We’re all busy trying to fill positions so it just makes sense to go for the low-hanging fruit; active job searchers, right?

However, doing this ensures that you’re competing with hundreds if not thousands of other businesses searching to fill their roles with top talent.

An alternative is to find great candidates who aren’t actively looking to replace their current job but who might be open to something better…if it came their way.

Ignoring this part of the candidate pool means you’re ignoring a huge 75% of the workforce, so, it’s worth your time and effort to look among passive candidates to fill roles. 

How to recruit passive candidates

A “passive” candidate is an admittedly more difficult, but not impossible person to find…if you know how to reach them.

The next time you need to fill one or more roles why not use the following strategies to source passive candidates as you continue looking through the stack of resumes on your desk.

It never hurts to look, and you might be surprised at what you find.

Sourcing techniques for passive candidates

1. Choose a “subject-matter” expert to field queries

Before you embark on the following passive candidate sourcing techniques, you’re going to want to get your hiring manager involved.

Do this by setting expectations for what you need them to do.

For example, when a passive candidate responds to your outreach efforts your manager should be ready to quickly respond to any questions or comments.

As passive candidates aren’t actively looking for work, they don’t have time…nor will they waste the time they do have…waiting for a return call or email.

In short, your hiring manager needs to be able to provide a passive candidate details about the open position(s) you notified them about.

2. Go beyond job boards

Get creative and think about other resources when sourcing for passive candidates.

For example, employee referrals are often an untapped resource for potential hires.

Aside from sites such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn what about social media sites where professionals tend to hang out? (e.g. an IT forum where professionals talk shop and share resources)

Join these forums and build up trust with the members before you blast out the fact that you’re actively recruiting. If a conversation has been earmarked for recruiters or open positions, respect the rules of the forum and post your needs there.

That said, keep an eye out for posters who seem to have the in-depth knowledge you’re seeking. When the time is right and you’ve built up a rapport, there’s nothing wrong with sending a private message (unless specifically prohibited) to that individual about your open role(s).

3. Time your outreach

Even if you’re in a hurry to fill a role, don’t rush your outreach to passive candidates.

They don’t always respond positively and the last thing you want to do is to break any trust that you’ve begun to establish.

Put candidates at ease by keeping the conversation surrounding them; what they want and need from their career – not about what you or your company need.

When you do broach the subject, you could say something like, “I realize that you’re not looking for another job right now, but it’s my job to find top talent for my company. I’ve learned that you have the skills my company is looking for.”

Then continue with something like, “I don’t want to waste your time, but I’d like to learn more about what motivates you…do you have a quick moment to chat?”

You’ll not only gain insight into what appeals to them but speaking about them encourages them to open up. Which then leads to them becoming more engaged in the conversation.

Then, at a time when it feels right, you can discuss the position, your company and why you think they would love the role…without making them feel like they’re “being sold.”

4. Create curiosity

Use the human emotion of curiosity to get your candidate to open up.

For example, if you’re sending an email or leaving a voicemail, reference specific information about their skills or interests, but don’t tell them everything with your initial contact.

When you leave out crucial details you stir up curiosity that compels your candidate to respond.

5. Be succinct in your communications

Your passive candidate – like all of us – is busy.

He or she is looking at ways to make their life easier which means they’re looking for a reason to delete your email or voicemail.

Don’t give it to them…

Your email should be short and to the point (hint: this works perfectly for creating curiosity (see number 4) and speak directly to what interests them.

Here’s a quick formula:

  • A subject line of 35 characters or less
  • Email body that’s four to six sentences long.


  • Flatter the prospect and/or say something specific that shows you’ve done your research on them
  • Once you’ve put together an email that gets good responses, use it as a template when crafting other emails.

6. Offer them something they don’t have right now

The offer you’re making must outweigh the uncertainty of changing jobs. If it doesn’t, you’re going to find it hard to convince a passive candidate to respond.

Research the company your passive candidate works for. Look at the work environment, benefits, growth opportunities, and culture. Look for where the company falls short and highlight – tastefully – how your company fills the gap.

7. Don’t procrastinate

Once you’ve captured a candidate’s interest in a position act quickly. Work with their schedule rather than make them work with yours to keep them interested.

In other words, be as flexible as possible when setting up interviews, phone screens, etc.

Tools that can help

Internal contacts

Look in your own database first…you could have the perfect candidate sitting there, waiting to be found.


As each passive candidate turns down your outreach, ask them if they know of anyone else who might be qualified and interested in the position.

You might be surprised by how effective this is…top candidates do tend to congregate with others in their profession.

Attracting passive candidates

As noted earlier, if you want to capture the interest of a passive candidate your opportunity must give them something they don’t have right now.

Or, they must feel as if it’s better than what they have now…otherwise, why bother moving jobs?

Create a job board integration on your website

Be as specific as possible about the skills an applicant should have to satisfactorily fill the requirements of each role.

Connect job board with social media

Passive candidates hang out on places like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If they stumble across your post in their feed it might entice them to look closer…(see number 4 above).

Build relationships

One of the great things about social media is it allows you to build a relationship with people following and/or interacting with your brand.

This means people get a chance to know you, learn to like you and begin to trust you…three essential elements of a good relationship.

You’ll gain key insights that will help you when it comes time to approach a candidate one on one, such as:

  • Career aspirations
  • What means the most to them in terms of new opportunities for employment
  • Professional goals; e.g. new certifications, changing industries, etc.
  • Those circumstances that would lead them to find new opportunities.

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