Recruiting the right talent to your company is not an easy task. It can be made even harder if you are trying to target passive job seekers.

Proven Strategies for Targeting Passive Job Seekers

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This guide will seek to explain who these passive candidates are and the reasons your organization should focus on reaching out to them. We’ll examine the common pitfalls of targeting passive candidates and provide you with six strategies for recruiting passive job seekers.


A passive job seeker or a candidate is someone who’s already in employment and not actively looking for a new job. Nonetheless, the person might be open for a new job opportunity if it presented itself to the passive candidate.

Passive candidates differ from active candidates in the activity of looking for a job. Whilst an active job seeker, who might or might not be employed, is actively searching for new roles and contacting employers, the passive candidate isn’t looking for anything.

In a 2014 LinkedIn talent report, around three-quarters of the global workforce reported themselves to be passive candidates. This means there are three times as many passive job seekers as there are active candidates. The number remains impressive even when you exclude the number of employees who aren’t open to a new job, even when offered one.

Although the number of passive job seekers is high, the majority of the hires still come from the active candidate pool. The reasons are largely down to the conventional setup of the recruitment process, which is mainly organized in a way that targets only active candidates.

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As the above statistic highlighted, passive candidates are out there. Furthermore, the same report showed that 85% of the total full-employed workforce is open to offers, including a high number of passive candidates.

For employers this willingness to consider new roles opens up new opportunities to find talented and motivated candidates. Passive candidates, especially, can offer a different set of benefits to employers than active candidates.

The reasons your organization should focus on passive job seekers include:

  • They are career focused and good employees. The passive job seeker is focused on building their career and they won’t be lured into a new role until it is better for them. They are also enjoying their job and therefore likely to be good employees, since they aren’t actively looking to swap positions.
  • They have the right skills and experience. Since the candidate is already employed, they benefit from having good qualifications and experience, which they’ve gained in their position.
  • They are transparent with the skillset. A passive candidate isn’t reaching out to employers for a new job and therefore they don’t feel the need to inflate their skills. Whilst an active candidate is aiming to make a good impression, since they want to be hired, a passive candidate won’t feel the need to try sugar coating their skills or qualities.
    This doesn’t mean an active candidate will automatically lie in their CV, but they are more eager to impress the employer. On the other hand, recruiting a passive candidate usually means you contact them with a job opportunity, which means they aren’t looking to impress you.

Furthermore, the good thing about targeting passive candidates is that you are most likely not going to have to compete with other employers. Since the passive job seeker isn’t browsing job boards for new jobs, the candidate is less likely to be interviewing or negotiating with another company.


Before we examine some of the strategies you can use to target passive job seekers, it’s important to first understand some of the challenges associated with this recruitment focus. The process of targeting and attracting passive candidates isn’t the same as with active candidates, as the passive job seeker isn’t reaching out to you for the job.

The key thing to keep in mind is that passive candidates aren’t all open to job proposals. When you are targeting employees who aren’t actively focused on looking a job, it’s hard to distinguish between those that are actually open to ideas and those who aren’t interested.

Therefore, actively contacting passive candidates, or the so-called cold calling, can be a dangerous tactic, as too much contact can hurt your business image.

The passive candidate might find the poaching strategy too aggressive if you don’t approach it carefully. Furthermore, as we’ll see in the next section, targeting candidates without an organic connection can be too much like shooting in the dark. Therefore, while cold calling can potentially have benefits, it’s more advantageous to focus on targeting passive candidates for whom you have a connection or contact.

You also have to carefully consider your employer value proposition. The candidate might be scared to move on from a solid job and familiar work environment to a completely new business, which means the offer you make must be good enough. It needs to find a proper balance of guaranteed job security, the work environment and the benefits.

In short, you must sell your business to the passive candidate and not the other way around.

Learn how to develop your employer value proposition by watching the following video.


So, how do you target candidates, who aren’t actively engaged in the recruitment process? Below are six effective strategies, which can help you engage with these talented employees and widen your company’s talent recruitment pool.

Strategy 1: Focus on building organic networks

As mentioned briefly above, you should focus your efforts on finding organic connections with passive job seekers. Avoid the strategy of stalking passive candidates online and instead, focus on turning talented candidates from passive to active. This means creating a work environment where employees would love to work in.

One of the greatest tactics for fostering organic relationships is ensuring your current employees are happy in the company. Employee referrals are among the most effective ways to reach out to passive job seekers and help turning passive candidates to active. This means the implementation of employee referral programs (ERP) can leverage employees’ personal networks for recruitment purposes.

Social media is a great platform for nurturing organic networks. Not only can social media help you build the image of a great employer, it also helps you to find the right passive candidates. You can learn more about candidates and start talking with them on platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

In social media, you want to share tips related to your industry, answer customer queries and highlight the social good your business does. For example, if your organization does voluntary work, you should be talking about it on social media. Furthermore, you can blog about issues important to employees. These could be information on how your company balances work and leisure, or latest developments in health and safety.

You also need to focus on online channels outside of social media platforms. Identify the sites and forums where your ideal candidates might spend time and build a reputation of being the industry leader. If you come across as a knowledgeable and active company in the industry, talented and career-driven candidates will find your business more appealing.

Finally, remember your HR department is likely already sitting on a number of passive candidate profiles. Your old application forms can be a goldmine when it comes to finding new talent. Consider checking some of the top candidate applications and searching on social media what these candidates are up to now. Contacting candidates who have already shown an interest to your organization can be a good way of finding candidates who are willing to listen to your recruitment proposal.

