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Home / Blog / A Guide to Passive Candidate Recruiting (Best Channels, Benefits, and Tips)

A Guide to Passive Candidate Recruiting (Best Channels, Benefits, and Tips)

Passive recruiting results in hiring employees with better performance and retention. Interested?

Jodie Sandell PHR and SHRM-CP
Consultant, project manager, writer, and process improver with over 15 years of HRM experience
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A 2023 ManpowerGroup Survey shows that we are in a global talent shortage. “Nearly 4 in 5 employers globally report difficulty finding the skilled talent they need in 2023, strengthening by 2 percentage points year-over-year and more than double the difficulty in 2015 (38%).”

A smaller talent pool means recruiters and organizations need to get creative in how they source candidates and approach their hiring process. 2023 job seeker data shows 30% of workers want to quit a job in the next 12 months, but aren’t necessarily looking for opportunities.

If your organization is not sourcing passive candidates, you are missing out on an approach vital to the current talent acquisition environment. This article will cover the benefits of passive recruitment, the best channel for recruiting passive candidates, and tips for making the best of your passive recruiting strategy.

In This Article

What is Passive Recruiting?

Passive recruiting, also referred to as headhunting, or executive search (when it applies to senior roles), is a recruitment strategy where a recruiter approaches passive candidates well suited to fill specific open roles.

Passive candidates are not consciously looking for job opportunities, but they can end up being the best candidates.

  • They are already employed so they are more discerning— not pressured into taking any offer on the table over their current job.
  • They are actively working so are likely up to speed on career and industry knowledge.
  • And, with the convenience of social media and the internet, you can intentionally screen candidates for specific work experience.
  • They are (likely) not considering any other roles. You, therefore, have less competition and a good chance of landing the candidate you want, provided you can convince them to leave their current employer.

If your organization is experiencing challenges staffing 100% of your open positions and you aren’t passively recruiting, it’s time to broaden your recruiting strategy. According to LinkedIn, 70% of the global workforce consists of a passive talent pool— people who aren’t actively job searching, but who would be open to new opportunities if one were presented to them.

The Passive Candidate Recruiting Toolbox

Candidate recruiting for job openings works differently when you are the one to proactively make contact. The right opportunity, a robust total rewards package, and a pay increase can transform a job candidate who isn’t looking for a new position into your new hire.

Making this happen will require hiring managers and recruiters to use a different approach than they do with active job seekers. Passive talent acquisition involves: 

  • Understanding the open position’s requirements: You will need a clear job description and a list of required skills and certifications.
  • Pinpointing your target talent: Searching for qualified candidates using sourcing tools, social networks, and other networking channels. An employee referral program is also valuable here.
  • Initiating contact: You need a convincing cold call or email introduction to pique the candidate’s interest and relay the value of your proposal.
  • Customizing that outreach for that individual: A catch-all recruitment pitch probably won’t do the trick as well as with regular candidates funneled through ATS software. If you want a specific person for the job, the value proposition, incentives, and approach should be tailored to them. See it as the reverse of best practices for job seekers; applicants who use the same resume and cover letter for every application will make less of an impression than those who tailor their unique value proposition each time. A case-specific approach is equally important in passive recruitment.
  • Creating an ongoing dialogue: You’ll likely have to nurture passive job candidates for a while before they accept an offer. Your talent pipeline should therefore consist of consistent outreach instead of one proposal with an expectation of a yes/no answer.
A recruiter logging into Facebook to screen candidates they've identified for passive recruitment to fill a vacancy.

The Best Channels for Recruiting Passive Candidates 

A different type of candidate requires a different approach. Consider your open position and where the ideal candidate may be found.


For instance, if you are hiring a Data Analyst, look into the Data Science Association. Engage in upcoming events, like conferences or networking dinners. Review their blogs and job boards to learn more about your target population. Are there qualifications or courses that might refine your search? 

Social Media

Social media platforms will also play a large role in your sourcing. LinkedIn offers a Recruiter and Recruiter Lite subscription to help source candidates. And according to RecruiterFlow, Facebook is your best channel for screening candidates on social media. Over 30% of recruiters use Facebook solely for candidate screening.

Statistics on the social media channels like Facebook and LinkedIn that are the most commonly used for recruiting.

Recruiting Software

Recruiting automation software is also a viable channel to simplify your organization’s recruiting process. This software capability includes sourcing candidates, building talent pools, and generally streamlining the process of attracting, vetting, and hiring talent.

A lot of these tools have powerful recruiting AI that can match up job descriptions with well-suited passive candidates.

Employee Referrals

To reinforce and expand upon your recruiting work, establish an employee referral program.

Reach out to existing employees to ensure they are aware of openings in your organization. Encourage them to tap their networks and repost your job ad on their social media. Offer incentives for them to do so in the form of monetary rewards or perks if the qualified friends and colleagues they refer are hired.

