Passive Candidates Should be Part of Your Talent Pool

Article main image
Apr 26, 2019

To remain competitive, companies today must hire talent with proven success in anticipating and navigating industry changes. Staying ahead of the pack is only possible when hiring transformational talent: Employees who can influence your culture and accelerate your growth, no matter their role or level in the organization. It also means hiring people to do things differently from what you’ve done before.

Talent acquisition is more than an HR process: It’s an essential business strategy, and your organization’s long-term health — its reputation, profitability, market penetration, customer engagement — all depend on it.

Where to find transformational talent

Where do you find best-in-class talent when it’s so tempting to settle for the best available right now? As it happens, top performers — the kind that can transform your business, ignite existing teams, boost revenue and market performance — are happily employed, producing results elsewhere.

We’ll call them passives, since they aren’t actively seeking a job today. Thankfully, many passives are open to a better opportunity if presented to them.

Why do passives matter? Without interviewing passive candidates for every role you hire, you can’t discern if the market is doing better than your internal talent pool, that friend-of-a-friend referral, or folks responding to our job posting. The ability to see what else the market knows that you don’t is especially critical for industries where technology, regulations and buyer behavior are changing fast.

4 talent pools

To understand why interviewing passives is a game-changer, it helps to examine some pitfalls in common talent pools. Whether hiring an accountant, sales rep, scientist or CEO, you have four possible pools of talent to pull from.

The first three give you access to best-available talent: those you can find most easily, and who are hungry for an opportunity right now. The fourth talent pool is where best-in-class talent often hides. (Hint: They won’t come knocking on your door without a compelling outreach strategy.)

1. Internal pool

It’s possible you have someone internally who can move into the new role. It can make sense to reward star employees with a move up the ladder. We often see internal moves with entry to mid-level roles.

But without looking beyond your organization, you don’t know how internal talent compares to who else is out there. You may not even realize the way your organization designed the job is behind the curve, and the market has figured out a better way. Will you truly transform?

2. Referral pool

It’s natural to think of the guy you met at a conference, your friend Joe or his friend Mary when you need to fill a job that aligns with their background. It certainly pays to know people, and your professional or personal contacts can be good referral sources.

Keep in mind when assessing an acquaintance for a job, emotions can cloud your judgment and prevent adequate scrutiny. You may want the relationship to work so badly that you fail to ask the hard questions and uncover the candidate’s true depth and fit with your organization.

3. Active pool

You post the position on job boards and see who bites, attracting active job seekers. More likely than not, a steady stream of applications rolls in.

Sorting through thick stacks of resumes can tempt HR to favor the most available or motivated to accept any role over the “best-in-class.” The number of unqualified applicants can further clog the process and dilute the attention given to potential hires. Does that sound like a process that leads to business transformation?

4. Passive pool

70% of workers aren’t actively looking for a gig, reports LinkedIn. Although passive talent isn’t looking for a new opportunity today, 87% of active and passive candidates are open to new job opportunities.

Note that passives are harder to secure. Passives require courtship and a custom approach, versus conventional recruiting tactics like requiring them to fill out your standard, multi-page application or prematurely asking them to articulate why you should hire them, for instance.

As a general guideline, the more knowledge, experience or finesse the role requires, the more crucial it is to explore passive talent to find your best-fit candidates. This is especially true with leadership positions, or positions requiring deep technical expertise.

Some executives say active candidates make the best employees. See “Passive is Passé – Executives Say Active Job Seekers Make the Best Candidates

Finding and hiring the right passives

Brilliant, passive people aren’t hard to find. A quick LinkedIn or database search will uncover scores of prospects who are perfect on paper, with seemingly rich experience climbing phenomenal brands. Yet despite their achievements, that talent could still sink your goals if misaligned with your company culture or leadership style.

Can they influence people? How do they learn and communicate? Are they an autocrat who declares how people should work or a collaborator who builds on ideas? Do they act like an owner, making decisions with entrepreneurial fluidity, or do they need political finesse to navigate bureaucracy?

More than technical know-how, culture influence and leadership fit are often the difference between an exceptional or disastrous hire. Sample attributes we often score in assessing candidates include strategic thinking, learning ability, influence, conflict management, innovative execution, and more.

We also recommend assessing candidates’ hireability — their likelihood to accept your offer. Will relocation be necessary? Is the compensation aligned with the market? Is there a timeline with their family that you should consider? What drives them? Taking the time to think through these factors can help you sway that one-in-a-million talent or save you both from wasting time on insurmountable obstacles.

Getting started

By now, you should understand that securing game-changing talent requires more than posting jobs, flipping through resumes or dipping into your most convenient talent pool. You may decide it’s important to pursue passives, but not something you can or wish to do on your own. We recommend collaborating with a talent acquisition partner who can become intimately familiar with your full enterprise and the problems you need to solve.

To ensure a good match, ask potential partners to detail their process, particularly how they find and assess candidates, how they weigh your business needs against market dynamics, their experience in hiring truly transformation talent, and post-hire support. At a minimum, ask deeper questions, both of candidates and those tasked with recruiting them.

Chasing after passives is harder than sitting back and evaluating active applicants alone, sure. But it’s also hiring insurance. Take the time to get it right.

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!