UpwardMany recruiters believe that working, passive candidates are the cream of the crop, whereas the actively job-seeking masses are of lower quality and motivationally suspect. The notion is that comfortable, employed, passive job seekers are more stable and more effective performers. Is this true?

On the one hand, it seems that, passive candidates do tend to perform more effectively –but only when in the new post. This CEB Recruiting Leadership Council Global Labour Market Briefing found that passive candidates’ performance was rated 9 percent higher than active candidates; passive candidates were also 25 percent more likely to stay with the company in the long term.

On the other hand, the answer is ‘no’ when you ask whether a passive candidate is automatically a better performer than an active candidate in their old post. Consider this striking research from Gallup, which suggests that at any one time in the workplace just 13 percent of employees are engaged and performing at their optimum. It seems that the other 87 percent lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort. In addition to this — if you believe the bell curve – just a fraction of performers are “hyper-performers”; most are just good or average.

The research does not suggest to me that passive candidates deserve their exalted status in the world of hiring, as there’s only a small chance that the passive candidate you see before you is engaged and a higher performer than any active candidates you may have. There just doesn’t seem to be much evidence to suggest that passive candidates are better performers or more engaged than actively seeking, employed job seekers. Whether active or passive, odds are they are probably disengaged and probably an average/good performer, because that’s what most employees are, sadly. There’s no Holy Grail, in my opinion.

So, what’s happening here? Why do passive candidates — who aren’t necessarily better then active candidates at source/in their old company – outperform active candidates in the new company? I think this is due to the quality of the selection process, which has to be more rigorous on both sides in the passive-candidate hiring process. This is because in the passive hiring process, recruiters have to work harder to target passive candidates with tailored and well-fitting roles, and passive candidates can afford to be more discerning and only accept roles that they are more suited to.

However, actively looking candidates may be more likely to put themselves forward for less suitable roles, and they may be willing to compromise to their detriment and make inferior job-selection decisions as a result.

I don’t think that passive candidates are any better than active candidates per se, but the passive-candidate hiring process is probably more discerning from both the candidate’s and the employer’s side.

Passive candidates can be more choosey than active candidates and cherry pick roles they think that they are best suited to. They are in a stronger bargaining position and probably negotiate better conditions, meaning they are more engaged.

It just may be that passive candidates are simply more able to engage in a more effective, considered, unrushed hiring and selection process than the more compromised and pressured active job seeker.

Now, I am not suggesting that recruiters shouldn’t target passive candidates — they are a valid resource — but the evidence alone doesn’t suggest that they deserve elevated status over actively looking job seekers.

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