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The Elusive Passive Candidate.. they do exist

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me thumbI received from a friend a link to a conversation regarding one of those pervasive arguments that recently broke into the recruiting world, especially with the eve of the job board.  This conversation was on one of those recruiting networks, and my friend thought that I would be interested in it, or maybe she just likes to see me become agitated.. hmm..

Anyways, the disagreement that has been recently ranking the recruiting world? The Passive Candidate; does such an elusive, treasured and valued candidate even exist? Or, is it just a myth created by those old schooled, old timers, but yet, experienced recruiters?    Is there REALLY such a thing as a passive candidate, and what exactly is a passive candidate?


To many of us old timers, the Passive candidate is one that is someone who is actively working and definitely not tire kicking.  They are not looking for new opportunities.  They are not always receiving calls from hundreds of recruiters everyday, as they are  often elusive because their resumes are not plastered all over the net. 

The counter position to the argument of the passive candidate was posed as an interesting question which I kept in true form here, because it was well written - “Are you saying that if I was a candidate who posted on monster 2 1/2 years ago and found a job and is now very happy and not looking, but never deleted their resume from Monster, that they are not a passive candidate?  If all remains the same and next month their resume is purged by Monster, does that now make them a Passive Candidate?”

Before I delve more into the topic of the discreet, elusive, but wonderful Passive candidate, I would like to take a few moments to address that question which had been on that recruiting network -

“Dude”, (yep, it was a guy who posed the counter question), “seriously, IF your resume was on the internet for a full year, and you had “forgotten” that it was there, then it would stand to reason that recruiters are not calling you on a frequent basis, and therefore, it would suggest that your resume displays lack of experience, poor job history, or other factors that we recruiters would deem as very important qualifiers to take the time to call you… (In recruiting terms, your resume probably sucks)”

Now, if you came back and said - “no, recruiters HAVE been calling me, in fact on a pretty regular basis...”

Then, it becomes obvious that you have indeed not forgotten that your resume is out on the net, have you? This subsequently means that for the fact that you have NOT removed it from the internet, does indeed make you either an active candidate, or a semi active candidate.

For as long as there has been candidates and applicants there has been the distinction of the following -  Active, Semi Active, Semi Passive, and Passive Candidates; Yet, for some reason, there have been some who have been fighting these terms, and interestingly enough, especially more so in recent times.    These individuals honestly believe that the passive candidate doesn’t exist, and the reasons  that they give, have many us who have full service, specialization experience and Tenure in this industry,  scratch our heads and wonder, exactly how DO you BRAND yourself to your client; Especially, if you are duplicating their results? How do you differentiate yourself from the “rest of the pack”?  (In a positive way, at least).  How do you establish Credibility and Value to your clients?

The Breakdown

 (Please note that the breakdown is using extreme examples...)

The Passive Candidate - is elusive, very challenging to recruit. He is generally “contented” at his/her job, or at least initially believes that they are.  They are not looking for new employment and they are often exceptionally resistant to your recruiting efforts.  This candidate is often appreciated because industry research has proven that they do stay longer at companies, have least turnover, and since they were passive, their resume is not in the database of recruiters across the country, thus less likely to receive constant calls regarding “better” positions.

The Semi Passive Candidate – this Passive candidate becomes semi passive when he sends Only ME his resume due to my Very Successful Recruiting efforts – I really like this person.. My Clients appreciate me for my efforts here, as this is generally someone that they have not screened themselves, or seen on the job boards.  They know that I am not duplicating their efforts (the Semi Passive Candidate is better known as an APPLICANT)

The Semi Active Candidate – this candidate is the recruiter’s nightmare. They are tire kickers; He/she will interview, they say the “right” things, as they have been trained by the dumb recruiters who teach smart candidates to be smarter than they are...  They are trying to initiate a raise with their boss, or get better terms for their employment.  They are fishing to find out what is happening in their industry.  Rarely will they take your job, and more often than not, they will waste your time.  There are a few who are sincerely considering leaving, but are just nervous, and unsure, and they must be treated as the passive candidate, with kid gloves.  

The Active Candidate – Sometimes this person is the one who is unemployed or Emotionally Unemployed; or, is putting their resume on the job boards, on His boss’s time and his bosses dime because they either don’t care or they don’t realize that their boss actually checks these boards, and their job could be in jeopardy.  They are often networking and letting the word be known on the street that they are looking.  They make aggressive calls to recruiters looking for the new, ideal job.  Your clients will generally have received this candidate’s resume, as well as many of your competitors. In fact, when they send the resume to you via email, you will be able to notice that there are about 100 other email addresses b.c.: with your own! 

P.S – I would like to clarify something of importance here...  A passive candidate does not always make for a Better candidate, and an active candidate is not always a Bad candidate.  Yes, indeed, there is many an occasion where one can find excellent candidates on job boards that may have lost their job because the company closed doors; they lost their job by no fault of their own. The market has been such that it is difficult for them to locate one in their local area.
That said, corporations do have access to these boards, they do have internal recruiters on staff and yes these candidates should have the same respect as the passive candidate, especially by the internal/in-house recruiters.  

