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How to source passive candidates

Passive candidates are individuals who are not actively seeking a new job but may be open to new opportunities. They are often highly skilled and experienced, making them valuable potential hires. Sourcing passive candidates involves strategic research, engagement, and the use of various tools and platforms.

Nikoletta Bika
Nikoletta Bika

Nikoletta holds an MSc in HR management and has written extensively about all things HR and recruiting.

Sourcing passive candidates isn’t just about finding them. It’s also about screening and engaging those candidates in conversations.

How to find passive candidates

  1. Meet them online
  2. Meet them in person
  3. Meet them through connections
  4. Meet them through past hiring processes
  5. Meet them through tools and services

Meet passive candidates online

  • Use Twitter and Facebook. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook have billions of users. You can use Twitter’s advanced search to find hashtags that can help you look into passive candidates. For example, if you’re looking for a content manager, you could look into hashtags like #contentmarketing or #SEO. Look for those who tweet interesting insights or answer questions. You can follow them and reach out through Twitter. You can also follow companies that do well in their industry and connect with their people. Participating in Twitter chats, which are group conversations held at a specific time, can also help you find interesting professionals. Similarly, in addition to the job posting capability, Facebook’s graph search can help you find people who match certain criteria. For example, if you write “salespeople who have studied in New York” in search, Facebook will return a long list of matching profiles. It’d be a good idea to look for people who have been at their job for some time (for example, from two to four years). They’re more likely to be open to a new opportunity.
  • Try more targeted social media. The more social media you’re involved in, the more likely you are to stumble upon someone great. Platforms like Instagram, Reddit and Snapchat aren’t as popular for recruiting as professional-oriented sites like LinkedIn or Xing. But, that also means that recruiters will be scarce on these platforms and competition will be lower. For example, on Reddit, you can search for discussions of interest and spot those who seem knowledgeable on their field. Or go through subreddits where people are looking for a job. Be careful, though: users on these platforms mightn’t like aggressive recruiting. It’d be best if you’re a committed user.
  • Check out Portfolio/Work sample sites. Another advantage of online sourcing is that you could actually see candidates’ work on online portfolio sites. This works well for creative professionals like designers who contribute to Behance, Dribble and Carbonmade. Github is also a good option to find developers by looking at team or individual projects. A good alternative for sourcing engineers would be sites like Codility, Devskiller, and HackerRank (Workable’s partner). Through these sites, you can host coding challenges and choose candidates who got the highest scores.
  • Try sourcing tools. The benefit of sourcing talent from online communities is that you see prospects in environments where they’re active and engaged. Reaching out to passive candidates is better when you can personalize your communication – and that’s always easier with more information. Tools like People Search work in tandem with online communities. Find any candidate profile on Facebook, Angel List, Twitter, GitHub, Dribbble and Behance and activate the extension. People Search will build a complete profile, often including an email address, resume and other social networks in which your prospect is active. Verify their social graph before you connect.

Related: Recruiting tools and techniques for modern HR teams

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Meet passive candidates in person

Even in the age of social media, there’s still nothing better than actually meeting someone in person. Being in the same room and connecting with passive candidates builds trust and rapport.

There are many conferences and events you can attend or participate in. Search sites like and to find relevant events. You can also see who will be attending so you can prepare. Knowing more about a person before you meet them can help your conversations flow easier. You can use People Search for this purpose. Highlight a name from an attendee list and right click. People Search will provide you with information you can use to have meaningful discussions. This works after events, too – if you meet someone great, you can use People Search to look them up and contact them afterwards.

Hackathons, career fairs and campus events are other great options to meet great candidates. Hosting your own events is a good idea too.

When you meet with people in person you have better chances to find out if they’d be interested in a new job. Try to discover whether they’re happy in their current role. You can ask them about their future plans for their career – if they’re moving up in their company, they’ll probably be less likely to want to leave. Focus on what they want and decide if you can offer them a job that matches their aspirations.

Meet passive candidates through connections

Often, the best employees are those who are referred by other employees. They’re usually more productive and less likely to quit. Same goes for those referred by people you trust, like an external recruiter. Send your colleagues an email asking for referrals. It’d be best if these emails are specific. Describe the role you’re sourcing for and brief them on your most important requirements. Setting up a program with incentives for successful referrals can also be a good idea.

Before you turn to other people for referrals, think of your network first. You probably already know someone, like a previous coworker or fellow alum, who is familiar with the profession you’re sourcing for. You could reconnect and discuss opportunities.

Meet them through past hiring processes

Rejected candidates from the past could be the best candidates in the future. If you already have a candidate database or an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), you have an abundance of candidate profiles at your fingertips. Sift through your talent pool and talent pipelines. Many candidates might have been rejected in the final stage of the hiring process. In the meantime, they could have found other jobs and gained more skills and experience. See what they’re up to.

Note that for this approach to work, your company should aim to provide a great candidate experience. Candidates who were treated well and were impressed with your company are more likely to consider working for you in the future. Conversely, those who had a bad experience mightn’t be too pleased to hear from you again.

