Ahhh, the allure and the mystique of the passive candidate. That ‘Unicorn Candidate’ that every search firm pontificates about on their websites, even though they post all their jobs online like everyone else…

Everyone says the passive candidate is better, but is he really?

Consider this, according to LinkedIn’s own research, only 18% of professional employees are actively seeking new opportunities and applying to job postings, while 20% of employees are what they call super-passive, meaning they are not interested in opportunities at all.

That leaves 62% who are open to considering a new opportunity, but are not actively looking, and as a result, not applying to your job posting, or talking to the 5 contingency recruiters you have on the job.

(Ever wonder why you always get the same people from multiple recruiting agencies? This is 100% why).

BTW this 62% number is awfully close to Glassdoor’s new study saying 67% of professionals making $100K or more are considering leaving their employer in ethics next 6 months. Gotta love it when you see consistency across these studies…

These are where the Rockstars live, in that roughly 2/3’s of the candidate population that never see your job posting, or to put to more accurately, are bombarded with so many job postings that it all just becomes “white noise” in their world.

They’re numb to it, and they’re doing so well in their current role they just don’t see the value in applying for a cookie-cutter role and dealing with the stress of a job search. They’ll pass thank you very much.

But why are passive candidates so valuable?

  • They’re qualified: They’re busy knocking the cover off the ball for their employers, They’ve proven themselves, and continue to prove themselves every day, which is why their employers work hard to keep them off the active market.
  • They’re impactful: They’re 120% more likely than active candidates to want to make an impact, 33% more likely to want challenging work (see my post about self-actualization in the comments), and they don’t need to be micro-managed; they’re 17% less likely to need skill development and 21% less likely to need recognition.
  • They’re motivated: When you convince a passive candidate to make the switch to your company, they saw something in you that they didn’t see with their prior employer. They’re not accepting your offer because it was the first one on the table. In fact, when they make a switch they typically have something to prove and want to demonstrate you didn’t make a mistake in reaching to get them.
  • They’re not BS’ing you: Passive candidates have a job. They don’t need you, and they’re not desperate to leave their employer, or desperately trying to move out of the unemployed ranks. Because of this, you will typically find them to be more honest and frank on their resumes and during the interview process.

Simply put, while not impossible, it’s rare to find a Rockstar on the streets.

So when SAP leaders have always relied on job postings and contingency recruiters to find their talent, they’ve never been called to task on what tends to be very weak Employer Value Propositions. They haven’t needed one when so many active candidates will take the first half-ways decent offer they get.

Passive candidates are harder to reach, harder to sell, and they expect more out of an employer.

But they deliver, In spades.

…and this is why restricting yourself to active candidates is the #1 cause of the coin-flip of hiring…

(46% of all hires turn out to be mis-hires…and this is verifiably true)

But here’s where it becomes even more challenging,

Also according to LinkedIn, the 18% of professional employees who are actively looking tend to be those with less tenure (2-3 years on the job) and at a more junior level. That means that the active candidate pool is made up of a higher proportion of junior staff who are not as likely to stay and grow with an organization..

In contrast, only 13% of executive leadership are actively looking vs 18% of managers and 20% of individual contributors. So the more impact your new employee will have on an organization (by virtue of level of position), the less likely you will find them actively on the market and the harder you will have to work to get them.

That’s why, when I get a new client who wants the moon but when asked what their Employer Value Proposition is, they either don’t have one or they direct me to their career site where I read things such as:

“We are a fun and engaging place to work” 

“We have on-site daycare” 

“We have flexible summer hours” 

“We have casual Friday” 

“We really value our employees” 

Etc, etc, blah, blah…

It’s like hearing nails scraping on a chalkboard.

If Hawaiian shirt Friday is your go-to value-prop, you may need to re-think your value-prop!

All the benefits you list on your career page are important, sure…but for those Rockstars who already have a job, and likely are already getting all of these things, how are you going to attract them to your opportunity?

Strategically rethink who you want to hire, and how you plan to attract them. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the work.

So remember, while passive candidates are the holy grail, no matter how much your recruiter says they only recruit in the passive candidate market, if they don’t challenge you…

…if they don’t push you to craft a real compelling reason to attract those ‘Unicorn Candidates,’ that’s a sure sign they’re trying to sell you a spray-painted horse.