Sourcing passive candidates - a guide for recruiters

Posted November 30th, 2022

Finding the right candidates for an open position is the job of every recruiter. Ideally, this job would be easy - you would simply post the advert, sit back, and wait for high-quality candidates who are open for work to apply. 

Yet this isn’t always the reality. The best candidates might already be employed and, while they are not actively searching for a new role, they could still be tempted by the right offer. These candidates are known as passive candidates.

In today's tight labour market, recruiters need to be aware of how to successfully contact and recruit passive candidates so they can stay ahead of their competition in finding candidates for their open positions. In this article, we’ll look at what passive candidates are, some of the benefits recruiters can gain from pursuing passive candidates, and some strategies recruiters can use to source passive candidates for their open roles. 

What are passive candidates?

As mentioned, passive candidates are those candidates who are already employed and happy in their position. While they are not actively looking for a role, they are still open-minded to new opportunities and might be interested if the right role is presented to them.

These candidates can be attractive to external and in-house recruiters since they will often already have the skills required for the role or are in a stronger position to gain them. Working in a similar environment and on similar projects means these candidates may well acclimatise better to the new role. 

Recent employment data suggests that there appear to be a lot of passive candidates in the market. According to Workable's 2021 survey, titled The Great Discontent: 2021 Worker Survey (US) 37.3% of US workers are passively open to new positions, which indicates there are plenty of passive candidates out there that external and in-house recruiters can look at sourcing.

What are the benefits of sourcing passive candidates?

Let's take a look at some of the benefits that come from sourcing passive candidates.

#1 Less Competition

If recruiters focus all their efforts on sourcing active candidates, they are likely competing with other recruiters who are talking to the same candidates. In addition, active candidates are often looking to find a job as quickly as possible, so will likely be interviewing for other positions and may not be forthcoming with this information. 

If your recruiters can successfully identify passive candidates who are interested in the role they are looking to fill, these candidates may well be candidates that do not have a lot of attention from other recruiters - giving your team the advantage.

#2 Passive candidates are more likely to have 'job ready' skills

Passive candidates may possess more of the skills required for the role a recruiter is advertising. Candidates that are already in a similar role to the one you're looking to fill are typically already providing value to an organisation, and if they're in a similar position, you know that they possess the relevant skills that they'll need in a new role. 

While it can sometimes be tricky to convince these candidates to change positions, their talent can make it worth the effort. Additionally, hiring a candidate who already has the skills needed for a position lessens the amount of time a company can expect to see ROI from that hire.

#3 Chance to build authentic recruiter-candidate relationships

Interacting with passive candidates allows recruiters to build relationships with candidates who have sufficient experience and skills in the particular industry or field they are recruiting for. 

Even if a passive candidate isn't looking for a new role when a recruiter reaches out to them, it doesn't mean they won't be in the future. So, if a recruiter can prioritise building positive relationships with passive candidates and providing them with a positive candidate experience, they'll put themselves in a good position to be top of mind when a passive candidate becomes an active candidate again in the future. 

How do you source passive candidates? 

Now that we know what passive candidates are and what benefits recruiters can gain from sourcing them, it's time to look at some of the strategies recruiters can use to source passive candidates for the positions they need to fill. 

#1 Find passive candidates on social media

Social media is often the most convenient and accessible place to start your search for passive candidates. Platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can all be helpful in finding potential candidates. 

You need to think strategically before using any social media platform to find passive candidates. Ask yourself, what position am I looking to fill? What type of candidate am I looking for, and what platform are they most likely to be active on? 

For example, LinkedIn would be a great place to start your search if you were looking to recruit a new Account Executive, as it's a platform for professional networking. In addition, it's a platform that Account Executives actively use and spend a lot of time on.

You can use other social media platforms creatively to find potential candidates. Since people often use Instagram to showcase their artwork, it could be a great platform to use if you’re looking to find graphic designers or artists. Furthermore, you can also use specialist social platforms to find potential candidates such as Vimeo for videographers or Github for developers. 

#2 Make the most of employee referrals

Utilising employee referrals is a particularly useful strategy if you're working as an in-house recruiter. Finding new hires through existing employees is a strategy that can cut out a lot of the guesswork and risks that come with hiring candidates through different means. 

Your existing team members know your company culture inside out and are unlikely to recommend a poor-fit candidate to your organisation. Plus, you already have an element of trust built up with a potential candidate that is recommended by a member of your team, which can help you determine whether they would be a good fit for your organisation. 

If you're looking for candidate recommendations from your current team, the easiest way is to email them. To boost responses you can offer some kind of incentive, such as a financial reward if your employee ends up referring a successful candidate. You can also look at offering other incentives such as extra paid time off or a particular gift.

When you reach out to employees asking them for a candidate referral, make sure you list the title of the role you're looking to fill and clearly list the hard and soft skills that candidates will require.

#3 Make the most of your talent pool

If you work in recruitment, either in-house or at a recruitment agency, there's a strong chance that you have access to a recruitment database with thousands of candidate profiles stored within it. Many of these candidates will be employed in a role but may well be suitable candidates for a position you're looking to fill. 

A key advantage of making the most of your recruitment database is that you may already have an existing relationship with the candidates who are in it, which can give you a competitive edge over other recruiters who might reach out to these candidates. 

To help get the most from your existing talent tool, you can look at implementing recruitment solutions into your tech stack to improve the accuracy of your candidate searches and streamline your communication with candidates.

For example, integrating AI-powered search solutions into your recruitment workflow can help you efficiently search for candidates based on skills and experience, returning the most qualified candidates at the top of the results list. You can also use candidate engagement platforms to automatically market new available roles to qualified passive candidates, so that they always have access to new opportunities.

#4 Find out what passive candidates are looking for in a new role

According to recent research by PwC, there are a variety of reasons why employees might look at changing jobs, with 1 in 5 people reporting they are looking to change jobs within the next year. Unsurprisingly, the most popular reason for a job switch remains an improvement in pay, with 71% of respondents indicating that a pay increase would prompt them to change jobs. 

Interestingly though, 69% of respondents said that they would change jobs for better job fulfilment, and 66% of respondents reported wanting to work in an environment where they could truly be themselves. Recruiters can interpret this information in different ways. Obviously if they can, a recruiter should try and offer candidates they speak to a higher salary than they are currently receiving. 

They should also try to sell the culture of the company they are hiring for to the candidate, asking a passive candidate what they are looking for in a new role and what factors would make them consider leaving their current position. In our research survey, we found that 35% of candidates are willing to move for the possibility of flexible working. Furthermore, 23% are willing to move for a better location, 23% for better healthcare benefits, and 21% for better long term career prospects. 


Focusing on passive candidates can help you get to top talent before any of your competitors.

A higher salary, more positive work environment, and a more fitting company culture can make people who are already employed into potential passive candidates that will make great hires. Passive candidates can be found on social media, but a lot of them are already in your database - all you need to do is search for them.

Read our article to find out how you can get more from your marketing spend by making full use of the candidate data in your CRM.

To learn more about what will convince candidates to move, check out our Market Research Report: The Candidate Experience - Perception Versus Reality


Tags: DaXtra Blog, Candidate Sourcing, Candidate Search