June 14, 2022

The Active Vs Passive Candidate Debate Is Nonsense


Partner at Hirewell. #3 Ranked Sarcastic Commenter on LinkedIn.

Episode Highlights

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When it comes to candidates, passive is good, active is bad.

Or did I get that backwards? Active is the good one?

Let’s take a step back: isn’t this whole distinction silly? Aren’t all people open to better opportunities than what they currently have?

What does this accomplish besides baking in more bias? And taking the onus off companies to sell themselves better?

Jeff Smith and James Hornick break down the false dichotomy and explain how companies should look at the talent pool in episode 45 of The 10 Minute Talent Rant, “The Active Vs Passive Candidate Debate Is Nonsense”

Partner at Hirewell. #3 Ranked Sarcastic Commenter on LinkedIn.

Episode Transcript

The 10 minute talent rant is live. I’m James Hornick joined by Jeff Smith and we are on the clock. The 10 minute talent rant is our ongoing series where we break down things that are broken in the talent acquisition and hiring space. Maybe even pitch a solution or two. I think we got three today. Yeah. Before we dig in, all our content can be found on talentinsights.hirewell.com.

This week’s topic: the active versus passive candidate debate is nonsense. Ready for this one? I am. I missed my clock. I’m going to start this a second ago, anyways. I got it going. You’re good to go. I’ll give you the little signals. So we’re in this weird market right now. It’s kind of like a Schrodinger’s cat market where it’s both dead and alive

at the same time. You’ve got companies that are like laying off and hiring freezes. You got other companies that are hiring like mad. It’s really kind of created a weird dichotomy in terms of the candidate market too, because some people seem way more motivated than others at the same time, so. This was a topic we wanted to get back to for a while.

Yeah, no doubt. We wanted to recap it, but it’s relevant to a few different things, i.e. specifically, how are people evaluating talent in this exact market and hence the title, you know. The old active versus passive candidate debate. So it’s a staple narrative. When you take a step back from and type up some notes from some of our other

more salacious 10 minute talent rants, you’re going to realize how silly and counterproductive this whole thing is. So give us some history. Once upon a time, it was a sales tactic and it wasn’t a malicious one. I don’t think it was, but that’s how it all started. Recruiting firms,

they had to find ways to describe- so way back in the day they had databases full of candidates that no one else had access to and you had to describe like, okay, part of the value of working with us is we can get you talent you can’t otherwise. And saying passive candidates, meaning people who aren’t actively looking just sounded better than we’ve been mining resumes for decades

and we stored them away. We’re also really good at convincing people to give us the names of their coworkers, which is another thing that recruiters used to be great at- they can’t do anymore. But ultimately that’s what it was, you know? It was like they had their own kind of private network.

Now an absurd thing happened suddenly, like everyone just started posting their resumes online, regardless if they’re looking or not. It’s quite the trick LinkedIn pulled off. So everyone’s got the same data nowadays. Recruiting firms had to adjust. There is value they have besides just having their own database and things that they do, but the myth of the whole passive versus active candidates, which is where that all came from, it just kind of still persist and also caused some

fairly destructive and issues and bias in my view. No doubt. I think for those of you watching, the analogy is the MLS versus Redfin. Like it’s the exact analogy, right? So look, the bottom line is good candidates are good candidates. Shocking. I know. It’s crazy. It doesn’t matter if they are actively looking or not. Like we’re idolizing passive folks now.

And shout out to Bob Kay, I’m not even going to try to butcher your last name- for kind of putting this idea in our head. Like it’s absurd. We get requests all the time to only search for candidates who are currently employed. Think about that for literally two seconds. It’s the dumbest thing on the planet.

Yeah. So let’s break down the problems. I think it’s threefold that’s caused by this. So first, it’s an over simplification based upon there’s- false assumptions, there’s biases that leads to harm to candidates. Let’s kind of break down what actually happens here. So there are people who are unemployed and need a job.

Yep. Right? So obviously they’re going to be probably the most motivated of the whole bunch. But you have to realize too, even those people are still going to evaluate companies based upon their past experience. Like there’s still no one who’s going to be like, “well, I’m unemployed and my dreams are dashed to the point where I’ll take absolutely anything.”

No. People still have standards for themselves, you know? And it’s based upon what previous experience they have. Everyone still wants something better if it’s not then with what they currently have, than what they had before. And secondly, the other group is people who are currently working but want something better, which is literally everybody. Everyone. Every single person at your firm or the other firm will take something new

that’s better than what they currently have if it’s presented them in the right way, or if it’s compelling enough. How compelling that is- I mean, we’re talking about a spectrum here, right? We’re not talking about an on, off switch if they’re a passive candidate or they’re not a candidate. Like literally anybody kind of falls into that bucket.

