Passive, Active and Pactive Candidates

We’ve blogged in the past about passive candidates and what we believe to be their inherent value but just recently we’re seeing an upsurge in articles written about the potential for all candidates to become ‘active’ and much talk about the new idea of ‘pactive’ candidates. We’ve taken a few of the best articles and compared their relative merits.

Passive candidates are ostensibly those individuals who already hold a position; they may have never given a second thought to moving jobs or seeking alternative employment. A recruiter has then identified them as the ideal candidate for a vacancy they are trying to fill. Why, as Jerry Land at asks, would it be in their interest to talk to that recruiter? Or, to quote, ‘Why should they be open minded enough to have a conversation, if they are already happy?’ As Jerry reasons it, it is for exactly this reason they should take the call:

‘There is no better time for someone to evaluate an opportunity and company with a clear mind without any negative, outside influences or external pressures.’

From this perspective, there is nothing for the candidate to lose from a speculative conversation and they may then become aware of a position that would be ideal for them that they might not have even considered before. Indeed Jerry even goes on to argue that in fact it is the passive candidate in this case who is the one with the most to gain and the most leverage to exert. They are the ones who decide whether or not to approach this new vacancy. He warns that ‘Opportunities will appear to be more appealing than they really are when you’re currently unsatisfied in your position or company.’ Or, to use an everyday metaphor,

‘The worst time to go to the grocery store is when you’re hungry. You’re more likely to buy food that you know is not in your best long-term interests.’

But then, at what point might we consider has this candidate, previously considered ‘passive’, made the step to become ‘active’? Is it when he agrees to attend an interview? When he accepts the new job offer? When he hands in his resignation to his old company? Or was it as soon as he made the decision to take that call with the recruiter?

If it is indeed as early as this then surely then one might claim, as Greg Savage does in his blog The Savage Truth, that ‘there is no such thing as a passive candidate’. Greg believes that ‘everyone is a candidate, all the time’ and

‘the only difference between an ‘active’ and a ‘passive’ job-seeker is a question of timing!’

Greg believes it is the job of the recruiter to ‘convert’ these candidates to active status and ‘ignite their job search’. To do so all it requires is the identification of the correct incentives.

This may, however, seem a tad simplistic in its approach. For surely a candidate will remain passive if they don’t consider the recruiter’s opportunity relevant to them and thus the term retains its merit and application.

So can a middle ground be forged? One which acknowledges a candidate’s right to remain passive? Yet which at the same time allows for those who might not have been looking for new opportunities but become interested once those opportunities find them? As Gary Franklin writes, while everyone has the potential to be an active candidate this by no means suggests that ‘everyone is a potential applicant’ for a position.

Perhaps then the difficulty lies not in assigning a candidate a box to be ticked but in the boxes themselves? Matthew Jeffery and Lisa Scales certainly seem to believe so, having recently unveiled the latest addition to the recruitment lexicon – ‘the pactive candidate’). Debuting at the recent Social Recruiting Conference the term signifies the fluidity of a candidate’s individual situation and the whole spectrum of ‘activity’ on which they sit at any given time.

The choice is no longer strictly between binary ‘passive’ and ‘active’ but instead a system of negotiation and constant flux.

A system which allows for a happily employed ‘passive’ candidate one week becoming an ‘actively’ searching candidate the next. A system for which recruiters will now more than ever need their skills of negotiation, evaluation, common sense and persuasion.

The ‘pactive’ candidate certainly seems to be making an impression and looks set to become a permanent member of the recruiter’s jargon. But what do these articles mean to you? Were you talking about ‘pactive’ candidates before they had their own buzzword? Or are you a firm believer in the value of ‘active’ and ‘passive’ as useful opposing distinctions? As always let us know you thoughts in the comments.