For the last few years we’ve been convinced by trainers, so-called experts and other HR commentators, that passive candidates, those who’re not openly seeking new opportunities, are the most desirable. Endless effort is expended by recruiters and HR practitioners alike to seek out individuals who’re ostensibly happy in their current roles and to then convince them that the vacancy you’re working is better. This takes serious effort and arguably doesn’t reap the best results.

A recent article in The Economist, Why Companies are So Bad at Hiring, raised the inefficiency of hiring practices, including this obsession with attracting the “best” candidates, and I pondered whether we’ve not been overlooking the most obvious options: Active jobseekers.

Active jobseekers are often ignored, on the assumption that they’re somehow less suitable, or more desperate, and surely not the best available, otherwise why haven’t they been snapped up already? BUT the active candidate is significantly more suitable when one considers their state of readiness to make a career move and how this translates into less work for the recruiter and hiring company who’re not forced into a cat and mouse game of trying to motivate the individual to change jobs.

Active candidates may – or may not – be unemployed currently. Someone who has made the decision to seek alternative employment should not automatically be assumed to be running away from something, a poor performer who lacks skills or ambition. In fact, the opposite might be true. For many individuals who decide to explore their options, the motivation stems from a desire for change, growth or new challenges. Their skills may be high, but not fully utilised in their current role, or they work in an organisation that lacks promotional prospects, or they may simply need greater flexibility or seek to transition into an entirely different industry, role, or function.

Benefits of working with an Active Candidate:

  • Real (self) motivation for change;

  • Usually have clearly defined wants and needs in a new position;

  • Open to opportunities and generally more committed to cooperating with the recruitment process;

  • More likely to accept an offer, make the move and then commit to the new role/company

It’s what happens AFTER the candidate starts at the new company that most greatly influences whether they stay.

Research shows that new employees make a decision – whether conscious or subconsciously – on whether to stay within the first three weeks of employment. For skilled individuals who have choice of opportunities, the temptation to move on can be great, especially if they’ve not been made to feel welcome and valued.

The Economist article highlights a general lack of effective on-boarding, citing this as a major flaw in many hiring processes. Whilst many organisations complete the usual ambit of logistical awareness and education to welcome a new employee, few spend time helping these individuals integrate into the company – both socially and professionally. People want meaningful work, given to them almost immediately, and the opportunity to develop relationships with colleagues to help build networks and establish stickiness.

In my experience, even those companies who work hard at improving their on-boarding processes, continue to fall short in providing opportunities for ongoing engagement and success enablement. Those who seem to do better, are those that conduct regular ‘settling-in’ engagements, often informal and with a variety of stakeholders – not only Line Management and HR.

Fall-offs in the first few months of employment are more common with scarce-skilled individuals in high demand and short supply, and particularly if those individuals were passive candidates who we convinced to make a career change without a real (self-) motivation. It’s often too easy for these people to go back to where they came from, or to be lured away but another recruiter who identified them as a passive candidate ripe for the picking.

On the other hand, an active candidate who has consciously made the decision to move, and who is well-supported in the transition, typically three months beyond the recruitment process itself, is more likely to be fully engaged, producing quality work, and less inclined to be tempted away.

Perhaps it’s time to call bluff on the myth that Passive candidates are the prize, and open our eyes to the many individuals who’ve put themselves in the job market and who are more likely to actually go through with a career change and be committed to the new employer?