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You already know how to recruit active candidates.

They’re easy to find. They’re the ones with the ready-to-go resume and up-to-date website. They’re attending networking events, following your company on social media, and applying for your open positions.

However, if your active candidates are not the right candidate, recruiters have to go beyond those seeking employment now to strengthen their company’s workforce—by building a pipeline of passive candidates.

Engaging with passive job seekers means actively courting potential talent who are not currently looking for a new job.

This may sound challenging, compared to the readiness of active job seekers – but passive candidates provide a great investment in a company’s talent portfolio. They tend to have in-demand skill sets, a successful work history, and are less likely to be interviewing with other companies.

However, these positive traits also make it more difficult to actively recruit them to your opportunities. Passive recruitment means courting and networking with the right potential job seekers at a time when they: 

  1. May not be seeking out a new job; and 
  2. May not know that your organization exists. 

(If that sounds like marketing—you’re right!)

In order to consistently hire the best candidates, a strong recruitment strategy must appeal to passive talent.

What is a Passive Candidate?

Let’s start with the basics. A passive candidate is someone who is not actively looking for a job but has the skills and experience to qualify them for your open position. It may seem counterintuitive to go after candidates who are content with their current position. 

But, often, passive candidates make the best hires! 

If you’ve ever been approached by a recruiter yourself, you know that passive candidates aren’t always totally passive. We split up passive job seekers into a few different groups:

Types of Passive Candidates

  1. Candidates who are content with their current job and are not looking for new opportunities
  2. Candidates who are unhappy but not currently looking to make any changes
  3. Candidates who are considering seeking new employment but not actively applying for new jobs
  4. Candidates who are content with their current job but are open to hearing about new opportunities

Even if this passive candidate is not ready to move on to a new opportunity, you’re creating a connection and building a network with this candidate. Ask for referrals!

When they are ready to look for a new position, they will remember you.

10 Techniques for Recruiting Passive Candidates:


  1. Know your candidate.
  2. Do your research.
  3. Talk about opportunities.
  4. Stress potential growth.
  5. Build employee ambassadors and a strong brand.
  6. Develop a pro-employee reputation.
  7. Focus on quality of life.
  8. Stay updated on industry news.
  9. Ask the right questions.
  10. Make them sell to you.

1. Know Your Candidate.

Get to know your potential candidate before reaching out. Review their skills, work history, and check out the blogs they engage with. These are all great reasons to share why you are reaching out to them—and a good barometer that they’re a fit for your company’s culture.

Many recruiters look for people who have advanced at their current company within a few years —and that is often a good place to start searching. Good candidates should have the potential and motivation to grow with your company.

2. Do Your Research.

Before you contact candidates, learn as much about them as possible. Specifically, consider their main motivators, pain points, and industry trends. Your persona profiles should capture most of this information. But remember, you need to customize your messaging if you hope to get a response.

For the best results with candidate sourcing efforts, utilize different networks and forums for outreach, as well. For example, web developers may frequent GitHub or Stack Overflow, while other passive candidates prefer Twitter or Instagram.

Skills can be taught with training. But attitude and motivation can truly impact a passive job seeker’s success in a new position.

3. Talk about Opportunities.

For you, it’s just a job that needs to be done. But it’s a major life change for your candidate! When approached by a recruiter, the first question a passive candidate will ask themselves is: “What’s in it for me?”

There’s a reason people change jobs—and it’s not always money. In fact, according to a study by LinkedIn, compensation isn’t even among the top four reasons why people quit a job.

A little research on your prospect will help you understand what an “awesome opportunity” means to them.

So emphasize what’s exciting about the opportunity and your company culture. Now is your time to really push your employer brand. The requirements and job skills are important. But take time to explain how this position benefits the career growth of the candidate, and how it fits into the grander goals of the company.

Use the job’s possibilities to paint a clear picture for your candidate. Seek to understand what their current pains are. Could the opportunity benefit them with more recognition, greater challenges, a better work/life balance, potential travel, or more compensation? Are there other, similar roles that they have enjoyed smashing success, that you can offer as inspiration?

4. Stress Potential Growth.

It might be tempting to talk about job responsibilities right away, but that conversation won’t grab your candidate’s interest.

Your best bet is to address the unique growth opportunities the new position offers that their current position doesn’t. In other words, explain how this new job can fit into their big picture, and position them for future development.

