Passive Recruitment: 7 Quick Tips To Unlock Technology Talent 

July 27, 2020
passive candidates

Technology talent is one of the most exciting areas of human capital management today. At Xperti, we’ve been at the forefront of identifying elite technology talent. And in doing so, we’ve discovered that many stakeholders tend to overlook one of the best sources of talent, which is ready to be explored, i.e. the realm of passive recruiting. Xperti navigates through passive recruitment with 7 quick tips to unlock technology talent.

What is Passive Interest?

Passive Interest means candidates who are currently working and not willing to switch job. But they are open for some change for a better job opportunity.

In their bid to highlight internal success stories, talent managers may have overlooked a core component of technology recruitment. Tapping into passive interest hasn’t always been on top of the IT recruiter’s toolbox. Especially with a renewed focus on talent retention and promotion from within one’s organization. But with cost control, the gig economy, and the expansion of the business ecosystem, it’s hard to always immediately hire and promote from within. Sometimes the right talent is missing, often it outgrows the opportunity too quickly.

And increasingly, there simply isn’t enough time to train and invest internally. Identifying and acquiring the right talent from ‘outside’ appears to be the most efficient way for organizations to fulfill their needs. Indeed, as early as 2012, passive talent was 17% less likely to need skill development and 21% less likely to need recognition. The more competitive the technology talent economy gets, the more favorable these numbers become for all stakeholders today. Passive interest is the source from which such talent can be identified and onboarded.

Making Passive Recruitment Worth An IT Recruiter’s Time

Ask any talent manager—recruiting projects are messy on their own. Deadlines, a running cost meter and exchanges from both ends—the jobseeker and the owner/sponsor. Despite strong structures, decisions are delayed by second-guessing and uncertainty. And this is with active recruiting!

How could pursuing passive leads make things any easier?

Passive recruitment isn’t an emergency resume fund, and mobilizing passive interest isn’t akin to firefighting. Rather, a robust passive talent pipeline is like a trump card in the great maze that is elite talent management. It offers cost control and enduring long-term returns.

Another way to look at passive recruitment is this: When you were soliciting resumes from active jobseekers, you were investing your time, effort and a cost into each resume you read, regardless of whether those resumes qualified for the next stage or not. If those ‘rejected’ resumes were destroyed (or worse, ignored in your email archive), your investment would be a sunk cost.

On the other hand, if those resumes were parsed into an IT recruitment database, where they were categorized and managed, your investment would appreciate. Even if these candidates were not actively looking for the job you advertised, you would always have a strong repository to turn to when an emergency requirement popped up, or if there were flexible hiring requirements that these jobseekers would be attracted to.

Passive Recruitment: 7 Quick Tips To Unlock Technology Talent

1. Know Where To Look

We all know how active recruiting works: Post a job ad, and soon enough, you the IT recruiter, get updated, JD-focused resumes delivered to your inbox. (With the position marked in the subject line, for added effect). You didn’t have to look too hard. The jobseekers did it for you. Your job is to sort and select and take the recruitment process from there.

And then we have passive recruiting. You’ve got an active position. You’ve posted the ad, but the right talent just seems to be eluding you. It’s not even eluding you. The perfect combination of skills and experience you’re seeking is already happily employed elsewhere. He or she may not even care for the position you desperately need to close. What now?

Enter, the search for this elusive passive talent.

Knowing where to tap passive interest in your advertised role is easy: Competitors are an obvious source. But there are others too: Look across the vertical supply chain—vendors and suppliers solving similar problems or using the same software as you. Counterparts in non-competing industries. For some roles, even graduate school.

Revisiting your resume database will unearth talent formerly categorized under ‘lacks sufficient experience,’ ‘cannot join immediately’, ‘salary negotiation failed’ etc. It’s time to revive those discussions.
The good news is, the passive talent pool is wider than you’d think. At least 70% of employed professionals categorize themselves as passive talent, a number that’s only risen since LinkedIn published this finding in 2015.

2. Analytics Are The Answer

If you’ve been in IT recruiting for as long as we have, you probably have a resume database that’s several thousand records strong. Each resume describes a highly specialized, and rapidly dating career profile—meaning that manually sorting through the database will be strenuous work. If you’re trying to locate perfect passive candidates, manually sorting the records won’t help.

