Hiring from passive candidates pool

Active and passive candidates, one over the other, or both?

Passive candidates are people who are already employed and are comfortable with the position they currently hold. However, if approached correctly, they are likely to be open to hearing out new opportunities.

Active candidates may be employed for the time being, but they are actively sending resumes out, or at least always keeping an eye out for new positions and openings. These are people who are seriously looking for and applying for jobs.

70% of the global workforce is made up of passive talent who aren’t actively job searching, and the remaining 30% are active job seekers. By only recruiting from active candidates, you miss out on a large pool of candidates considering that 87% of active and passive candidates are open to new job prospects.

To attract active candidates, companies post job ads on job boards and advertise their open positions via social media, employee referral programs and other means. It’s great when you have a strong employer brand, and job ads attract tons of strong CVs. However, this is not always a viable option for early-stage companies who are not yet established as attractive employers. Job ads also tend to generate a lot of CVs that do not fit the requirements. However, they have to be reviewed nevertheless. Thus, not surprisingly, companies often turn to the passive pool and headhunt relevant candidates using external recruiters, in-house talent acquisition teams or increasingly, hiring managers attempting to do it themselves.

The process of hiring passive candidates

Passive candidates are harder to recruit as you are approaching them rather than them approaching you, so you will need to be more persuasive. On top of that, you have to source them in the first place.


According to Indre Kaikare, the co-founder of jobRely, the first task when hiring passive candidates is finding the ones you would like to approach. This is called sourcing. Although it may seem like finding people would be easy on LinkedIn, the reality is more complicated. In our experience, you will be lucky if 1 in 10 profiles are relevant after you run a boolean query on LinkedIn. It’s not that LinkedIn’s filters don’t work (although sometimes you wonder why a certain profile was included in the search results); it’s just that experience and skills — the two main criteria — are not sufficiently defined by the number of years and keywords alone. You want to evaluate the caliber of previous employers, the scope of responsibilities behind the titles, the depth of skills acquired based on projects and achievements undertaken, and the general progression of the career. A seasoned human eye can make these subtle calculations, but a filtering algorithm cannot (at least not yet).

Here is the math: To hire a candidate from the passive pool, typically you have to reach out to between 100 and 300 candidates. To find this number of candidates, you have to look through 1,000 to 3,000 profiles. One by one, manually, running many different queries on LinkedIn in between. This is many hours of tedious and monotonous work, which is arguably not the best use of an in-house employee’s time.


After sourcing the candidates comes the outreach. Here you will have to decide how personalized the messages should be, which outreach channels to use and how aggressive you want to be with your follow-up sequences.

There are generally two approaches to personalization. One is basic personalization, such as addressing the contact by name and perhaps mentioning his/her current employer or a particular skill that was listed on his/her profile, and another is custom personalization, where you research more deeply and incorporate in your message something that you noticed on his/her profile that is relevant for outreach. The former can be done with outreach automation tools, and the latter requires writing to each contact individually. In our experience, although it may seem that custom personalization is more intimate and hence should generate a better response rate (which is indeed the case), the marginal increase in response rate is not worth the effort of writing hundreds of individual messages. Smart automation is more efficient.

Regarding outreach channels, you may choose between electronic channels such as LinkedIn and email or traditional channels like phone calls or in-person meetings. jobRely works with industries in which electronic channels are the preferred mode of communication. However, we’ve come to see that LinkedIn generates a better response rate than email. Therefore we recommend starting the outreach sequence via LinkedIn and continuing on email if there was no response on LinkedIn.

To increase your chances of getting a response from a passive candidate, you want to send more than one message. But how many should you send? We recommend a five-touch sequence, which is shown to generate the best response rate but at the same time is not too intrusive. First, we start with a LinkedIn Connect invitation with a short note. Second, if the contact connects without a response, we continue with the LinkedIn follow-up message. If there is still no response, we send a second LinkedIn follow-up message after a week or so. If still no response, or the contact has not connected on LinkedIn, we switch to personal email and one additional follow-up. If still no response, this is where we stop, because sending more messages may generate annoyed responses such as “please stop contacting me” or “remove me from your mailing list” — if the candidate is polite, that is. Following up via email, by the way, is only possible if you have managed to hunt down the person’s personal email address, because emailing him/her at a corporate address is not ethical. Quite often, people’s personal emails are not easily available and finding them requires some digging (100% success is not guaranteed).

As for the content of the messages, it’s not rocket science, but you want to make sure they are sharp, concise and personalized to some extent (as discussed above). It is always a good idea to create a few message templates and evaluate them using A/B testing. Typically, you will briefly present your company, describe the open position and explain why the candidate you are reaching out to could be a good fit. Finish with why it would be an exciting opportunity.

Arranging calls/screening interviews

Once the candidates respond to campaign messages, it is worthwhile to ask a few screening questions before committing to a live call or meeting. Just don’t forget that you are still going after the candidate, not vice versa, so don’t expect them to easily agree to do homework or accomplish any tasks — you still have to do more warming up before examining their skills. This is why it’s important to treat the first call as a sales pitch for the company and the position, rather than peppering the candidate with questions about his/her experience, skills and work ethic. Only after the candidate starts to seriously consider exiting his/her current employer and becomes excited to join the company is it time for a more thorough assessment of his/her skills, cultural fit and other criteria.

Key success factors

Here is a list of success factors when hiring from the passive candidates pool:

1. Quality of the LinkedIn profile of the person who is doing the outreach (or on whose behalf the outreach is done). Quite often, this is more important than the quality of the messages. A candidate is more likely to respond to a poorly formatted message from Elon Musk than a perfect copy from Mr. Nobody. This is why we recommend that for early-stage startups, the outreach is done from a C-level person’s LinkedIn account.

2. Employer branding. Perhaps this is more important when searching for active candidates. However it’s also relevant when reaching out to the passive pool. Make sure to brush up the company’s website and social media presence — savvy candidates will certainly pay a visit and form an impression, often before responding.

3. Quality of sourcing. If the response rate of the campaign is less than 10%, then something is wrong and most likely it is the quality of sourcing. Sourcing quality is important not only for response rates, but also for the quality of interviews later — you don’t want to jump on calls with people who responded to the messaging but are going to be dropped after the call.

4. Messaging copies and sequences. It is possible that a campaign is generating a low response rate due to poor copy. There are plenty of templates available on the web — just experiment a bit and do some A/B testing.

5. LinkedIn and email automation. Reaching out to a large pool of candidates with a lot of follow-ups requires some kind of software to automate messaging. There are many options, but you have to consider safety, cloud vs. client-based, support, ease of use, LinkedIn and email integration, CRM integration, advanced natural language processing capabilities to interpret responses, etc.

6. Discipline to take things to the finish. Last but not least, hiring from a passive candidates pool requires persistence and discipline to comb through profiles at the sourcing stage, patiently wait for positive responses, and continue iteration after iteration until  the final result is achieved.

At jobRely, we have the discipline, tools and expertise to successfully help startups find employees in record time, and we provide a better value than external recruiters or a DIY solution.

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