Strategy 2: Highlight the job opportunities and growth potential

When reaching out to passive job seekers, the focus should be on highlighting the job opportunities and the growth potential in the position. Candidates that are already in full-time employment might not be as interested in the traditional incentives such as higher pay, according to some experts. Therefore, the focus must be on the benefits of the position to career growth and opportunities.

The best way to achieve this is by personalizing the recruitment message. Focus on the skills and ambitions of the passive candidate, instead of the skills and qualities required in the position. For example, instead of explaining what skills the candidate must have, explain why the skills of the candidate would enhance the role.

Furthermore, passive candidates will often consider new roles if they offer something better than the role they are already in. This doesn’t typically only refer to financial benefits, but rather opportunities to enhance the person’s skills. Highlighting the networking opportunities the new role will provide, as well as the career boost it can provide, can be a good way to gain interest from passive candidates.

Strategy 3: Focus on mobile platforms

According to a mobile survey, over 60% passive candidate respondents said they searched for jobs on the mobile, with over 70% hoping job information is available on mobile devices. For recruiters, this means that reaching out to passive job seekers is possible by targeting mobile platforms.

Since passive candidates wouldn’t browse recruitment sites or company websites on their current employer’s computer, the mobile phone can become the choice of staying in touch with potential employers. The company website must therefore be accessible with a mobile. Furthermore, you want the engagement with the passive job seeker to be available via mobile. This means ensuring contact forms, application forms and file uploads are all available with a phone.

In addition, ensure response time for queries is quick. You want the passive job seeker to receive answers instantaneously to ensure engagement continues and the candidate feels valued.

It’s a good idea to consider using SMS, email or other notification systems for mobile engagement. If you want to study a good mobile HR strategy for targeting passive job seekers, then consider examining Sodexo. The company has used mobile-specific job apps to allow candidates to search positions. As a result, the company’s mobile app has resulted in over 100 hires and a 233% increase in visits to the mobile site.

Strategy 4: Build a strong employer brand

We’ve also briefly touched on the importance of being a good employer. It’s important to come across as a good employer and there are two different ways of doing this. First, as we’ve mentioned, you want your current employees enjoy working in the company. This is often the internal focus of building a strong brand and you need to focus on things such as work/life balance, employment benefits, health and safety, and employee satisfaction.

But you should also build your employer brand with a strong external message, both offline and online. Social media is an important part of improving your brand image. But you also want to use other online mediums such as LinkedIn. Furthermore, it’s a good idea to go where passive candidates are, such as industry-related forums and websites. Answering comments and participating in the industry conversation can be a powerful way to boost your brand and leave a lasting impact in the minds of the candidate.

You should talk about the company’s achievement, value and ambitions on social media and perhaps even in a company blog. The focus should be on the industry as a whole, as this can be a powerful way to draw in passive job seekers, who are interested in personal development.

As well as spreading the message online, you can also organize industry-related events. Invite interesting people, with the right talent and passion, to these events. These can be great for sparking the interest of potential job seekers and helps to spread the message of you as a strong industry leader and a good employer.

Below is an interesting short video on reaching out to passive job seekers on social media:

Strategy 5: Write interesting and innovative job postings

The focus of your job postings should move from pure focus on the skills and qualities to personality profiles. According to a recruitment expert Lou Adler, performance profiles are much more suited to targeting passive candidates. In a Recruiting Division article, Adler suggested that listing performance objectives will give the candidate more information about the post and the candidate’s suitability to it than the tradition skill-based posting.

The performance profiles refer to a job posting where the focus is on listing things the candidate must do in order to succeed in the position. The aim is to define the job instead of focusing on defining the ideal candidate. This means the candidate has a better understanding of what is expected of them, as well as the opportunities the job can provide them.

For instance, instead of outlining the candidate needs to have good communication skills and knowledge of Windows OS, a performance profile would say:

The job requires plenty of communication with customers, as you’ll need to deal with customer queries on the phone as part of your workday. You’ll also be using Microsoft OS for solving customer problems.”

A big part of creating more engaging job postings also deals with understanding the passive candidate’s motivations. As mentioned above, passive job seekers often have different reasons for accepting or applying for a new position and the reasons might vary.

The candidate might be interested in being closer to home, enjoying from better work benefits, or simply climbing higher on the career ladder. It is important to ensure you talk about the different benefits of your company and the position in the job posting and personalize the message when contacting candidates directly.

Understand what makes job seekers click in the following presentaion.

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Strategy 6: Develop a strong relationship with a recruitment agency

Finally, it can be beneficial to build a relationship with a recruitment agency, especially if your organization’s HR department is small. Recruitment agencies tend to have a selection of candidate profiles available, with the inclusion of passive job seekers as well as active candidates.

By developing a strong relationship, your organization can gain more access to resources. These include the advantage of receiving access to more passive job seeker profiles, but also to different methods of targeting these candidates. A professional recruitment company can have the needed skills to turn your headhunting operations into an investigative and targeted operation.

Furthermore, by creating a strong relationship with a recruitment agency, you might later benefit from this networking opportunity. A good recruitment consultant might start referring more candidates your way, even when you are not looking and this can be another way of finding talent.


Targeting passive job seekers is not an easy thing to do – after all, they aren’t actively engaged in recruitment.

But since the majority of candidates consider them passive and yet are willing to consider a new position, reaching out to this group can be a vital part of finding talent.

The strategies you use for targeting passive candidates differ from the strategies to speak to active candidates. You’ll need to be active in personalizing the message and branding your business as a top employer.

You should also focus on fostering organic relations, as good networks are more likely to create tangible connections that lead to recruitment.

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