Recruiting analytics, on the other hand, will. At a glance, you’ll learn ratios of active versus passive jobseekers, the number of candidates who meet your current requirements, candidates sorted by expertise, experience, location and so on. As a recruiter, you’ll also be on point while negotiating—knowing exactly when something needs to be negotiated down, and when it doesn’t.

3. Manage Your Talent Pipeline

Without regular data cleansing, the aforesaid recruiting analytics won’t be useful for long. When creating dashboards/reports for a specific position, be sure to record your observations about specific resumes. Assuming your analytics solution used one hundred records to form a dashboard for position ‘XYZ’. For example, maintain records of:

  • How many of those 100 candidates were contacted
  • How many responded (in the first, second and third call)
  • The ratio of interested versus uninterested candidates
  • The hard no- candidates
  • Ratio of successful candidates

By systematically gleaning out the no-shows and the hard-no candidates, you make your talent pipeline cleaner and more efficient. A smaller group of clearly identified talent will always stand you in better stead than a large pool with less clarity, more repetition, and more opacity.

4. Stick To Specifics

In contrast to managing active talent pipelines, passive recruitment is about leading an unsolicited process. Many IT recruiters mistakenly believe that long, descriptive approaches will help their chances of engaging top talent.

It’s important for potential employees/contractors to know your brand, and what it stands for. But it’s equally important to address what matters to them. Be specific. Be truthful.

5. Circle Back

Active IT recruitment is a closed-loop cycle. It closes when the position closes. But passive recruitment isn’t that simple. It’s about constantly keeping your talent radar active, even if that talent is engaged elsewhere.

This isn’t an exercise in futility: According to a LinkedIn 2015 study, “89% of talent says being contacted by their recruiter can make them accept a job offer faster, and 94% say being contacted by their prospective manager can make them accept a job offer faster.”

Earlier in this article, we make a mention of ‘hard no’ candidates. These are candidates you can decisively exclude from your talent pipeline, based on any of the reasons below or others:

  • They have made a permanent career shift to a different industry/stream which you do not cater to.
  • Details on their earlier resumes have been discovered to be false or misleading.
  • Extreme externalities that make it unlikely that the candidate will meet your existing or future requirement e.g. Permanent relocation, withdrawal from the job market or refusal to engage with IT recruiters for personal reasons or other.
  • Code of conduct violations.
  • Client complaints against the candidate confirmed after due diligence.
  • They have made an explicit request to not be contacted in the future.

Barring these, everyone else is a soft-no, which means they are re-approachable for future opportunities. How do you know if a resume is worth another review?

  • Salary negotiations failed.
  • The jobseeker’s availability didn’t match the project duration.
  • Location mismatch.
  • The jobseeker didn’t have enough experience when he/she initially applied.
  • Irrelevant skillset.
  • Talent with a valuable technology skillset refused a role due to other reasons (‘not challenging enough’, the danger of underemployment, etc).
  • Jobseeker fulfilled all your requirements but was rejected by the project sponsor/owner.

If it’s any of the reasons above, it’s a good idea to contact the jobseeker and get an update. Talent is an asset that appreciates, don’t let yours go to waste!

6. Focus On Needs, Not Requirements

What’s the difference between a need and a requirement? The latter is formal, documented, and created with the assumption that it will fulfill the need. The need can be a missing skill, a mature outlook, an extra pair of hands in operations, or semi-skilled resources to fulfill rising demand. Needs become evident through:

  • A problem that needs to be solved
  • An opportunity that needs to be capitalized
  • An incomplete project that needs to close

Focusing rigidly on the requirement can come at the expense of the need. According to an early study on passive recruitment, passive talent prospects are 120% more likely to want to make an impact, and 33% more likely to want challenging work. So stay flexible. Stay open to how the need can be met.

7. End On A Good Note

Increasingly recruiters in general, but IT recruiters, especially, are facing the issue of candidate ghosting. It especially stings if this happens in a relationship you took time to nurture.

