Forget ‘passive’. Everyone is a candidate. All the time

Guess what?

Not everyone is actively looking for a job.

Yes, recruiters know that. But we often do not behave as though we know that. Research (and common sense) tells us that less than 10% of relevant talent are actively looking for a role at any given moment in time.

That means that 90% of candidates suitable for your roles are not engaged in job searches. They have not registered with recruiters, they are not perusing job boards, and they are not applying for roles. They are not even particularly unhappy where they are.

But they ARE willing to move!

So, crazy as it is, the global war for the best talent is being fought out among 10% of active job seekers, ignoring a huge pool of talent, where often the very best are to be found.

That is seriously ‘old skool’, and you need to rethink it.

The fact is that most recruitment agencies are failing to be creative in attracting unique talent to their databases.

We are fishing in an ever-shrinking pond.

Our talent pool is becoming a talent puddle.

Here is the thing I believe. Everything that is scary about the future of recruitment is in the change in the ways we find, attract and recruit talent. Not so much the client side. It’s on the candidate front that the battle will be fought. Mark my words.

So, the key to success in the future of recruitment is we have to change our definition of a candidate.

Most recruiters only register (mentally and physically) a person as a ‘candidate’ when that person has “opted in” to be assessed for a job, or seeks help on a job search. In other words they apply for a job. They send in their resume. Then we consider them a ‘candidate’.

But in the brave new world of recruiting, as talent shortages bite and set in for the long term, is it not time to have a fresh look?

When exactly does a talented person become a ‘candidate’ in our eyes?

When they see your ad? When they accept your headhunt call? When they apply to your ad on the phone? When you get their resume? When you interview them? When you submit their details to a client? When they follow you on Twitter? When they subscribe to your blog?

Think about it. If they are not a candidate until they ‘opt in’, (i.e. ‘apply’) what are they before that?

Someone connects to you on LinkedIn. They have not actively ‘applied’ for anything. Are they a ‘candidate’?

In the vast majority of cases, direct employers and recruiters alike are still doing it ‘old skool’ style. We set up our stall and we wait for candidates to come. We sell our jobs like a fruiterer. “Look at my nice cherries, would you like to buy?

That will no longer do. The future of recruitment is that everyone is a candidate – all the time. And it is up to us to convert them into active candidates, not wait for them to amble up to our ‘fruit stall’ and ask for a punnet of cherries.

And so that means we have to leave ‘just in time’ recruitment behind. Running ads on job boards. Relying on the database. Even relying on referrals, as crucial as that is. Don’t get me wrong. We must still do these things. And depending on your market they will still work… to a degree. But increasingly they will not work. And they will not tap into the best talent. And eventually you will be so ‘old skool’ you will go out of business.

Because you will have nothing to offer clients that they can’t get themselves. Clients have LinkedIn, they have in-house recruiters, and they can build databases of talent.

And that means we must build relationships with talent, and communities of people, who we may only place in months and years in the future.

That is a key facet of modern recruiting. Identifying, connecting and building relationship with the vast passive pool of potential placements. Then converting them to active job seekers when the time is right.


Subscribe to The Savage Truth, ‘Like’ us on Facebook and follow Greg Savage on Twitter

About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

Connect & Subscribe

Subscribe to this blog and join me on social media. I have a lot to say. Some of it even quite good.

Subscribe (Why wouldn't you?)
Facebook (A great recruiter hangout)
Twitter (50,000+ other people do)
LinkedIn (Find out who I actually am!)
YouTube (A great face for radio)
Instagram (Pics of my recruiting travels)
Pinterest (Pin me down)
Google+ (.. because.. it's... Google?)

, , ,

19 Responses to Forget ‘passive’. Everyone is a candidate. All the time

  1. Simon Black September 14, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    Hi Greg,

    What you are saying is correct , however this as always been the case and the best and most successful recruiters have always had this mindset and engaged in these practices. Good recruiters who are experts in their vertical market have always known who the active and passive talent is in that market with or without social media. Linked-in does help but we will get to the stage where every recruiter AND CLIENT has access to the same linked-in pool which is effectively still database mining. Our competitive advantage will still come from your expert knowledge of your own vertical market, your networking abilities and search skills.

