Recruiting and Sourcing Passive Candidates: Effective Techniques and Processes

In honor of one of the best comedy shows out there that recently wrapped its last season, today’s shameless pop culture reference is one of the best mentors I have ever seen on TV.

Raymond Holt is the best captain the Nine-Nine has ever had. Fact. He’s strict and firm but can be empathic and participative when he needs to be. Stoic on the outside, warm on the inside. He’s completely revamped the Nine-Nine, a group of talented detectives, into a great team. They have become a tight-knit group that takes on cases from start to finish, working on each of them down to the last detail, all while having fun. He has mentored detectives in his team into becoming more of what they want to be while solving huge cases. Plus he got Jake to wear a tie – a testament to his strength, will, and authority. He just makes things happen.

Now here’s a scenario. If the other stations wanted to upgrade and improve their own teams, how do they get a leader like that?

Easy. They just recruit one. The next question is, where do they find the perfect candidate?

The Perfect Candidate

Ah, the perfect candidate. The one who has the right skill set, and background and with enough experience in other areas that would be beneficial to the position. The perfect candidate is one whose resume is impressive, can ace and slay interviews without being too good to be true, and someone whose personality and work ethic would fit the hiring company’s culture and even improve it. You know, someone who can achieve what your team wants to achieve in the time you need them to achieve it.

But what if that candidate is currently – and happily – employed?

What if your perfect candidate, just like Captain Raymond Holt, is already happy and content with his own team and company? He isn’t available. He isn’t looking for a job. How can you even consider him a candidate?

Looking at Passive Candidates

The passive candidate is the candidate who happens to be employed elsewhere right now. This candidate is who you want to attract and convince to join your team instead of his/her current one. Obviously, that poses a challenge. Why would someone who’s already established and has a stable job, transfer to another one? And why recruit someone who’s unavailable in the first place?

Why recruit passive candidates?

The road to pursuing a candidate who is happy, well rewarded and contented is a challenging one that would require a whole lot of additional effort. So why bother, right? Nope.

Active candidates are easily accessible because they are already looking for jobs. No doubt some of them could be good candidates. So why tap people who have no interest in checking job boards?

Here’s why you shouldn’t ignore passive candidates.

Because passive candidates are happy where they are, you know with a degree of certainty that the only reason why they will join you is that you are offering a demonstrably and objectively better opportunity to them than their current job. There is no other reason why they would join you. Contrast this with someone who – for whatever reason – is actively looking for a job. Maybe they hate their boss. Or they could be worried about their job security. Maybe they are out of work. Their current situation is so unpleasant that they need another job. And it is very possible that they will take any job – ANY JOB – to get them out of their current personal Dante’s Inferno. So – what does this mean for you?

Well, maybe they will take your job… hooray! But then what happens? They realize that your job wasn’t right… it was right now. That’s cool – at least you’re paying their rent while they quietly look for the job they really want! And, sure enough, a month or two later you’ll receive a boilerplate email saying they are sorry but things haven’t quite worked out… Because you took them on when they were desperate (you were there right now), they had the time and latitude to look for the right job on your dime. How generous of you! But that generosity has set your business back three months salary (and usually 3x salary in additional costs!) and set you back three months on your annual goals. Yeay! Good result, Job Boards!

Let me sum it up in four words… Passive Candidates Stay Longer. This is for one reason only… they will only leave their current job for a job that’s worth sticking around for!

Simple, right?

Now if they’re happy and well rewarded in their current jobs, how do you find them?

Where do you find passive candidates?

They’re definitely not outside, knocking at your door looking for a job. So go where people with jobs go. Sourcing passive candidates always starts with identifying the places and hideouts these gems are hidden. Here are some places on the internet where you can plan your stakeout – street meat optional.

Check the existing recruiting database

Remember those old applicants that either didn’t make it to the final list or didn’t accept old offers? Maybe you should check them out now and see what they’ve been up to. Who knows? Maybe one of them has finally shaped up to be the hidden gem you need.


If there’s anyone we should take advice from, it’s the people we trust. So why not ask around your own network of contacts? You’re in the same industry, you’ve probably worked together at one point, so maybe what you lack, the other knows.

Now I know we shouldn’t easily accept referrals from just anyone but those people whose professional seal of approval we believe in. However, what do we do when we’ve called our initial list of candidates and they’re not interested? Where do we get more referrals?

It’s actually not a bad idea to ask those uninterested skilled candidates. They might not take the offer or be interested at the least, but they probably know a couple of people who do. They might know someone who qualifies just as they do. Perhaps, someone from an old team or company they’ve worked really well with. Skilled candidates can tell one skilled candidate from another, you know.

Another option to consider are partnerships and collaborations with colleges or universities. Connect with these types of organizations and be ahead on the up-and-coming top talent list. There can be a lot of sources for referrals. All you have to do is expand your search. Who knows? Your new perspective might just land you your Raymond Holt.

