Active vs. Passive Candidates: What’s The Difference?

Active candidates can make talent acquisition easier, but there are benefits to focusing on passive candidates and finding talent in the 'not so obvious' places. Read our blog to find out the difference between the two.



Talent Acquisition


When it comes to talent acquisition, recruiters often make their jobs harder than they have to be. Discussions around active vs. passive candidates usually end in the same conclusion: focus on the people who are actively looking for jobs.

This makes sense on paper. After all, active candidates are vigorously looking for work, so what’s the point of recruiting passive candidates? If you agree with this statement, ask yourself, “are quality applicants and industry trendsetters more likely to be employed or unemployed?”

If you have a valuable asset, you’re going to do what you can to keep it. But if your competition is alienating their talented workforce, there’s no harm in sweeping in and stealing them away.

By engaging in passive candidate sourcing, you can build your dream team. Just because passive candidates aren’t actively looking for work, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t willing to work for you. Blending your talent acquisition process is the most vital move you could make.


Active vs. Passive Candidates: What Makes Them Different?

Active and passive candidates are two types of job seekers that are motivated by different things. Here are some of the main distinctions between active and passive candidates.

Active Candidates

An active candidate is someone who applies for an open position directly. Although they’re more likely to be unemployed, active candidates may also be employed. They’ll start their job search by searching online via job boards and job websites or in person via brick-and-mortar shops.

These candidates are favored by recruiters because they don’t have to source candidates themselves. However, it’s in your best interest to reach out to candidates in a timely manner. Since active candidates are applying to several jobs at once, the competition can be fierce.

Passive Candidates

A passive candidate is anyone who isn’t actively looking for a job. They’re usually employed, but they may be unemployed. If you use an applicant tracking system (ATS), you can find many passive candidates in your database. If not, you can find them online or via employee referrals.

The passive candidate sourcing process is typically more difficult because you need to grab their attention. Recruiters and employers have to create ads, email or LinkedIn InMail copy, and job postings that encourage professionals to take a chance on you and your organization.


Why Should You Focus on Passive Candidate Sourcing?

While you shouldn’t ignore active candidates, you should pay close attention to your passive candidates if you want to hire the best talent. Here’s why passive candidate sourcing matters.

Most Active Candidates are Irrelevant

If there’s anything that settles the active vs. passive candidates debate, it’s this: the majority of your active candidates are irrelevant to your open position. You’ll receive hundreds of resumes from people who don’t possess the necessary skills, education, or experience for the role.

If you write a great job description, you’ll eventually be successful. But you’ll waste a lot of time filtering through resumes (and rejecting candidates that try to game your ATS software). But passive candidates are already pre-qualified, as you already took the time to source them.

When you find the right candidates, you can streamline your onboarding process using a new hire checklist. It’s important to optimize your talent acquisition where you can.

Active Acquisition Appeals to Passive Candidates

Since a blended acquisition process is the only way to diversify your talent pool, you’ll likely use hiring methods that attract active candidates. Several of these best practices also appeal to passive candidates and vice versa, so you won’t lose time or money optimizing your process.

If you want an acquisition strategy that attracts active and passive talent, do the following:

  1. Reduce friction in the hiring process by eliminating unnecessary steps.
  2. Improve the speed of hiring by contacting applicants within 3 days.
  3. Offer incentives, such as a high salary, work-life balance, or benefits.
  4. Give candidates the opportunity to work at home (hybrid or remote).
  5. Consider promoting internally or asking for employee referrals.
  6. Improve your employer brand by highlighting your company culture.
  7. Be proactive in your job search so you don’t miss out on talent.

While there are strategies that only appeal to active or passive candidates, there’s no harm in using tried and true tactics to find quality talent. Once done, you can become more focused.

Passive Candidates Outnumber Active Candidates

According to LinkedIn, passive candidates make up 70% of the job market. Most of these candidates aren’t willing to budge unless you give them an offer that’s better than their current position. That kind of pressure may encourage recruiters to focus on active candidates anyway.

