By Hayes Reilly
Managing Partner, Preston & Partners
* Hayes is Managing Partner at Preston & Partners, a sister company of PeopleSuite.

Back in the day it was active vs. passive candidate with passive winning the trophy for getting the interview. However, today’s technology makes it possible for any employee to job search 24/7.

Apps, LinkedIn and the array of job search websites eager to send alerts allow constant monitoring of real-time employment opportunities. The ability to stand in line at the grocery store, use your phone to peruse available roles and email your resume with the touch of “send” has made the longstanding differentiation between active vs. passive candidates blurry.

Active is traditionally defined as looking for a new position several times a week. A passive candidate is described as a person satisfied with his or her job, giving open roles a cursory view with no serious intent to leave the current employer.

Actively seeking another job? Not a bad thing. On the receiving end of contact from a recruiter when you weren’t even thinking about the next chapter in your life? These passive candidates may have more in common with active candidates than once thought.

So, which is the better candidate – active vs. passive? Or, does it matter?

A recently released study by Hudson Global indicated that LinkedIn has changed the employee landscape. The study reviewed over 4,000 candidates in North America that indicates the trend of favoring passive over active candidates may not be the best option. The study leans toward the belief that recruiters are slowly changing this deep-rooted view of candidates.

After 20+ years as a retained executive search recruiter, I have filled hundreds of positions, made and maintained many fulfilling professional relationships with both clients and candidates and conducted more interviews than I can recall.

Which Type of Candidate Is “Better?”

Some of the best placements I have made have come from using active candidates. Some of the very worst candidates I have spoken to or met with have also been active candidates.

My personal experience suggests that unless an interview occurs, there is no real way to be certain of a candidate’s caliber.

A Better Question Posed

A more accurate question to ask would be, “Why are you looking for a job now?” Posing this question during initial talks would give better insight into the candidate’s true impetus to look for employment change.

On the other hand, a candidate who is always looking for the next job, hitting career road blocks or who suffers from the “Eeyore” (the popular Winnie The Pooh character) complex is not an appealing candidate for a recruiter or client. In good faith, a recruiter can’t present such a candidate to a client. The most important fact is that recruiters are contracted to find the game changers for their clients.

An active candidate could be an extremely solid, blue-chip candidate who simply does not want to relocate to some obscure location as demanded by their employer or whose company was bought out and layoffs are looming. This scenario can transform a 20-year passive candidate into an active candidate overnight.

The bottom line is that recruiters are looking for the exceptional, solid candidates who can clearly explain their career progression demonstrating increasing levels of responsibility along the way.

Whether recruiters continue to use the labels “active” or “passive” or not, recruiters will continue to be in search of the top, game-changing players for their clients.


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