in entry level positions. Opening your recruitment approach to passive engagement means you’re broadening the prospective applicant pool. With passive employees making up 70% of the global work population, you’ll be able to find and target exactly the candidates you want. They may not actively be looking for a career move but communicating the benefits and culture of your firm means opening up discussion for future recruitment. 

Keep Connected

The ability to talk directly to prospective applicants via social media, online communities or other passive platforms, gives an employer the gift of developing long term relationships. Developing and nurturing relationships is key. Personalising contact, researching the background of target applicants and really understanding their professional goals offers the chance to enter into connections that will fill your recruitment funnel now and for the long term. Throughout all engagement, it’s vital to respect a potential applicants’ time and privacy. Communicate promptly and show genuine interest and care in their background, skills and achievements. 

Make it Easier to Refer

Creating a culture of buy-in as well as a happy workforce, can be a very powerful form of passive recruitment.  Leveraging your current employees is a strong place to start in passive recruitment. Find an engaged audience of employees who understand your culture, who have their own experiences to bring and who can share any opportunity with their own personal and professional networks. This kind of recommendation is incredibly compelling. Putting in place a referral programme (where your employees receive a financial incentive for a potential hire), is a cost efficient recruitment strategy which statistically has a higher retention rate and can be the best return on investment as compared to other hiring sources.

Save Some Time and Money 

Traditional recruitment practices can appear the most sensible and safe but they can take longer and cost more money than engaging in passive and social recruitment. The ability for an HR professional (regardless of the size of organisation) to identify and engage with ideal candidates on professional networks such as LinkedIn can yield quick results and also lay the foundations for future connection and recruitment opportunities. The time lag of traditional recruitment comes from not knowing who will apply. You can never guarantee that the correct candidates will reach out, a pre-condition largely eliminated in social and passive recruitment.

Face Less Competition

Many of us during a job search will apply to several positions at once, most often with competing companies. That makes traditional recruitment complicated for the HR professionals. Knowing that the ideal candidates will be in high demand makes competition fierce and gives applicants even more negotiating power. Recruiting directly with passive candidates can reduce this issue. Each company will be reaching out to exactly who fits their mission and needs rather than any applicant that generally fits their description. 

Look Forward to Lower Turnover

A passive candidate is not looking for a new job. They’re not interested in making a change (on paper at least). So engaging with them enough to encourage them to move would take a lot. It would mean serious consideration. It would require knowing there was a perfect fit and having reached a decision together that suits all parties. The likelihood of turnover in these cases is low, lower than in traditional recruitment and in the current market, dropping turnover rates in any way is an attractive prospect.


There is nothing new about innovative recruitment but what’s important in this case is the realisation that recruitment can no longer be defined by traditional formats. Understanding and embracing passive recruitment in all it’s forms is quickly becoming a pre requisite for all organisations and HR professionals. Not instead of traditional recruitment, but to supplement traditional recruitment. We all live online now, whether actively seeking a new position or not, to ignore the population of those who might simply not know about your job, would be a loss. One easily remedied. 

“Whether making a complete career change or getting comfortable with what you really want from your job, the market has shifted to a truly candidate-led space”

Emma Murray