Nurture Passive Candidates to Overcome Bad Timing

passive candidates
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Liz Strikwerda

Content strategist and corporate blogger (2000+ posts). Her work has been featured on G2's Learning Hub, Human Resources Today, Better Buys and over 500 business websites. She plays bluegrass mandolin and enjoys sailing her catamaran and hiking in the red rock wilderness of southern Utah. Connect with me on LinkedIn

If you are struggling to hire, consider targeting passive candidates. Although it may not help you immediately, it’s important for your long-term strategy.

To be successful, formalize a process for nurturing passive candidates. It should be as systematic as your process for active applicants.

Perhaps you’ve previously lost a great hire because of bad timing. This is when you lose a superstar because you couldn’t commit at the same time. Perhaps a fantastic applicant expressed interest but you didn’t have a position open. Or you pursued a person who couldn’t switch jobs at that moment. A structured nurturing process overcomes this problem.

In addition, a passive candidate nurturing strategy can be part of your yearly hiring plan.

If you have an ATS, by all means, use it nurture passive candidates. If you have relationships with a large talent pipeline, you will be in a position to force the timing. Certainly, the more candidates you have engaged with, the greater chance you can find a match when you need to.

6 Techniques For Nurturing Passive Candidates

Many employers use the following practices to engage and hire passive candidates:

1. Use boolean searches of your ATS database

This technique is for finding previous applicants to engage with. You may have thousands of resumes in your database. There are candidates that may be perfect for a current opening. How do you screen previous candidates for a current position? Boolean searching uses syntax to target resumes with keywords and phrases.

Here is an example:

Search phrase: engineering (mechanical | electrical)
Explanation: find resumes that contain the words engineering and either mechanical or electrical

2. Identify the degree of interest

Recognize that passive candidates fall on a spectrum. On one end are those who have no intention of switching jobs. It’s not on their radar and they are content with their current situation.

On the other end are the passive candidates who, while not actively looking, are open to a new opportunity. Consider how this relates to the customer journey: Awareness, Engagement, Attraction.

Be aware that nurturing techniques must reflect a candidate’s situation. A candidate who is one step from perusing job boards might jump for the right opportunity. Since they are further down the applicant funnel, they are ready to hear about your company and open position.

However, you can’t push a hard sell on ‘extremely passive’ candidates. Hunker down for the long game. Your goal at this point is to open and maintain a dialog. Recruitment strategist Lou Adler describes it this way:

Sell the next step, not the job. Consider the first few calls as exploratory conversations used to share information. The first call is to get agreement from the prospect to be open to consider a career opportunity. ’12 High Touch Ways to Win Over Passive Candidates’ LinkedIn

Therefore, identify the appropriate communication channel and craft your messages accordingly.

3. Source secondary funnels

Just like active candidates, you source passive candidates through multiple channels. For example, both online and offline. There are also countless channels that feed into the first-level funnels. (Remember the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game back in the day?)

Here’s an example of a primary candidate funnel and the secondary funnels that feed into them.

Primary funnel: an employee referral
Secondary funnel: the employee’s Facebook page

Primary funnel: your company LinkedIn page
Secondary funnel: employee LinkedIn pages

The secondary funnels widen your net exponentially. Be proactive about advertising your employer brand in these channels.

4. Create a structured employee referral program

When it comes to passive candidates, your current workforce may be your most important resource. Why? Passive candidates discuss potential jobs with friends and business contacts all the time. Yet passive candidates, by definition, don’t reach out to recruiters.

It’s important to understand that your employee referral program is intrinsic to your nurturing strategy. Again, you can manage your referral program in your ATS.

5. Use candidate personas

Using marketing techniques to recruit talent is called recruitment marketing. For example, you can create candidate personas which are similar to customer personas. When you’ve created them, use the persona to source passive candidates. Indeed, this can be more effective than using the job description as your starting point. This is because the job description is based on a position, but a persona is based on a living, breathing human being. The persona can help you identify candidates with not only the skills and experience, but one who is open to switching careers.

A caveat on personas: if you define them too narrowly, you will introduce unconscious bias. Define your personas by career goals and experience. Leave out demographic identifiers. Bias limits nurturing campaigns. And it hampers efforts to diversify your workforce.

6. Be ready to create a position

What would it take to create a position for a superstar candidate? Consult your hiring managers. Flesh this out in your hiring plan and document it in your workflow. Have a job requisition ready to go, for instance. This is the best way to force the timing for a prize catch.

Your ATS works for passive candidates too!

Above all, use your ATS to create checklists for nurturing tasks. For example, document email and text conversations, use merge fields to personalize emails and master boolean searching.

Formalizing your passive nurturing process will give you a jumpstart for tapping passive candidates to meet your hiring needs.


Simplify HR management today.

Simplify HR management today.

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