5. Build Employee Ambassadors and a Strong Brand.

After reaching out to a passive candidate, they will probably turn around and research you and your company. Make sure your own company has a strong web presence, good branding—and great reviews. Employer branding is huge.

Your own employees are company ambassadors, especially on sites like GlassDoor and Indeed, where employee reviews can make or break a company’s reputation. When a passive candidate can see positive engagement from your company’s existing employees, they will find the opportunity a lot more attractive.

6. Develop a Pro-Employee Reputation.

As a recruiter, it is important to build a relationship of trust with potential job seekers.

If candidates know that you are working to benefit their careers, they will feel more confident in leaving their job for the great unknown of a new opportunity. Make it clear to them through the branding on the “careers” page of your website, through your job postings, and through your employee reviews, that you’re a pro-candidate recruiter.

Being pro-candidate also means maintaining good relationships with past rejected job seekers as well. A candidate who didn’t work out last year might be the perfect contender now.

7. Focus on Quality of Life.

Many professionals actually opt to join a company that improves their quality of life as opposed to a better salary. A study conducted by Accenture even found that over half of respondents turned down a position that threatened to upset their work/life balance.

Can you provide a great work/life balance, or help them meet their professional goals? Passive candidates will respond more warmly to a new position that offers support and flexibility, instead of another deadend job with a marginally higher salary.

8. Stay Updated on Industry News

Staying on top of industry news can help you identify more potential passive candidates.

Market uncertainty inevitably creates potential leads for passive recruiters. Recruiters use a tool like ZoomInfo to create alerts for company events, such as mergers and acquisitions, hiring plans and layoffs, new projects, and any kind of change or uncertainty that might cause an employee to consider leaving the company.

Even if the news doesn’t affect the candidate personally, it lends credibility to a recruiter if they can demonstrate that they understand the industry and the candidate’s current environment.

Staying informed and up to date will make you a better recruiter.

9. Ask the Right Questions

Passive candidates require a different approach than active candidates. If someone hasn’t considered changing jobs until now, the following questions can help:

Questions to Ask a Passive Candidate

  • What was the most fulfilling job you’ve ever had, and how does your current job measure up?
  • What do you like most about your current position, and what do you like least?
  • Is your current position as satisfying as when you first started?
  • Is this your dream job?

With this strategy, you can shake people out of the humdrum of their daily routines, and get them to see their current position’s shortcomings.

10. Make Them Sell to You.

One of the best sales techniques is to have prospects sell to you. After you’ve been talking to them for a while, express concern that they don’t quite meet one of the job requirements. Many candidates will then explain why they are a good fit regardless of this detail, and turn into an active candidate.

People inherently like challenges, so this tactic increases the chance that they’ll accept an offer.

What to Avoid with Passive Recruiting


1. Move On, But Don’t Burn Bridges.

Passive recruitment is all about long-term networking and what you can offer that candidate. If they are not a good fit or make it clear that they have zero interest in future opportunities, let them go…but keep their number.

Establish them as a network connection, give the candidate room to breathe—and never burn a bridge! Great candidates often know others in the same field, so ask them to refer people in their network to you. Or after they have some breathing room, passive candidates might decide to consider your offer at a later time. You can always keep them in mind for something else in the future.

2. Don’t be impersonal.

When communicating with passive candidates, share your own experiences and information. Warm, personalized messages and casual networking elicit better responses than a generic, impersonal email.

While passively recruiting top talent, it’s worth it to take the time to make your opportunity and position attractive. Flatter candidates with your knowledge of their accomplishments and honestly tell them how well they will fit in at your company.

3. Don’t flake.

You wouldn’t move forward with a candidate who failed to follow through. So if you say you’re going to take the next step—do it.

Some conversations don’t call for next steps, but if you mention one, make sure to follow through. We’ve all been guilty of this, as the hours in the day are limited. But if you say you’re going to do something, then do it.

Creating trust and building relationships is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve reached the finish line when your new hire is happy and your company is flourishing. And if you have a pipeline of passive talent, other great possible candidates are right around the corner.

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About the author

Amanda Kiyomi Uyesugi

Amanda is a company research manager at ZoomInfo. She earned her B.A. in creative writing from Seattle University and is originally from San Jose, California.

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