Is Passive Recruiting Dead?

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DeadFor many years, the headhunting process was a dark art, performed by high-powered private-investigator-type recruiters. Their weapons of choice were little more than landline telephones, corporate directories, endless cups of coffee, and private networking meetings. They were elusive creatures: you couldn’t find them, but they found you.

Social media and mobile technology changed all that. These advances took headhunting into the mainstream. Almost overnight, it became easy for everyone to contact everyone else. You could work out someone’s career background, tenure, availability, email address, and phone number just by opening a Web browser. You didn’t need detective work. Suddenly, every one had the tools to be a headhunter. And that’s exactly what happened: recruiters, employers, hiring managers, and even laypersons — incentivized by talent lead-generation services — became headhunters.

The timing was right for the headhunting process to go mainstream: the actively-seeking candidate market was simply not producing enough talent to go around. Heading into other companies and putting the seed of doubt or opportunity into employees’ heads has been the perfect way to create an incremental talent stream.

Of course, there is a limit to the amount of passive recruiting that can go on. Otherwise, we’d have more people on the roundabout than actually working, which would be absurd. We’re not at that breaking point just yet, but it does seem that the first, inevitable signs of passive-hiring fatigue are setting in, given the overuse — and some might say abuse — of social media to contact passive talent. A recent Glassdoor survey found that passive recruiting is becoming less effective as candidates become more wary of emails from networking sites. The key findings of the survey include:

  • 52 percent of hiring-decision makers say passive recruiting has been less effective at attracting candidates over the past year;
  • 51 percent say candidates have become tired of emails from networking sites and respond at much lower rates than they used to;
  • 47 pecent say that candidates respond to recruiter emails at a much lower rate than they used to;
  • and 44 percent say that candidates respond to recruiter phone calls at a much lower rate than they used to.

Where it was once a privilege to be contacted by a headhunter – because it meant something – it has now become a nuisance. It may be too early to say that passive recruiting is dead, but the law of diminishing returns is starting to kick in. Unless something changes, employers are going to get less and less back from their investments in passive recruiting.

It seems, then, that employers need to begin focusing on methods other than passive recruiting in order to secure the talent that they need. And what might those methods be?

It might make sense for some employers to divert some of their passive recruiting energy into staff retention; they can view every retained employee as a great new hire that they didn’t have to snatch from the open market.

Is there any innovating left to do in terms of staff retention? Of course! After an employer has provided basic necessities like career advancement opportunities, exciting work, and a positive company culture, they may still be able to do more to retain staff. They may, for example, want to focus on company diversity. According to a study by Korn Ferry, 84 percent of respondents say that a lack of attention on diversity and inclusion contributes to employee turnover, making diversity a key factor in maximizing staff retention. The survey also found that 42 percent of respondents believed that was an element of unconscious bias in their workforce with respect to diverse backgrounds such as religion, race, gender, and/or sexual orientation. Clearly, the diversity and inclusion agenda is far from finished, and some additional intellectual rigor in this area could lead to incremental gains in staff retention.

Taking a second look at diversity and inclusion programs could be a timely and crucial way to increase staff retention and plug the talent gap left by a dwindling passive-recruiting supply line.

By Kazim Ladimeji