Anyways. Yeah. Second point, it creates a false dichotomy over which is better. I mean, full stop. We get into this whole argument- and it’s not even an argument. We get into these talking points where candidates that apply are inferior to candidates that we source. Inferring that when we go to market, we’re finding these diamonds in the rough. Like no dummy.

We’re literally just writing keywords into our LinkedIn recruiter accounts and finding those people. It’s our context. We sometimes have to name- or it’s in our contracts. We have to name like some of these sources implicitly, just to make sure that there isn’t a bias one way or the other. Employee prestige comes into it too.

Like we only want candidates who are currently working. We hear from these customers all the time, where candidates should be fawning over them to get a chance to work at their shop. GTFO. Seriously. Take a hike. Like it’s a literal definition of having your cake and eating it too. The other point to this is it eliminates all the nuance, which is super important for human interaction.

Back to your spectrum thing, every situation kind of needs to be looked at individually. So when you’re talking to the top folks on the market, either passive or active, like ramming a process down those candidates throat with an utter disregard to their actual story, is you’re running the risk of losing the best available talent irregardless of source for the spot.

So it’s a shitty equation that predictably ends in tears. Yeah. Problem three, doesn’t it just kind of create the job seeker culture of lying and perpetuate it? Like when you think about that- take another step back here. We’ve all had it beaten in our heads that there are acceptable and unacceptable reasons to be looking.

And no matter what your reason is, you have to always present it in the proper way that it’s being evaluated, because you want to be seen in that passive camp that you don’t really need this, but you would be nice if you had it. So everyone’s trying to game the system because they’ve been kind of forced to, you know? It’s like

you don’t want to appear negative, your reason to look has to be good. But wouldn’t it just be refreshing if like, in the spirit of radical candor, which is one of the buzz words nowadays, if people just said “Ah! I’m looking because my boss is an asshole.” Like you want people to be honest, but you really don’t like- where are we, I guess with that, you know? I mean, candidates are constantly trying to look employed.

People have to pay rent. This is a real thing. Like they have to eat, they have to pay rent. They are 100% going to fit to you if they think that, that’s what’s going to get their foot in the door. It’s not a bad quality by design. It’s literally the definition of like survival of the fittest,

right? You’re making them do it, you know? Conversely, employers are- they look for reasons to disqualify candidates. I mean, they’re literally shaping folks into stretching the truth by design. So let’s talk about fixes. We’ve got three. Number one, just evaluate everybody the same, regardless of channel. Inbound (active) versus outbound (passive). It’s silly to weigh one over the other. Stick to a process, get your top of funnel situated, and then move them through the process based on their individual narratives.

Second one, plan on selling everyone the exact same way. Accurately, but with maximum effort and just be pleasantly surprised when you don’t have to. There are going to be some people that don’t need to be sold as hard as others. There are some people who are going to need to be sold way harder. But if you go into each conversation just assuming you have to kind of put your best foot forward, you want to be accurate, but you want to go over the top and give as many details as possible.

You have that lucky day when you don’t need to go that far, but if you kind of have that expectation every time, you’ll always have the best opportunity to get as many candidates interested in you as possible. Yeah, and it rolls right into number three. Sometimes when you’re a great place to work, that all happens organically.

So be a great place to work in, and let people know about it. It’s okay to get off your high horse and consider yourself a Dustin. You might know it in the back of your head, but go to market and peacock a little bit, but in a tactful way. I got a cold call from a candidate yesterday. Literally no joke- who wanted to see what else was out there. You know, never once spoke to this guy. I’m connected with him,

so it’s a first connection. But our content was out there and he was like, you guys don’t seem slimy. I’m going to literally go out of my way to call Jeff first or Hirewell first because, “Hey, I don’t feel like I have to hide behind anything.” And to your point about radical honesty, he straight up told me. And he’s like, my situation kind of blows.

I’m looking for something better. I love when people tell me that kind of stuff like, oh, they’re being real. Yeah. Side note, this one’s been bugging me too. How the hell is like passive the good one, right? Like every other aspect of life, like passive has the negative connotation, except for this? Like passive has the positive connotation. Like who decided that?

And I don’t even know- you know who did? Us.

Oh shit. You’re right. Yeah. That’s our bad. We did it, recruiters did it. Our bad. We are short on clock. That’s a wrap for this week. Thanks again for tuning into the 10 minute talent rant, part of the talent insight series, which is always available for replay on talentinsights.hirewell.com. As well as YouTube, Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify and Amazon.

Jeff, thanks again as always. And everyone out there, we will see you soon.

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