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How to Target Passive Job Seekers

Passive job seekers are individuals who are currently employed and not actively looking for a new job, but who may be open to a good career opportunity if one came along. Many employers target passive job seekers because they are looking for candidates who have positive employment records and who are satisfied with and successful in their work. Employers often target passive job seekers because of the lack of qualified job candidates to fill critical roles. Locating, wooing and successfully luring passive job seekers are critical for organizations to remain competitive in a tight labor market.

To target passive job seekers, HR professionals should take the following steps:

  1. Identify and strengthen the organization's employment brand.
  2. Assess current and projected staffing needs.
  3. Source passive job seekers.
  4. Engage passive job seekers.
  5. Make the application process easy and tailored to passive job seekers.

Step 1: Identify and strengthen the organization's employment brand

An employment brand is a way to describe the organization's reputation as an employer. Passive job seekers are often attracted to organizations with employment brands that align with their own goals and values. Examples of strong employment brands include employers that are known for their support of community involvement and "giving back" through employee volunteering and company events; employee ownership in the organization to create unified investment in organizational growth; a fun, free-thinking workplace dedicated to innovation and collaborative contributions; and a dedication to professional development and growth to invest in long-term employment and leadership opportunities.

Regardless of the brand, once it is identified and established, work to strengthen it so word gets out to passive job seekers that your organization is a good place to work. In addition, determine where your brand is not perceived as strongly as you would like or where it is not as easily accessible, and work to improve that. Consider such questions as: How is the organization regarded in the community? On social media? By stakeholders, including potential job candidates? Is it considered an employer of choice? What are current and former employees saying about working here on websites like Glassdoor, Salary and CareerBuilder?  

If your employer brand needs some bolstering, consider taking the following steps:

  • Become a good community citizen by sponsoring or cosponsoring community events.
  • Provide opportunities for employees to donate their work time to community projects.
  • Apply for local and regional HR awards that demonstrate that the organization is considered an employer of choice.
  • Invest in a social media expert who can get your employment brand noticed.
  • Use advertising for employment brand initiatives as well as product branding.

Step 2: Assess current and projected staffing needs

To target the right passive job seekers, you must understand your organization's current and projected staffing needs. Conduct a staffing assessment that can identify current and anticipated gaps in the organization's workforce, including knowledge and skills. This analysis will help determine which passive job seekers should be targeted and what relationships need to be built for future positions.

To assess the skills gaps that may exist in your current workforce, consider taking the following steps:

  • Identify what skills your organization currently needs by developing job profiles, keeping your organization's mission, vision and goals in mind. Once those skills are identified, assess how critical they are based on your organization's goals by ranking them from high to low.
  • Conduct an evaluation of the skills your current employees have. These data can be gathered by reviewing performance assessments, conducting skills analysis questionnaires, and interviewing employees, supervisors and managers. As in the first step, rank those skills based on how critical they are from high to low.
  • Assess the results. Compare the findings gathered in the first two steps above; the differences found will reveal current skills gaps.
  • Conduct the same analysis if future skills needs are known to help you target appropriate candidates.

To target passive job seekers for future positions, it is important to understand anticipated staffing needs. Anticipated staffing needs can be forecast by considering the usual turnover rates in your organization, but a more accurate forecast will consider anticipated retirements and future job growth based on the organization's strategic plan. If the strategic plan includes an expansion in one area of the organization (the more sophisticated use of big data, for example) and a constriction in another (a reduction in the production of a particular good or service), you can anticipate needing more people with technical and analysis skills and fewer line employees.

Step 3: Source passive job seekers

To identify or source passive job candidates, look where those candidates look and go where they go, both physically and virtually. If you are looking for someone who can analyze big data, for example, target big data associations like the Data Science Association or the Association of Big Data Professionals, visit their job boards and attend their networking events and conferences. Other ways to source passive job seekers include direct mail marketing, telerecruiting and direct recruiting (contacting potential job candidates personally). Other employers create talent communities—social media websites where a network of people (alumni employees, for example) can share information—that can help source and develop relationships with passive job seekers.