Employer Branding

It is crucial that your organization is ready for passive candidates to do their research.

Is your website clean and up to date? Are you comfortable with your employer brand? Are the job description and job ad finalized? Do you have a summary of your company’s perks ready to go upon request? Have you identified existing engaged employees who are willing to talk with a potential hire about company culture?

The impression and candidate experience you offer will, in the end, convince them to consider your proposition, or not.

The Benefits of Recruiting Passive Candidates

Passive candidates are often highly desirable to employers because they have the expertise, experience, and specific skills required for roles. Other benefits to hiring passive job seekers include transparency, time-to-hire, and fit.

Employment Track Record

Passive candidates will oftentimes come into a position better qualified than an active job seeker. This is because they are not experiencing a break in service.

Their ongoing work history has allowed them to stay on top of current technology and industry trends. Without a break in service, they have also racked up more experience in their role, making them better qualified.

Less Competition

Recruiters and hiring managers experience less pressure when communicating with a passive candidate. There may be no competition with other organizations since you are the one who identified this potential new hire (vs. the candidate shopping for positions).


Passive candidates are typically more transparent about their interests and talents. Since they are already employed, they don’t need to embellish their resume.

The interactions are typically more authentic and less rehearsed since the candidate is under less pressure to impress you. They are also under less pressure to be impressed by your company.

A passive candidate typically takes time to learn about your company and the role. When they accept your offer, it is because their research revealed a good match between their career goals, your organization, and your open position.


Passive candidates are 25% more likely to stay at a company long-term, and their overall performance is 9% higher than active candidates.

Tips for Recruiting Passive Candidates

Recruiting top talent not actively seeking a new position can be challenging! Follow these tips to prepare yourself and maximize your success.

Understand the Organization

Make sure you can field your candidate’s questions about company culture and the open position thoroughly. If you are not with the organization or department hiring and don’t understand the culture or position completely, know who you can connect your candidate with when they show interest in learning more.

Line up The Hiring Squad

Ensure the company is ready to engage with potential new hires.

Do they have mentors or subject matter experts to talk with the candidate about the details of the role? Is the organization’s website up to date? Are their social media platforms current? Are the job ad and job description finalized? Has a salary range been identified? What perks can you share with the candidates to encourage them to consider changing jobs?

Use Your Current Employees

Make sure your employees know about your vacancies. Encourage them to use their social media accounts to help market the company and the role. Reward your current employees for helping to advance the organization by setting up an incentivized referral program.

A “No” Is Not a Failure

Don’t be discouraged if your candidate doesn’t respond after one email. Even after three times, you could still succeed. Nearly one-third of candidates only respond as interested after three touchpoints.

Some of the passive candidates you contact may not respond at all. They may even ask you not to contact them again. Be patient and understanding and don’t take the rejection personally.

That individual may refer you to a colleague looking for a position. Or perhaps they become a viable candidate in the future. They will remember you for respecting them when they weren’t interested. If you fail to respect their boundaries or their answer, they’ll remember and relay that also.

Know Your Candidate

Do your research. Read potential candidates’ profiles, understand their education and experience, and only reach out if there’s a genuine potential match. It is a waste of your time and the candidate’s time if you pursue them only to find they are not a good fit after all.

Be Intentional in Your Communications

When contacting passive candidates, customize your communication. You should be able to explain why you are reaching out to this person about this position specifically.

What makes them a good match? What is it about what you learned about them that caused you to reach out to them about the vacancy?

Remove Barriers

Make the application process easy. If you successfully attract a passive candidate to apply for your open position, clear the obstacles. They should be able to navigate the application process simply. Don’t deter your potential new hire with red tape and faulty technology.

Final Thoughts on Passive Recruitment

Recruiting and hiring will always take resources. Those resources can be reactive. They can result in screening 200 resumes for one open position. They might result in 15 first-round interviews and 8 second-round interviews. This process might not even produce your top pick.

Recruiting passive candidates may be more difficult than relying on job postings and sifting through active candidate applications, but it is much more targeted. Often, the candidate you end up with will be the best talent on your team because they were carefully and purposefully selected.

Find the individual you want to join your team and then pursue them because they are the right match. Make this one interview count and avoid screening and interviewing countless others who lack the experience or knowledge your vacancy requires. With passive recruitment, you have the means to find the best person for the job, not just the best person who applied.

Jodie Sandell PHR and SHRM-CP
Consultant, project manager, writer, and process improver with over 15 years of HRM experience
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Jodie Sandell holds a BA in Sociology from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, a paralegal certificate and both PHR and SHRM-CP certifications. She has spent most of her career working in legal, education, and HR - writing, managing projects, and improving processes. 

She recently founded All In Project Services LLC to pursue her passion for this work. In her free time, Jodie can be found reading, hiking, paddling or traveling with her family.

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