  2. Neil Bolton September 14, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    Love it, Greg.

    “That is a key facet of modern recruiting. Identifying, connecting and building relationship with the vast passive pool of potential placements.”

    Not just a key facet of modern recruiting – the key to successful recruiting ever since recruitment was invented.

    It is just so much easier to be able to ring a friend out of the blue (because friends are what your candidates should be) and tell them that you’ve found their next job. And then do the same thing for them a couple of years later, because you know what their career path looks like – after all, you helped them design it.

    (To encourage relationship building perhaps we should tell our recruiters that Seek is banned for the first six months of next year, so you had better start building relationships right now!)

  3. Denise September 14, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    Hi Greg,

    Perhaps, as recruiters, we should tweak the “there are no such things as strangers, only friends we haven’t met yet” quote (which is often attributed to Will Rogers) to being “There are no such things as inactive candidates, only ones we haven’t placed yet.”

  4. Mervyn Dinnen September 14, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    You want to change behaviours Greg, which is admirable, but rewards usually drive behaviours. Until agency owners find a way to reward and incentivise… ‘relationships with talent, and communities of people, who we may only place in months and years in the future’…as opposed to just rewarding short term sales activity and transactional closing, then behaviours will never change.

    • Greg Savage September 14, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

      That is an excellent point Mervyn, and one with which I totally agree. I have started to think the role of a “Recruiter” and a “Talent Manager” is different. And then maybe an “E Sourcer” is different again. We are toying with better ways of making reward match goals at Firebrand but its all a brave new world. Thanks for the comment. Regards Greg

  5. Philip Divilly September 14, 2011 at 6:38 pm #

    Great blog Greg,

    I attended your seminar on the above topic in Sydney and was very impressed with some of the points you mentioned.

    I agree totally when you say, we need to do & give our clients something different that they can’t get themselves. Once we have the candidate at our finger tips after carefully monitoring them we will then succeed to be of value to our clients. Trial & error will always be there too – that’s the fun of it though.

  6. Terry September 14, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    Hi Greg- A great article and so true, and would also add that the same principle apply to acquiring a client. Keep the articles coming some really good stuff

  7. Paul September 15, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    Totally agree with all that’s been said but until the recruitment industry starts to really address the issue of staff retention within its own ranks, we will continue to “build relationships” for our competition. Financial rewards go part of the way but developing a culture that encourages teamwork and rewards loyalty over short-term “sales” is still foreign to many across our industry.

  8. Steve September 17, 2011 at 6:13 am #

    Hi Greg, thanks for the well written, thought-provoking article, which I agree with completely. However, I am surprised at those replies which talk about how “The recruitment industry” needs to change – surely the secret to recognising future candidates, building relationships and establishing friendships is about individual behaviour – as recruiters, we have to behave as we believe we should and be brave enough to fit that within ‘corporate policy’. By helping individuals to plan their careers when they need that guidance and support, we will be more likely to develop the relationships that will enable us to support them as candidates in the future.

  9. Robbie Ward September 20, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

    Great post. I’ve just set out on my own, in a very specific vertical market having previously worked for one of the ‘big boys’. My focus is completely towards knowing my market inside and out. I’m not targetting candidates or clients. I want to speak to and meet with anyone in my vertical sector. Why wouldn’t I, they are the future of my business.
    I do think it’s a cultural thing that prevents some other people in the industry from being able to take this approach. Once a business has been successful doing things in a certain way, it can lead to lazy approaches and a resistance to change. ‘I’ve made plenty of money by sticking an advert up and responding to applicants, I’ll just contiunue to do things in this way’

  10. Arthur September 21, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    In all of the jobs that I have been interviewed for and all of the recruiters that I have met which must be over 100 over the past 15 years, never has a recruiter wanted to stay in touch to offer advice on my career, so that when I am ready to move, they can assist me. Each and every time it has been I have an opportunity and it is fantastic and are you interested. Once I don’t get short listed I never hear from them again.