One must resist the temptation to blacklist candidates who ghosted us at the last minute. Despite our best efforts, sometimes things don’t work out. Think of it as an exchange that didn’t materialize, instead of reacting to it like a letdown or a betrayal. Just because one opportunity didn’t work out doesn’t mean we should shut out all opportunities for future exchange.

Passive Recruitment, How Not To Manage It

A challenge with managing passive talent is that the forces that govern active IT recruitment don’t apply here. Demand exceeds supply, and passive jobseekers face no loss at refusing an attractive offer made by an IT recruiter, or even ghosting on an actual opportunity. So IT recruiters need to tread more carefully.

A sound start in your passive recruitment journey is to be realistic. Many IT recruiters are so focused on their targets and deadlines, they forget that the real objective is to create the perfect fit between technology projects and the elite talent that can complete them—even if that means finding it in a pool of passive talent. By being realistic, we mean:

  • Don’t exaggerate the benefits
  • Don’t underplay potential negatives, such as uncomfortable hours or travel

Instead, tell it as it is. According to one source, a full 63% of candidates feel flattered when recruiters reach out to them. i.e. For many, it’s enough to be personally contacted. Even if passive jobseekers refuse your offer, the relationship starts on solid ground—based on trust and open communication. This passive talent could be your key to referrals closer to the JD, and once this talent converts from passive interest to active job seeker, you’re going to be on top of his/her go-to list.

Pressure Tactics

Like bad salespeople, bad IT recruiters tend to push their agenda with fear: Creating fake application deadlines, creating false scarcity or making attempts to undermine the confidence and esteem of the passive jobseeker. Even if you’ve seen these ploys in action, it’s a big no-no in the world of IT recruitment. As the technology talent industry stands today, most of the country’s top technology talent, and that includes those with passive interest—can see right through the act.

Pressure tactics may work on some passive jobseekers, but whatever value you seek to gain out of this will be short-lived. Not just because it will create mistrust and damage your reputation within IT recruiting circles, but also because it makes your offering more transparent—and thus harder to negotiate.

Coerce The Project Sponsor

Now here’s how IT recruitment gets murky from the other side. We already spoke about how managing passive talent is about creating the perfect fit between the technology project and the passive jobseeker.

Some IT recruiters put pressure on the other side—zoning in on a talented technology professional’s passive interest, completing the process, and then pressuring the project owner (or project sponsor) to settle for the selected candidate. Practically speaking, talent management is an imperfect process, and the incidence of ghosting and unsuccessful negotiations makes it even more so.

Project sponsors won’t always get their favored shortlists, but this is another extreme, where IT recruiters pressurize them into accepting less-than-adequate talent in a bid to meet their timelines or to close other positions. This creates more problems than it solves—attrition, conflict, poor project execution. Instead of ‘closing’ the talent requirement, as you thought you would, you’ll be asked to replace the candidate.

Effective passive recruitment is as much about saying ‘no’ to the wrong fit as it is about saying ‘yes’ to the right opportunity.

Persistent Vs Pushy

What’s the difference between persistence and pushiness? Frequency and tone. The successful route to passive recruiting is moderate in both. According to one source, ‘bad interview experiences make 65% of candidates lose interest in the job.’ Whereas 83% of candidates said clear timelines would ‘greatly improve’ the hiring process. Passive recruitment makes good use of pulling talent towards it—and that will only be achieved when your follow-ups are timely and considerate.

The frequency with which you contact your passive talent should prioritize his/her availability, not yours. If biweekly updates work for him and not you, guess how often your updates need to be scheduled. Similarly, your tone will communicate things like whos need you are fulfilling, the passive jobseeker’s or your own. If you’re pushy, you’ll sound unmistakably selfish.

Don’t Be Easily Discouraged

Now here’s another way IT recruiting is like sales: It’s not for the fainthearted. Even the best talent scouting efforts can yield zero return at the end of the day. Don’t let it get to you, it’s called passive recruitment for a reason.

Passive Recruitment, Active Opportunity

IT Recruitment is one of the most promising areas to develop the industry’s top talent. You’re at the center of identifying the next wave of innovation in the industry. Whether it comes from the jobseeker emails that enter your inbox or the passive talent you follow is immaterial.



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