As an independent recruiter, better known as a third party recruiter, (TPR) I have to make every effort to distinguish, and differentiate myself and my company every day from my competition.  I do this by providing an ADDED, effective, reliable, consistent and significant resource to my client, so that they appreciate not only my service, but also come to depend on it.  So, it is imperative to me that I do not duplicate their efforts, making sure that I am bringing something of absolute value, and be able to stand by my work.  As a TPR, the clients I represent want me to locate the passive candidate, maybe they have searched the boards and did not find the talent for the position, the position is at a senior level, and those candidates generally may not be found on the boards, maybe the position being filled could be compared to finding a needle in a haystack..

I love recruiting the passive candidate, why? Well, due to my attempts to recruit and place the passive candidate have brought considerable rewards to both me and my clients.  Turnover rates; client appreciation; quick time to fill ratio’s are just the icing on the cake...  what I actually prefer more than anything, is that due to every call I make in the industry that I specialize in, I become more the expert of that industry.  Not only is the recruiter making a name in the industry through networking, but they are also gaining information, future and present new clients, and they are gaining valuable information regarding the industry that they recruit in, that they are now a valuable resource to their client.  Eventually their clients look at them as the Extension of their Human Resources Department, not just as an external resource to find clients on occasion.

You see, each call I make I am gaining several things, either a prospective client, a prospective candidate, a new position to fill, a new networking buddy who is willing to share referrals with me.. Or a New industry friend. 

Eventually clients and candidates will come to you for advice, for knowledge, and they do come to depend on you.  Yes, there is indeed such a thing as client and even Candidate loyalty.

For the many who do not understand, or relate to the passive candidate, I say to you THANK YOU!  For, it is indeed people like you who do make my job that much easier, and yes you help me to shine that much more!  Really, I do appreciate your lack of understanding!  Or your lack of willingness to go that extra mile!

Because of you my clients have come to resent working with recruiters who continue to email blast paper to them; they are annoyed in wading through paper that obviously shows that you never took time to understand the req; they resent wading through paper that are continual duplicates of the very resumes that they found on the net!  They hate even more the continual deleting of the spam, which they get from you and every other recruiter on the block who does the same that you do…  No uniqueness here. 

The same goes for the candidates.  The most important thing in their life... their career, and recruiters will email them and Hundreds others the same email blast... “Hey, saw your resume, got a great job, contact me, and if u are not interested, send me your friends” 

 Wow, what a way to make friends, gain relationships, and build a reputation.  Email Blasts... Sure they work, yes, a placement sometimes, but, there is a difference in sometimes and ALL the time.  Seldom and frequently!  

Yep, you guys do make my job so much easier, as my clients and candidates recognize my efforts which emphasize respect, knowledge, integrity, confidentiality. 

Ah, confidentiality, don’t get me started on recruiters and confidentiality... that is another paper in itself.

Today, I stand firm in my beliefs that For a TPR to justify the 10’s of K’s they make as headhunters, we must then definitely work hard for our money and earn our claim to fame. Going to a job board and mulling through resumes, does not make you a Headhunter expert, nor justify your cut of the fee. Our clients can pay someone an hourly to do that for them. In many circumstances we provide in various ways for our clients a different and unique service than they may get in-house, and it is my opinion that we must do our best to maintain that distinction to prove we warrant what we financially earn.

And Yes, I do recognize that some corporate recruiters can and will locate the passive candidate as well, but my line of reasoning is based upon the TPR.

There are many who will disagree with my comments here.   I welcome those disagreements.  



Karen Mattonen started a career in Human Resources when she served as a Recruiter for Snelling Corporation. Leveraging her tenure with Snelling, Karen founded Advanced Career Solutions in 1997 focusing on the  HVAC and Mechanical Construction industry. Her reputation for excellence is echoed in the satisfaction of clients and candidates she has serviced nationwide. Furthermore, Karen is esteemed for sharing her expertise in Recruitment Education, Ethics and promoting self-regulation for the Recruiting industry.

She has a new and future-oriented vision of what recruiting can and should become: a profession we can be proud of for its ethical standing, professional conduct and ability to build great organizations. Her doing-well-by-doing-right philosophy is shaking up the status quo in an industry that needs to be shaken. She does this with conviction, leadership, and a distinctive voice that cries out for change.

Outside of the HR community, Karen Mattonen has been cited by Microsoft as a resource in how to use Microsoft Outlook as an ATS. She has also served as the Marketing and Public Relations Director for the 3rd largest city in Utah.

Her passionate and tireless advocacy has led her to create HireCentrix - The Pulse of H.R, Regulation, Retention, Recruiting and Risk Management  Hirecentrix is a company dedicated to providing training to the HR, recruiting and staffing industries, which includes a special focus on the ethical and legal dimensions through offering a full service resource for individuals to share and communicate, obtain current and accurate information, acquire and provide education and learning within the quickly expanding, diverse and rapidly changing Recruiting and Human Resource climate.

Karen has achieved accreditation as a California Accredited Consultant (CAC) through California Staffing Professionals. She has also gained her Certified Staffing Professional Certificate (CSP) through American Staffing Professionals. (

Click here to reach Karen via email.




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