Unfortunately, top candidates go off the market in 10 days, and there’s a low possibility that you’ll be quick enough to grab them. But if you go for passive candidates, specifically those that want to leave due to low morale, you could find a talented employee that benefits your team.


How Can You Start Recruiting Passive Candidates?

It’s clear that passive candidates win the active vs. passive candidates battle, but how can you make them a part of your company? Here are 5 ways to increase your startup’s talent opt-ins.

1. Create an Incredible Recruiting Profile

If you want to start recruiting passive candidates, you need to make a strong impression. Your organization is only as appealing as the information you provide, so you need to consider how to make yourself interesting. You can do this by researching what employees want from you.

On your recruiting profile, give candidates a clear picture of what you’re looking for. This can include a full job description (responsibilities, skills, compensation, benefits, and work schedule) and a full description of your company (your brand, company culture, values, origin story).

Passive candidates are mostly interested in the salary, role, and responsibility sections. If you’re in the tech sector, be sure to comment on the cool tech they’ll be using, like the blockchain.


2. Grow Your Network and Make Friends

Passive candidates are off the market, for the most part. This can make locating the best talent as tricky as finding a needle in a haystack. But through the power of networking, you can reach out to passive candidates that would usually be uninterested in your job posting.

If you prefer to network in person, search for industry meetups and conferences on MeetUp, CityScoializer, and Eventbrite. If you’re more fond of networking online, go on social media and add industry professionals who could set you up with talent (or may be talented themselves).

A word of advice: don’t ask a candidate to apply for a position if they have a higher salary than you’re offering. Not only will you be rejected, but you could damage your relationship with them.


3. Be Flexible and Listen to Candidate Needs

As stated, you can’t convince a passive candidate to take a lower-paying job, especially if they don’t know you. It’s too much of a professional risk to choose you over their current employer. If you want to entice quality applicants, you have to be flexible, generous, and an active listener.

The trick to recruiting passive candidates is making the offer attractive to them and giving them what they want. Do they wish they had a position that offered remote work? Tell them you’ll allow them to work from home. Do they need to leave early to pick up their kids from school? Give that benefit over the minute they ask.

If you consider how much money a quality employee will generate over their lifetime, any concession is well worth it. Plus, it shows you’re willing to adapt to your employee’s needs.


4. Start Your Search on Social Media

While it may seem logical to start the acquisition process with your database, hold that thought, as you’ll need to have a social media presence to get the most out of your hiring pool. Your social media pages are often the first point of contact for candidates, so don’t mess this up.

You can use any social media site to find candidates, but you should focus on LinkedIn and Twitter. On LinkedIn, you’ll find a lot of contractors who are eager to create content with you. Simply use its search function and “People Who Viewed” feature to narrow down your results.

Twitter is also a great tool for recruiters thanks to its advanced search function, the high hashtag usage, and Twitter lists feature, which allow you to curate groups of users based on interests.

You can find us on Twitter too!

And… if you’re up for sharing some LinkedIn love, check out and like our LinkedIn company page at CXC.


5. Review Your Database and Ask Your Staff

Once you’re set up on social media, you can use other methods of recruitment. Start with your internal database, as you should have some candidates you already pre-verified. If you kept these candidates in the loop during the hiring process, you should be able to contact them.

However, if you’re just getting in the habit of sending rejection letters or general hiring updates, you’ll need to cross some passive candidates off the list. Instead, look to your staff for referrals. To encourage referrals, create a program that rewards employees for placing quality staff.

Keep in mind that your staff may not make referrals, even with a program present, as they may have concerns that a bad hire will reflect poorly on them. Be sure to tell them that won’t be the case.


CXC is a global HR outsourcing organization with 30 years of experience in workforce management. Our innovative and cost-effective solutions help companies gain a competitive advantage by improving efficiency while reducing risks. 

Contact CXC today to start enabling your future workforce.