Passive vs Active Candidates – Spot the Difference

BY THE TALENTDASH TEAM | March 13, 2017

Are passive and active candidates really all that different from each other? After all, both are usually open to new opportunities so why should recruiters care about the differences between the two?

The two types of lead in the industry that we all know of are, of course, the passive and active candidate. And while many a greenhorn recruiter will focus their time solely on those that are actively seeking employment, both types of candidate are equally important if they are to fill their talent pool with both experience and expertise. But before we delve into the differences between the two and why targeting both is essential for any basic recruitment drive, let’s take a look at what defines candidates from each group.

What is an active candidate? 
We’ll start with the easy one first. An active candidate is someone who is actively seeking employment. They might be recently graduated, currently unemployed, or working full-time and simply seeking a change.

Those who are in full-time employment could be considering making a career change due to a number of factors.

They could be
• Worried about stability in their current role.
• In search of a position that is more rewarding.
• Stuck in a rut with no hope of career progress.
• Unhappy with the cookie assortment in the office canteen.

All acceptable reasons for wanting a change of scenery, although we’d suggest avoiding any candidates that value their coffee break snacks so highly.

These active candidates will check job boards on a regular basis, sign up for job alerts, contact recruitment agencies, and in general, be on the lookout for new opportunities 24/7.

What is a passive candidate?
Passive candidates are those that are currently employed (although in rare cases they may be unemployed) and are not actively seeking new opportunities. They may be open to offers that might improve their career prospects or offer a higher financial reward, but they don’t visit jobs boards, check the classifieds, and their Linkedin profile most certainly does not include the line ‘seeking a new challenge.’

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? But what if we were to tell you that everything you just read about passive candidates is an outdated theory?

These days, defining a passive candidate isn’t as easy as it was a decade ago. Today’s career-minded individual thinks nothing of having worked in several companies or roles before they’ve hit 30 and even those in their 40s and 50s are eager to start afresh in a new position.

In fact, a survey carried out by Indeed found that 72% of adults currently in employment think it’s important to stay abreast of the goings on in the job market while 58% admit to browsing job sites at least monthly.

Figures such as these tell us one thing and one thing only; The water is muddied, and the once obvious differences between passive and active candidates seem to have disappeared or at least become less apparent.

So what are the differences between passive and active candidates?
Is it their current employment status?

Not really as both active and passive candidates can be in full-time employment. Although it is rare to find a passive candidate that is unemployed.

Perhaps it’s their openness to new opportunities?

Again we’ll have to say no as even those who are not seeking a new job have been proven time and time again to be open to a new challenge.

Then is it their enthusiasm for the job search?

Nail on the head. The only real difference these days between an active and passive candidate is their level of activity (did you really think it would be anything else?)

An active candidate, affected by their circumstances, will take a more direct approach in their search for a new position. The desire is there to move on and by hook or by crook, they’ll either get on or move up the career ladder.

The passive candidate who we now know is more active than we first thought, has a more relaxed attitude towards job hunting. They’re window shopping, and if they see something they fancy then they just might go for it, and if not, they’ll just make do with what they already have, thank you very much.

So which candidate is best, passive or active? 
There are of course advantages to targeting both types of candidate and in truth, no survey or research can give you a definitive answer as to which is best. Both have their advantages and a few perceived drawbacks.

Some would say that the active candidate is a better hire as they are enthusiastic about a new challenge and in all likelihood made first contact. However, others would counter that the active candidate may have a history of moving when the going gets tough or an inclination to accept a position even if they don’t really want it.

As for passive candidates, many recruiters will tell you that they are usually the better option with regards to skill and the quality of their work. Then again, if you approach them first, then it’s a given that they will expect a higher paycheck than they are currently on. According to that Indeed survey we mentioned earlier, 32% of passive candidates expected a salary increase if changing jobs and this jumps to 51% if relocation is a factor.

Ideally, a recruiter should have a healthy mix of candidates that are both active and passive in their talent pipeline. Too many active and a recruiter might give off the impression that they’re not so good at their job whereas if they have too many passive, they may struggle to get positions filled.

A recruitment drive that targets both is essential and while targeting active candidates is pretty much textbook stuff, passive candidates are a different ball game.

Look out for our post next week on passive candidate recruitment strategies, in which we will outline the best approach to targeting those ‘happy at their desk’ workers that don’t necessarily realize they need a new challenge.

If you can’t wait for next week’s post, then  and let TalentDash find you some awesome passive candidates with a minimum of fuss.


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