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The Active Vs. Passive Candidate

The Active Vs. Passive Candidate

When you’re recruiting for a new employee to join your organisation, candidates will be either active or passive, and with more than 15 years’ experience developing and leading teams specialising in technology recruitment, I’ve heard many views on recruiting each type.  There’s a lot of potential for positives and negatives with both candidate types, but have you ever stopped to consider its importance and impact across your company?

Do you know if it’s mostly active or passive candidates that you hire? Are you aware of which type is more successful once they join and which you retain for the longest? Is it something you’re even tracking, measuring and improving in your company? Do you instinctively think, or already know that one is more attractive than the other? Or are you simply missing out by not getting to interview and choose from both talent pools with your talent attraction methods?

Before we go into the arguments for and against each, let’s first understand which is which.

The Active Candidate: the active candidate approaches you about working for your company. This can be through responding to one of your job adverts, or by directly contacting your company to enquire about potential career opportunities. Or they may have applied to your vacancy through a job advertisement placed by a recruitment consultancy you’ve partnered with. 

The Passive Candidate: the passive candidate isn’t actively looking for a new job. They become a candidate by showing interest after being directly approached by a hiring manager, a friend or former colleague now in your company, a member of your company’s talent attraction team, or through a recruitment consultancy that’s proactively headhunted them on your behalf.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Each

So, what are the main advantages and disadvantages of both the passive and active candidate that you should consider? And are you questioning these during your talent attraction and selection processes?

Active Candidates

Potential Disadvantages:

  • If a candidate applied for your role, it’s fair to assume that they’re applying for multiple opportunities, which may lead to an extended recruitment timeframe whilst the candidate completes interview rounds and awaits feedback. Perhaps more importantly, you’re exposed to a candidate receiving multiple offers and face greater competition securing them for your opportunity. This not only reduces your chances of hiring them, it can also increase the candidate’s financial requirements if they’re in demand.
  • Occasionally, a candidate can be active for reasons that may concern you. They may be using a new job offer as leverage with their current employer. They could be in the midst of a performance improvement plan, or a conduct issue. And whilst it’s unusual, they could’ve been dismissed from their last role for reasons that may concern you.  
  • As they’re proactively looking to move job, they may also do so again in the future, sooner than you’d like.

Potential Advantages:

  • If a candidate interviews for multiple positions and joins your team after a good look at the job market, you would hope that this candidate remains with your company for some time because they’ve made an informed decision based on a good understanding of the type of opportunities available to them. They saw your company as a good fit and the right place for their requirements and aspirations.  
  • If a candidate’s applied to you, there’s a greater chance that they’ve already made some important decisions about moving on from their present position. So, when it comes to accepting an offer, resigning and resisting any potential counter-offer, statistically there’s a greater probability they’ll leave to join you.
  • Actively applying to your company demonstrates a proactive approach to their career and suggests they could be ambitious and looking to do well within your organisation.

Passive Candidates

Potential Disadvantages:

  • As a passive candidate’s interest has been ‘activated’ by someone else, their thought process for leaving their current position will usually be less evolved than an active candidate’s. This may make them less likely to accept an offer, or more likely to consider a counter-offer to remain where they are.
  • A passive candidate may be less willing to engage with a lengthy time-consuming recruitment process or complete tests, tasks and assessments. Though this can be useful in gauging a candidate’s commitment and interest in your opportunity. 
  • If a passive candidate joins your company without having a wider view of the types of roles available to them, they may be tempted to take a look at the external job market sooner than you’d like.
  • They may naturally be more open to persuasion and future approaches.

Potential Advantages:

  • With candidates approached specifically for your opportunity, you would hope that through screening or by already being a known entity, that they possess a lot of the relevant essential and desired skills and experience you’re seeking. This should mean less initial filtering.
  • A passive candidate typically has no other opportunities under consideration, it’s really just a counter-offer from their current employer that could jeopardise an accepted job offer. 
  • In my experience, a passive candidate is typically happy in their current job but has had their curiosity piqued by an approach. This means they’re probably reliable, settled, on a career trajectory, have a good reputation and are performing well in their role; someone you’d probably like to have on your team.

Now you’ve sharpened your knowledge and thoughts, what next?

First, get a view on the current picture in your company to understand what is and isn’t working for you and your teams. Review the talent you’ve hired over recent years. How many applicants were active and how many were passive? Or has one talent pool been significantly absent from your talent attraction pipelines? What are the ratios for interviewing, offering, joining and then going on to either succeed or fail? If this is too big a task to do accurately, or you just don’t have the data, then select some stand-out candidates that succeeded and ones that didn’t in order to identify any patterns and actionable insights.

What do the numbers tell you? Do you have a good balance of both active and passive candidates? Is there a trend on offers made or on offers accepted? Do you seem to favor an active or passive candidate more and if so, can you determine why? Which type do you retain the longest, have performance issues with, or see exceeding expectations?

If your company isn’t gathering this data, having a heightened awareness, or better still, beginning to collect and analyse this information on a regular basis could have a huge impact on your talent attraction, retention and staff performance.

Finally, ensure you’re confident that your interview process flags and thoroughly assesses the potential pros and cons of both active and passive candidates. And if there’s just one takeaway from reading this blog, implement a process to monitor whether or not your talent attraction methods are providing you with the right mix of active and passive candidates. Reviewing this regularly will provide you with actionable insights and a fresh perspective on your talent attraction and employee retention; helping you to recruit the right people for you and your company.


Drop me a line at if you'd like to have a chat and learn more about the above, or if you'd like to know more about Talentspot and how we help our customers with their talent attraction.