Active and Passive Candidates: What You Thought You Knew May Be Wrong

As the competition for talent continues to heat up, savvy recruiters are recognizing the importance of marketing tactics in engaging and attracting top candidates. As any marketer will tell you, it is essential to know your target audience so you can optimize messaging and keep candidates engaged during the recruitment process. An important component of this strategy is understanding the difference between active and passive candidates.

For the sake of clarifying terms, active job seekers are motivated to find new jobs and actively searching for opportunities right now. Passive job seekers, on the other hand, are currently employed but willing to hear about new career opportunities.

Based on a survey of 940 active and 507 passive job seekers, the 2017 Trendicators Report from Engage2Excel reveals some key differences in the perceptions, preferences, and behaviors of these two groups. Here are some highlights, along with recommended actions. Some of the results may surprise you:

Active Candidates Appreciate Recognition

Employee engagement should start before a candidate is hired, and recognition is a key component of engagement. Based on more than 30 years of engagement research, Dr. Jack Wiley, chief scientific officer of Engage2Excel and professor at Manchester University, has determined that employee engagement programs pay big dividends for employers and employees alike. According to the research, the most effective programs are well integrated across the entire employment lifecycle and address what employees want most: recognition, exciting work, security, pay, education, conditions, and truth – or R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Active job seekers consider a lack of recognition and praise during the hiring process to be a key turnoff. Everyone likes praise, but it seems particularly important to millennials, who comprise the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Of that cohort, 81 percent consider recognition and praise during the pre-hire phase to be "very important" or "important," according to the Trendicators report. Compare that 55 percent for Gen. X, 39 percent for boomers, and 31 percent for Gen. Z.

The action steps here are simple and may give you an edge in attracting those much sought-after millennials: Don't wait until someone is an employee to give them praise. Reevaluate your pre-hire candidate experience to ensure you acknowledge candidates' achievements.

Active Job Seekers Are Primed for Engagement

They've done their part; the next step is up to you. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of active job seekers have recently updated their LinkedIn profiles, according to the Trendicators report. Eighty-four percent of them expect a mobile-friendly experience, and 77 percent believe that social interaction with employees is important in the hiring process.

Make sure your employer brand accurately reflects your company's unique culture and employee value proposition. In addition, create opportunities for candidates to engage with employees during the hiring process. Along with more formal interviews, you might arrange a "social hour" where a candidate can mingle with employees from relevant departments.

Passive Candidates Say 'Yes' More Often

It might seem counterintuitive, but only 26 percent of active job seekers report accepting an offer in their most recent recruitment experience, compared to 65 percent of passive candidates. The Trendicators report also found that passive candidates are far less concerned than active candidates about employer ratings on sites like Glassdoor of Kununu.

Think twice before ruling out passive candidates for hard-to-fill roles. It takes a little more work to find them, but they're more likely to say yes.

Passive Job Seekers Are More Traditional, but Also More Tolerant

Active and passive candidates have different attitudes toward the recruitment process. Only 31 percent of passive candidates expect a nontraditional video interview, compared to 71 percent of active job seekers, according to the Trendicators report.

The passive crowd, however, doesn't fluster easily. Only 7-11 percent of passive candidates reported high levels of frustration with things like background checks and assessment processes, compared to 30-38 percent of the active group. This suggests that you should adapt your recruitment process to accommodate the preferences of both groups.

The Times They Are A-Changin'

The action items suggested above all involve reevaluating your recruitment process, and we don't make those recommendations lightly. Every aspect of the talent acquisition space is in flux – increasing competition, candidate values and priorities, and even the structure of work itself. We all have to ensure our recruitment strategies keep pace and that we infuse engagement into the entire recruiting process.

Darren Findley leads the recruitment solutions team at Engage2Excel. Tom Brennan is manager, creative services, at recruiting firm Decision Toolbox.