Social media and Google

I don’t know why but I always feel the need to say this over and over. Everybody is on social media. Even your next top talent. LinkedIn may be the widely used platform for sourcing but don’t ignore Facebook. A ton of talents have now tapped Facebook and other social media platforms to create profiles of themselves and their work.

Or try a google search. Always a good idea to check that out.

Attracting Passive Candidates Effectively

Now that you have your list, what do you do next? Send a scripted, totally impersonal bulk email? No. There is no shortcut to attracting passive candidates. Remember, they’re already occupied with their jobs and content with it. They are currently happy and loyal to their organization which means you’re going to have to really work for their attention.

There are two things you can use to attract and recruit them into considering your offer.

Sell The Organization

As a recruiter (yes, you are now a recruiter. Your membership card is in the mail!) you don’t simply tell them there’s an opening and that they’d be good for the position. You have to recruit them for the organization and its company culture. Use the company’s vision, objectives, and goals and align them with what’s important to them. Explain the job description, its responsibilities, and the benefits it entails. Establish a good rapport and make the job and company more appealing while staying true and honest to the candidate.

Sell the company culture and make them feel they’d fit right in. Now, this is why up-to-date and comprehensive websites and a strong online presence are important. Social media is a great tool to show off your culture, your teams, and the people who make things happen. Through your organization’s social media accounts, you can market your company in a pro-employee way, enticing anybody who encounters it to learn more about it. It’s also a great platform to use for research, and engaging passive candidates.

Also make sure your website and your social media accounts provide catchy and engaging content.

Sell The Opportunity

The biggest factor that you could use to convince anyone to join your organization is, of course, the opportunity. Recruit passive candidates by showing them what this opportunity would do for their career. Learn what motivates them and align that with the advantages of the move to your company. Take the time to get to know your candidates and find out what would make them take the offer, and use it to your advantage.

They can’t possibly have EVERYTHING they want now. So figure out what – in an ideal world – they would like, and try your best to give it to them. Because if you can only provide what they already have, why would they even bother entertaining you?

Recruiting Your Passive Candidates

Given that you’re ready with your list and you’ve already done your research about them individually, what’s next? Ooh is time to send out those scripted, totally impersonal bulk email?

Still, no.

You need to approach and engage a passive candidate carefully. If you’re too timid and vague, you’ll fail to pique his or her interest. If you’re too aggressive, you might just drive them away. Make good use of your research and know which first step to make.

You may either start with cold calling or sending a personalized sourcing email. Or message them on social media. If they don’t answer your call, or the first message doesn’t get responded to, don’t smother them or spam them with messages. You have your company’s reputation to consider. Headhunters will relentlessly pursue attractive passive candidates – I have been known to leave 17 voicemails in the space of a few days! – but I’m not revealing the name of my hiring company until I’ve managed to build rapport with the candidate. You, however, will need to be a little more restrained… you don’t want to appear desperate, particularly if you are trying to headhunt from a competitor.

Once you’ve started communicating, always communicate what they want to know. Get straight to the point. Provide true and useful information to get them curious and even more interested. If Raymond Holt can paint and give life to hundreds of random rocks, you can animate and show them a picture of what they’re getting from this offer.

However fulfilling their experience with their current organization is, we measure up.

In Conclusion

We recruit passive candidates for their experience strong market knowledge and – above all – the overwhelming likelihood that they will stay with your organization for the long haul. Case and point – one of the first passive candidates I hired in my career I placed in 2002. He is still there. If you look me up on LinkedIn, he’s one of my references!

We engage passive candidates with highly tailored personal messages and genuine conversations and take the time to get to know them. Our teams inform them of what they want and need to know and give them what they want and currently don’t have yet. We let them know that they’re a huge asset who will greatly impact the company and will make great use of their talent while making them even happier and even more content.

Now, go get your Raymond Holt. Or…

Let recruiters do the work for you

Our team has helped cybersecurity companies in all parts of the world save time, effort, and money by equipping them with the best sales, presales, marketing, product and finance talent in the industry. We have helped them increase profit through our effective and efficient hiring processes.

Chat with us! Let us help you find your perfect candidate today.

About Simon Lader

Simon Lader

I am an almost twenty year veteran of the IT industry. I started recruiting for IT sales and presales people in 1997 and I’ve been doing it ever since. Originally living in Manchester, UK, I now live in Las Vegas and specialize in helping startup and high-growth software vendors find the best sales and presales people in North America, Asia Pacific and EMEA. My three kids and long suffering wife keep me sane (or as close to it as possible) - which, as a Manchester United supporter, isn’t always easy! I probably watch too much Netflix and drink too much Single Malt Whisky, but what’s life without a little misbehavior now and then.
Click here to schedule a free 15 minute consultation phone call with me; or click here to send me a message.
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