March 31, 2023

What Are Passive Candidates & How Can You Recruit Them?

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Tags: HR Recruiting

Key takeaways:

  • Passive job candidates are those who aren’t actively looking for a new job but are open to new opportunities.
  • Passive recruiting is the process of recruiters proactively reaching out to highly-qualified passive candidates to build a relationship and persuade them to switch jobs now or sometime in the future.
  • Recruiters should use recruiting tools to source and engage passive job candidates and build up an external talent pipeline.

Passive candidates make up a relatively untapped talent pool. In fact, a Workable survey conducted in 2021 reveals that passive candidates make up 37% of the workforce. With 77% of employers around the world reporting a talent shortage, according to a 2023 Manpower survey, recruiters should include passive recruitment in their recruiting strategy, especially for those critical, hard-to-fill roles.

Browse our shortlist of recommendations for Top Recruiting Tools that help manage relationships with passive candidates.

What is a passive candidate?

A passive job candidate is someone with in-demand skills who is currently employed and not actively looking for a job but is open to new opportunities that come their way. This means that recruiters have to initiate contact with passive candidates and persuade them to switch jobs whether now or in the future. 

Active candidates, by contrast, are those actively seeking and applying for jobs. Recruiters generally don’t have to seek out and engage active candidates because they approach recruiters first or apply for jobs directly.

What are strategies to recruit passive candidates?

Virtually anyone in an organization can help attract passive candidates, from recruiters to current employees to top leadership, using a variety of strategies. These include:

  • Sourcing passive candidates
  • Personalized communication
  • Employee referrals
  • Recruiting events

Watch this video for tips on what to do before you start sourcing and engaging passive candidates:

Sourcing and engaging passive candidates is a long-term recruiting strategy that generates a network of passive talent for recruiters to tap into when a job opening arises. A key aspect of successfully recruiting passive candidates is investing time and prioritizing relationships. A recruiting team should therefore build relationships with passive candidates before a critical role in the organization becomes vacant. 

Sourcing passive candidates

Recruiters can find passive candidates via LinkedIn search, whether for specific professionals, companies, or professional communities. An AI-powered predictive analytics tool like the one included in Visage helps recruiters identify passive candidates who are a good fit and gauge their readiness to switch.

Another easy-to-miss talent pool of passive candidates resides in a company’s own applicant tracking system (ATS) database of previous candidates. Recruiters and hiring managers can easily call up profiles of candidates that nearly made the cut in a previous job search or who applied to a different position entirely and may be willing to interview again.

Personalized communication

A simple, yet thoughtful gesture to build and maintain a relationship with passive candidates is to send occasional personalized messages, for example, to congratulate them on a work anniversary. This not only shows goodwill toward the passive candidate but also keeps your company on their radar as a place they might like to work in the future.

A more persuasive approach involves sending automated, yet personalized messages to qualified candidates about the company, its benefits, and any potential openings. Highlighting benefits, perks, and the ways the company would make a job transition as easy as possible is key for getting passive candidates’ attention, especially those who are already content with their current job.  A recruiting software solution like Zoho Recruit includes a candidate relationship management tool to help recruiters keep track of candidate interactions.

Employee referrals

A company’s current employees can also help attract passive candidates. For example, employees can advertise current job openings on or brag about their job or company on LinkedIn. 

Greenhouse, for instance, is a recruiting software solution that makes it easy for employees to broadcast vacancies to their professional network and make referrals. Workable not only incorporates employee referrals but also incentivizes them to do so by using a rewards system.


As in-person and hybrid events make a comeback, marketing and PR teams organize webinars or conferences with professionals outside the organization in order to achieve mutual business goals and build relationships among influential leaders in the field.

Recruiters can take advantage of events—hosted by their own company or someone else—-from a talent acquisition angle by identifying passive candidates to reach out to. The advantage of a company hosting its own conferences and events is that company stakeholders have access to first-party data on attendees to inform future outreach. 

Benefits of recruiting passive candidates

  • Helps build a positive employer brand
  • Complements succession planning by proactively building an external talent pipeline
  • More quickly recruits passive talent than competitors when passive candidate turns active
  • Reduces time to hire
  • Less risk hiring vetted candidates with proven skills

Challenges of recruiting passive candidates

  • Takes time and consistent effort
  • Gauging when and how to make passive recruiting worthwhile compared to active recruiting
  • Possibility of never converting the passive candidate into an applicant, let alone an employee
  • More established professionals are less likely to convert
  • Outreach efforts might put off passive candidates
  • Could potentially harm employer branding if not done thoughtfully
  • Difficult to keep track of communication cadences for each passive candidate

Why recruit passive candidates?

Recruiting teams can and should get creative about how they source and engage talent. Active candidates are the most obvious talent source. However, recruiting teams shouldn’t limit their efforts only to that crowd. Otherwise, they risk missing out on a highly qualified passive candidate that could’ve been convinced to apply if a recruiter had reached out. 

There are plenty of software tools that support a recruiting team’s passive recruitment strategy. Browse potential solutions in our Recruiting Software Guide.

1 Recruit CRM

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Recruitment Agencies across 75+ countries trust Recruit CRM. Recruit CRM is an end-to-end ATS + CRM system designed for recruitment & executive search businesses. Manage candidates, clients, contacts, email, phone calls & post jobs to your website. We also have a powerful AI resume parser that can even parse resumes directly from your emails. A straightforward kanban view for both sales & recruitment, email triggers & boolean search makes Recruit CRM the absolute best option for agencies.

Learn more about Recruit CRM

2 Factorial HR

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Factorial's all-in-one ATS makes it easy for you to source, track, and hire candidates, all in less time.

Learn more about Factorial HR

3 PCRecruiter

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PCRecruiter is the ATS/CRM hybrid used by successful recruiting and staffing pros for over 20 years. Featuring highly configurable fields, forms, and workflows, plus Gmail, Outlook, and RingCentral integrations, automations, responsive job board, analytics, and the PCR Capture plugin for importing and updating info from the web. PCR's public API facilitates direct integrations with many popular services and custom projects. All of this comes with secure hosting and an award-winning service team.

Learn more about PCRecruiter

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