In nearly every conversation I have with Recruiters the topic of the perfect job candidate will always arise. It’s natural. We’re constantly pining for that perfect hire, sitting out there somewhere among the masses, waiting to be plucked from the ranks to lift the mantle of our corporate brand. This is the Holy Grail of candidates and they have a name. We call them the “passive seeker.”
Hardly a day goes by without a newly published blog post, mainstream media article or hardback on how to find them. But who are they, and why are they the cream of the proverbial crop? The most common definition for a “passive candidate” is employed but not looking for another opportunity. The key pre-condition, of course, is gainful employment. And therein lies the rub: you must be employed.
The idea that to be employable you must already be employed is an artificial and inaccurate assumption that just needs to go away. To me, it’s like saying only married people are worth dating. After all, if they aren’t married then something must be wrong with them, right?
Of course most of us would agree this logic is unreasonable if not altogether wrong. Ridiculous you might say, given that nearly half of first time marriages end in divorce. It’s time to acknowledge the same flawed logic in the Recruiting business. During the height of the recession in October of 2009, more than 15.5 million people found themselves out of work.
Many were the victims of corporate downsizing, job elimination as a byproduct of outsourcing, bankruptcy restructuring, or firms that went completely out of business. Others felt insecure about their employer’s stability, the sting of fewer resources, or overall lack of opportunity in a post recession world, and began testing the employment waters.
Passive Vs. Active: 3 Recruitment Realities
Whatever their motivation, they found themselves fighting a clear bias as recruiters brought out the label maker and dubbed them the undesirable “active seekers.” That is, easy prey that are unemployed for a reason and not worthy of the hunt. Even today as unemployment begins to ease and the labor p0ol begins to tighten, there is a clear preference for those in the ranks of the “employed and not looking.”
As an industry we need to embrace the following job candidate realities:
Even if it did we shouldn’t care. There are millions of potential candidates and varying degrees of activity that could change at the drop of a hat. That a candidate is somehow not worthy of our attention because they dared to express direct interest in our opportunity is a huge miss (did you know, for example, that 73% of Monster users are currently employed?)
This mentality is the result of a temporary (now waning) overall increase in talent supply that will likely continue to diminish.
2. “Unemployed” Does Not Mean “Unemployable”
We can’t pretend to know everyone’s story, and must remember there are people behind the piece of paper in our hands. As recruiters, it is our job to discover the story through the entire body of work, including: skills, experience, education, personality and cultural fit within our organization. None of these can be ascertained or fully vetted by arbitrary labels.
3. “Employed” Does Not Mean This Is Your Next Superstar
I’m sure we have all met individuals who made us question their current employer’s interviewing process. If the leading indicator for a top performer is zero gaps in employment history, then we would never make a bad hiring decision. I think we all know this isn’t the case. The same complete body of work outlined above has to be taken into consideration.
So how do we combat this? We can start by checking our assumptions and re-embracing best practices. Career decisions are deeply personal, but our practices and language in an understaffed overworked corporate recruiting world often become deeply impersonal. The result could mean overlooking a tremendous contribution to our organizational talent pool.
Remember, a missed opportunity today could be a very expensive acquisition from someone else tomorrow. So keep pursuing the Holy Grail of candidates, but constantly challenge assumptions, reject arbitrary labels, and most importantly, encourage your peers in our industry to do the same.