‘Passive’ vs ‘Active’ Candidates… What’s the Difference?

Filed in HIRING ARTICLES, MUNICIPALITY by on May 29, 2017

2Given all the money municipalities spend on recruiting, it would be good to know: Are ‘Passive’ and ‘Active’ candidates really all that different from each other? After all, both are usually open to new opportunities, so why would anyone actually care about the differences?1

There are basically two types of candidates for positions in Canadian municipalities’ today … ‘Passive’ candidates and ‘Active’ candidates. And, while many novice recruiters will focus solely on people actively seeking employment, experience tells us that the two types of candidate are equally important, particularly if your municipality hopes to recruit both experience and expertise from the talent pool!

Before we jump into the deep-end of an investigation of the differences between ‘Passive’ and ‘Active’ candidates, and why targeting both is essential for any basic recruitment plan, let’s take a look at what defines “Passive” and “Active”. We’ll start with the easiest one!

What is an ‘Active’ candidate?

An ‘Active’ candidate is an individual who wants a (new) job, and has already begun the process of looking.

It could be a new grad, or someone who was previously employed, but has lost their job for any number of reasons, or even an individual who is currently employed but seeking a change.

There are a number of reasons someone would consider a job change:

  • Uncertainty about the permanency of their present job,
    • A need to find a more rewarding job,
    • Trapped in a middle-of-the-road job and going nowhere,
    • Doesn’t like the food in the company cafeteria.

These are all valid reasons to be thinking seriously about a change of scenery (although we suggest you avoid considering those who put an unusually high value on cafeteria food!).

These ‘Active’ candidates will check job boards like LOGOJO.ca on a regular basis, sign up for their municipal job alerts, contact executive search firms like Ravenhill Group.com. and in general, have their ‘eyes open” for new opportunities 24/7.

What is a ‘Passive’ candidate?

‘Passive’ candidates are most often gainfully and happily employed, and may even consider their job to be their career. They have their heads down, they are working hard, and are simply not currently thinking of a job change. Statistics indicate that these men and women represent about 75% of all those who are currently-employed  (although, in rare cases, you might find one who is unemployed) and not actively looking for new opportunities.

Further, about 10% of them would consider an opportunity if one were presented. They may have an interest in improving their lot in life, or may even be susceptible to more money, but may not visit job boards, read the want ads or indicate a “desire for a new challenge” on LinkedIN. Essentially, you’d have to say, “They’re are not looking!”

If this all sounds pretty basic to you, you’re not alone … a lot of people have believed this for a very long time. However, I have to tell you now: EVERYTHING YOU JUST READ about ‘Passive’ candidates is from old stats and outdated theories!

It is not quite as easy to define a ‘Passive’ candidate in 2017 as it was a decade ago. Today’s municipal up-and-comers don’t give a second thought to having worked in several municipalities before they reach the age of 30; even those in their 40s and 50s share an ambition to get ahead!

A recent survey by one of Canada’s major online job boards shows that approximately 72% of working adults believe keeping up on what’s happening in the job market  is important, while close to 60% freely admit to browsing job sites like LOGOJO.ca … and they will tell you they do so on a regular basis (and, you’re right – sometimes while they’re at work!).

Statistics like these make one thing clear: the differences between ‘Passive’ and ‘Active’ candidates that seemed to be clear in days gone by, are now “as clear as mud!”

So, what are the actual differences between ‘Passive’ and ‘Active’ candidates?

Is it the fact that the one group is working and the other isn’t? Well … that can’t be it, since both ‘Active’ and ‘Passive’ candidates may be working full-time

Maybe, it’s their willingness to look at new opportunities? Again, that’s a big “NO”! We know for a fact that even men and women who aren’t looking are quite often open to a new challenge.

Then is it their appetite and passion for the job search? Bingo! You hit the nail on the head! The only significant difference between ‘Active’ and ‘Passive’ candidates today is how much time and energy they actually put into their job searches.

‘Active’ candidates who are affected by their circumstances will be more unambiguous about finding a new job. They have a high need to “get going” and they will “get going”, come hell or high-water. They are going to climb the career ladder or, at the very least, get on it!

‘Passive’ candidates, on the other hand, who we already know are much more active than we were initially led to believe, are simply more laissez faire when it comes to scoping out new opportunities. You could say, like the window shopper, “They’re just looking.” And if they spot something they like, then why not – they may just go for it. Of course, on the other hand, they may also be just as happy to stay put.

So, which one is better … the ‘Passive’ or ‘Active’ candidate? 

Naturally, there can be advantages and disadvantages to levelling your sights on either type of candidate. Truth be told, no expert or researcher can say with any amount of certainty which is better.

There are some who swear that an ‘Active’ candidate will be better because they bring a fresh level of energy and enthusiasm to the job. Then there are others who would offer the opposing point of view – that an ‘Active’ candidate may be a job hopper and be ready to jump ship at the first opportunity or first sign of difficulty. You simply cannot be certain whether they may even take a job as a temporary stepping stone.

Many recruiters will tell you that ‘Passive’ candidates are much better choices in terms of their attitudes, skills and knowledge. Just remember, though, whether you approached them on your own or through a recruiter – you approached them! So, it follows that their expectations for “everything” – from money to holidays to perks may be much higher. I can tell you for a FACT – nobody who has been head hunted will jump ship to make the same or less money – it’s always more! Again, that Indeed survey I mentioned earlier tells us that 32% of ‘Passive’ candidates expected a salary increase when changing jobs, and this number soars to 51% if relocation is in the cards.

A final bit of advice …

A great recruiter like Ravenhill Group will have a good balance of active and passive candidates in their talent pool. If your recruiter has too many ‘Active’ candidates, you may get the idea that they aren’t very capable recruiters, while too many ‘Passive’ candidates may mean they are struggling to find candidates who will fit.

When it comes right down to it, is essential that your municipality “work both sides of the aisle”, which is why you need, and can rely on both LOGOJO.ca and Ravenhillgroup.com 

Bruce Malcolm

About the Author ()

Bruce's background includes 30+ years of human resource management experience covering all aspects of HR administration with a clear specialty in team building and recruiting. He created and developed the concept of “Ethical Head-Hunting™”. Bruce began his recruiting career in 1971 with Prudential Assurance.

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