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Terms and Definitions

What is a passive candidate?

Updated: May 20, 2024

Passive candidate definition and meaning

A passive candidate is someone who isn’t actively seeking new employment opportunities but is identified by a recruiting organization as having valuable experience or skills that match a company’s open positions.


More about passive candidates

Because of their extensive experience and qualifications, passive candidates are highly sought after by both recruiters and employers. While these individuals are officially “off the market” and not looking to make a career change, they may be receptive to hearing about a new opportunity to flex their skills – and their career goals – with a different organization.


It’s important to remember that there are plenty of reasons why someone who isn’t looking for work would be open to discussing a career change with another company. Perhaps they aren’t currently working in a capacity that allows them to realize their full potential. Or they may simply be in their current position to support themselves while they attend school or earn certification in a new skill set.


Passive candidate definition and meaning


How to build relationships with passive candidates

So if these talented folks are not on the hunt for new opportunities, how (and where) do you find them? To find out, we talked to the host of the podcast and YouTube series: Not the HR Lady, Tara Furiani, who was a Chief People Officer for 13 years before becoming the CEO and co-founder of Tarabull Media, who explains, “Employers can recruit passive candidates through targeted networking, referrals, and social media outreach.”


“Since passive candidates are not openly or actively searching for new roles, finding them can be challenging (and take time),” says Furiani. She says that employers must lay the groundwork and build relationships with multiple talent pools in order to engage passive candidates.


“Employers need to invest time and resources to identify the right passive candidates by building relationships within their industry, leveraging employee referral programs, and engaging with potential candidates through online platforms like LinkedIn.”


But that’s not to say that if you haven’t done this homework, you can’t get started today. While still implementing Furiani’s long-term strategies, there are also more immediate actions that must be taken to find success in sourcing passive candidates. Employers should first consider the varying types of talent their organization may need – now and in the future – before investing in targeted networking or social media outreach, and what criteria the ideal candidate would meet.


Attracting passive candidates

To get another perspective, we spoke with Kelly Beckner, Vice President of Corporate Human Resources at MBO Partners, who said, “Passive candidates permit recruiters to design and cultivate candidate pools based on ideal talent criteria, and do not leave recruiters constrained by the ‘active searching’ talent market. Using today’s technologies, recruiters can and should build ‘ideal candidate pools’, regardless of whether the candidate is in an active job search.”


Employers looking to hire a passive candidate must remember that it’s not simply about finding the right candidates but engaging them (and winning them over with more than a higher salary). Employers looking for passive candidates to fill roles should always consider how appealing their position might be to someone who is new to the business – or even industry.


As Kelly Beckner puts it, “It’s not necessarily a challenge to find a passive market, but it is challenging to engage these candidates and to keep them engaged. However, the work is often worth the reward to find a talented candidate before they put their search to the open market.” So what goes into successfully recruiting passive candidates?

“Recruitment is, at its core, a sales role to position both an individual job requirement and one’s company,” says Beckner. “In a ‘first impression, virtual first’ world, it is imperative that you are able to position your brand and the role succinctly and attractively.”

Using passive candidate in a sentence 

“Because we have so many open positions that require real-world experience, the HR team is putting more effort into recruiting passive candidates rather than relying on traditional job boards.”

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