Meet them through tools and services

Manually searching social media isn’t the only way to find candidates. Search engines like Monster’s Talentbin, Careerbuilder’s resume database and can help you discover people who fit your requirements. They offer big databases of resumes that you can search through. They might also help you by finding candidates’ contact details through their social media accounts. Professional sourcing services can also be valuable allies when recruiters don’t have time to source on their own.

Want more detailed information on various sourcing methods? Download our free sourcing guide.

How to screen passive candidates

  1. Have a clear understanding of your objectives
  2. Check out passive candidates’ social media accounts
  3. Keep an open mind about their online presence

It’s best to screen passive candidates in the same way you screen active candidates.

Have a clear understanding of your objectives

A clear list of requirements is the starting point for any effective sourcing strategy. If you’re sourcing for a position, you should have the ‘must-have’ qualifications in the forefront of your mind. Even if you’re just looking to expand your network or talent pool, having some general qualities in mind can help.

Check out passive candidates’ social media accounts

By looking at a wide range of candidates’ accounts, you can understand them better and verify their information.

According to Careerbuilder’s annual social media recruitment survey, hiring managers and HR professionals rejected candidates because of:

  • Provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos or information
  • Information about candidates drinking or using drugs
  • Discriminatory comments related to race, religion, gender, etc.
  • Bad-mouthing previous company or fellow employees
  • Poor communication skills

All of these issues are relevant to your sourcing.

Keep an open mind about their online presence

You might have heard that the approach “hire for attitude, train for skills” is effective. It’s true that some skills can be easily taught, so it’s often best to be forgiving with candidates who don’t have specific experience or training. Potential and motivation are usually more important. People who attend conferences, actively engage in forums relevant to their profession and showcase their best work on portfolio sites can be great candidates regardless of their experience.

Being fastidious about non-job related information on social media could lead you astray. Candidates who don’t handle words like professional writers, make small mistakes or post something you mightn’t like aren’t necessarily bad candidates.

How to recruit passive candidates

  1. Approach passive candidates carefully
  2. Send personalized sourcing emails
  3. Communicate what passive candidates want to know

Passive candidates aren’t looking for a job but they might still be interested for new opportunities.

Approach passive candidates carefully

Many recruiters use multiple social media platforms to source passive candidates. Granted, passive candidates probably don’t expect as many recruiters to approach them on Facebook or Twitter as they would on LinkedIn. Receiving messages from recruiters on more ‘personal’ platforms might appear weird or intrusive to some people. But, a well crafted message still has a chance to win them over.

Honesty and simplicity are key. Introduce yourself when joining forums and try to participate in conversations on Twitter or other social media before sending cold messages. That way, when you do reach out, you can have a ‘warmer’ introduction.

Just the right amount of persistence can help a lot. Some recruiters can come across as pushy or spammy if they fill people’s inboxes with lots of messages. If you’re not getting a response, reaching out three times can be a good guideline.

Send personalized sourcing emails

When was the last time you thought of responding to a bulk sourcing email? Probably never. Passive candidates are usually pretty happy with their jobs. That’s why they’re not actively looking for new ones. The only way to draw them out of their routine is to earn their trust and steer their interest. Neither can be done through a general email that could have been sent to hundreds of people.

Personalized emails require some extra thought. You could use a general template to save time. But, the email’s substance should address what really drew you to a candidate’s profile. Mention how their (specific) accomplishments connect to the job or company you’re sourcing for. Give them just enough detail to start a discussion. A lengthy email with excessive information won’t be as attractive as a short, concrete one. You can use Boolean search techniques to find your candidate’s email address.

RelatedSourcing on Google: Boolean search for recruiters

It’s also important to think of their possible wishes and interests. When looking through their profile, try to figure out what they’re interested in. For example, they might hold a position as an Android developer, but take part in a lot of  Python coding challenges. Or they might recently have taken management courses online. If they have, it’s likely they’ll have shared a certificate on LinkedIn or even on Pinterest. These could be clues for what their plans and wishes are. If you’re sourcing for a relevant position, you can say you noticed their activities and explain how your position relates to them. In general, look for information that can help you understand candidates’ needs – particularly anything that hints at what they’d like to do next.

Communicate what passive candidates want to know

According to LinkedIn’s 2016 US & Canada talent trends report, 89% of professionals are open to new job opportunities. Almost 75% of these passive candidates want to know about a company’s culture and values as well as perks and benefits. And 63% want to know about a company’s office locations. The report also includes direct advice from passive candidates. They urge employers to give an honest, rather than a rosy, view of their company. Candidates are curious about employees’ opinions and want to know what makes your company stand out. They also want to know about your job’s expectations and workload and how taking on a new role will impact their career.

It’s important that you approach passive candidates with useful information. It’s nice if you can write a friendly and interesting email. But, ultimately, passive candidates will consider changing jobs if they have a clear picture of what you can offer them.

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