    You have touched on this in other articles, but your business model is still transactional and I am not property to be moved from here to there. This is 10 hours of every working day or my life. If you want to access me as “talent” then educate me on the right companies I should be targeting and help introduce me to these companies. Then when you have placed me and made your money, keep in touch every 6 months so that you know how I am going. Tell me what my next step is and where it should be. Advise me, don’t just trade me.

    • Greg Savage September 21, 2011 at 11:23 am #

      Totally agree Arthur
      Indeed, that is one of the themes of my article
      And that means we must build relationships with talent, and communities of people, who we may only place in months and years in the future.
      Thanks for your comments and for reading the blog

  11. Michael S September 22, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

    Definitely agree with a lot of what you’ve said Greg. However, in terms of being a part of a long-term recruitment business – today’s 10% active candidates are tomorrow’s 90% non-active candidates. Certainly skills will be added to their profile as their career develops but the basic industry relevant keywords are likely to be there – a Quality Engineer will still have ISO9000 in the CV as would a Quality Director. Having said that – I think the methods in reaching the 90% are the key skills recruiters need to develop.

  12. Elias September 28, 2011 at 2:28 am #

    I agree with Arthur’s comments, but as a previous commenter said, until agencies motivate (read PAY) recruiters to do that, there isn’t enough time in my day to constantly keep in touch with 11 years worth of candidates, and still find someone to fill the job that is open now. I certainly keep in touch with people, and that has been a cornerstone to my success in the business (and every good recruiter will say that), but the transactional nature of the business will never change. I also find it interesting when candidates say “I never hear back from the recruiters unless they have a job for me.” Well, recruiters don’t hear back from every candidate either – most won’t call back unless THEY need a job at the time the recruiter makes the call. The best relationships I have with candidates is when it’s a 2 way street. I check in with them and answer career and market related questions, and they get back to me and let me know when they’re off the market and when we might be able to work together in the future. Recruiters and candidates need to both realize networking has to benefit BOTH parties, and cannot just happen when one side needs something from the other.

  13. Recruiting Animal October 12, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

    This isn’t the way headhunting is done in North America.

    1 We find companies that might contain the right people.

    2 We discover the right people via phone sourcing (see @MaureenSharib) or via directories or publications (online and off) or referrals and then

    3 We call them up and see if they are actually a fit.

    • Greg Savage October 12, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

      Yes @Animal, the whole model NA is very different to that of the UK and Australia (traditionally). I learned that first hand when I spent a lot of time in the US and Canada up until quite recently. While real “headhunting” (the way you describe it) has always existed over here (and “Executive Search” is well established at the senior level), mostly we have been used to attracting “job seekers” and then placing them in jobs we already have. I believe that will have to change, and in our Asian business it is already looking more like the N. American model

  14. Nick S November 30, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    The last recruitment agency I worked at was very clear on the motto: “You are only as good as what you billed last month”. Again this reinforces the whole short term monetary focus of many agencies out there. Building long term relationships with professionals is key to future success in my opinion. As good recruiters are aware, a candidate will often also be a client and then a candidate again etc.

  15. Pieter May 28, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

    Reading all of the responses, I can only comment on one thing – I’m actively seeking a new challenge in my profession, I have been putting ad’s out on LinkedIn for ANY recruiter to contact me, CV submitted and yet to date not one out of the 100000 ++ recruiter every came back with a phone call or email (reply) Why do we have all of them out there if they can’t be of assistance, and yet if the reply the 2de or 3de question is what my income is and what I want in my next role, it’s nothing about experience anymore – WE ALL WANT MONEY, YES


  1. blog – New Year’s Resolutions for Recruiters and Job Hunters 2012 - January 12, 2012

    […] It doesn’t have to be an Odessey-esque undertaking though. Work out what social media to target and just give it a go. At a minimum we recommend a LinkedIn account and a Twitter or Facebook profile – or both – for your business. (If you need help setting them up, let us know, we’d love to help!) If you don’t have a website, you can make your Facebook page your business’ homepage too. All of these platforms allow you to interact with people who could work for you (or become your customers). It’s the best way to target people who work in your area and aren’t actively looking for new jobs, but are open to new opportunities. Check out this great post by Greg Savage – ‘Recruiters – everyone is a candidate, all the time’ […]

Leave a Reply