Other ways to source passive job seekers include:

  • Social media. Social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and professional or association network sites are rich landing places for recruiters and passive job seekers alike, as are job boards like CareerBuilder and Monster.
    • LinkedIn is perhaps the most widely used social media website for passive recruiting. In fact, it offers a "Recruiter Lite" and "Recruiter Corporate" subscriptions to help recruiters source candidates. Another way to find passive job seekers on LinkedIn is to use the "advanced people search" tool and enter your criteria for the ideal candidate for a job that is or will be available at your organization. See the SHRM article Locate the Right Talent with Basic Boolean Search Tips for more specific search techniques.
    • Employers with Facebook pages can post positive happenings at the company, which could help promote your employment brand. You could also post job openings on your Facebook page and perhaps even ask current employees to repost those, if they are willing. News travels quickly on social media, so this could increase your reach to possible candidates rather quickly.
  • Mobile recruiting via smartphones. If you have not done so, now is the time to optimize your organization's career website and job postings to be mobile-user-friendly and to add mobile-enabled job applications. Collaborate with your IT department to learn more about the scope of this project, its costs and timelines. You can also benchmark your career website with other websites in your industry by accessing them via your smartphone.
  • Employee referral programs. Employee referrals remain a popular way to identify passive job seekers, so if you have not updated or reviewed your employee referral program in a few years, it may be time to take a closer look. Consider benchmarking the program against other successful employee referral programs by visiting your competitors' career websites and social media pages. When benchmarking, talk with other HR professionals in your industry about how to improve your employee referral program and track metrics to gauge the effectiveness of the program. Employers are increasingly expanding their employee referral programs to include social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. You can post job vacancies on social media websites and ask employees to share those vacancies on their social media pages. Some companies support online employee referral communities and have dedicated managers who monitor the sites and guide referrals to resources and answer questions in real time.
  • Blogs. Many organizations are increasingly using blogs to source passive job seekers. You can blog about topics that people in your industry would be interested in—not necessarily about your organization though, because people may engage more with content than with company news and updates.

The key to identifying passive job seekers is to be creative. More and more companies are posting videos about what it is like to work there. Others run ads on online radio stations like Pandora because it's a place where their potential job candidates spend time. Retail companies with in-store Wi-Fi service use it to reach passive job candidates. When customers sign in to access a store's free Wi-Fi connection, employment messages appear during sign-on that link to the company's career site. Organizations also have been known to run television advertisements and use billboards and even posters to source passive job seekers.

Step 4: Engage passive job seekers

To keep passive job seekers interested, it is necessary to establish an ongoing relationship with them.

Keep in mind that passive job seekers are generally happy with their current job and will not be willing to leap into another job without serious consideration. This makes relationship building a must when trying to engage passive job seekers.

That relationship must be built over time. Don't pressure passive job seekers to move quickly. To start building the relationship, engage them with authentic communication (whether that is through phone calls, social media, blogging, e-mails, etc.). Ask them about their short- and long-term career goals. Send them targeted white papers or other content-rich information in their areas of expertise to keep them engaged and to enhance their receptivity to future contact. Keep in touch and keep them engaged using personalized contacts until an appropriate job opening becomes available. Work to establish real relationships with passive job seekers and understand that it is a long-term commitment.

Another way to build that relationship is to send passive job seekers recruitment marketing materials via e-mail. This will help them learn more about the organization, and by sending it electronically, it will help you learn about who opens the e-mail blasts and what each recipient clicks on. You can also gather data on who is not opening the messages, who unsubscribes, etc. Those analytics can help you learn more about which candidates are more open to being recruited and which are not, as well as which marketing campaigns are working or which are not.

Another way to build on that relationship is to understand what passive job seekers want to know. They want to understand the company culture, the employee experience and the job. This is where having a strong employment brand is important—passive job seekers will likely take a look at Glassdoor and similar sites to see what current and former employees are saying about the organization. Consider sponsoring live events, such as open houses or happy hours, and invite sourced passive job seekers so they can find out more about your organization.  

Step 5: Make the application process easy and tailored to passive job seekers

The last hurdle in targeting passive job seekers is to convince them to apply for the job. To do so, consider making the application process easy to access and to complete. According to SHRM's Checklist: Recruiting Quality Hires, the best performers are often passive job seekers who lack either the interest or the time in going through a cumbersome application process. Online applications that require excessive click-throughs or that are not designed for mobile access may discourage passive job seekers from completing the application.

Finally, if you get to the interview stage, there are a few things not to do when dealing with passive job seekers:

  • Don't question them as though they are active job seekers. Don't ask "why should I hire you?" This may turn off passive job seekers.
  • Don't expect that they have conducted extensive research about your organization—remember, you came to them, they didn't come to you.
  • Don't try to lure them with a similar job. Lure them with a job that offers additional responsibility or the opportunity to develop new skills and abilities. out that third bullet.


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