min read

How to engage passive candidates

Passive candidates are the biggest source of talent for any company. This is how you engage them so they feel invested in your company and job positions.

September 29, 2020
Yuma Heymans
November 14, 2022

Passive candidates are the biggest group of available talent out there. As a recruiter, you can focus on recruiting by a ‘post and pray’ approach where you advertise your job ads and wait for active candidates to come in. Or… you can spearfish the highest quality candidates in the market; passive candidates.

Why is that a good idea?

Because 70% of the entire available global talent pool are passive candidates. Just 30% are active candidates who are actively looking for a job on job boards.

85% of all candidates are open to new job opportunities.

openness to job opportunities, source: LinkedIn

When you rethink your approach to passive candidates an entire pool of candidates opens up. In addition, passive candidates on average are of a better quality than active candidates.

Where most recruiters focus on inbound candidates who have applied to job posts, there are recruiters that choose to focus on passive candidate sourcing.

This is why passive candidates are increasingly interesting for recruiters:

  • Passive candidates make up the biggest talent pool: 70% of the workforce is passive talent
  • Matches are more accurate: with active candidate recruitment you will on average invite just 2% of candidates that applied for an interview, with passive candidate sourcing you can spearfish for the exact talent you think would be best
  • Quality of passive candidates is higher: 73% of recruiters find higher quality candidates when focusing on passive candidates.
  • There is less competition for passive candidates: because the majority of recruiters still rely on active candidate recruitment the competition for passive candidates is less.

The proven approach to reach passive candidates is not job boards, but rather proactive outreach (outbound recruiting).

But once you find passive candidates, how do you engage them in your employer brand and open jobs?

Enough reason to write this guide on how to engage passive candidates.

These are the topics we’ll discuss in this blog:

  1. Why engagement is important for passive candidates
  2. How to engage passive candidates
  3. Tools to use for passive candidate engagement

1. Why engagement is important for passive candidates

Because passive candidates are not actively searching for a job yet, engaging them (proactively) is even more important than with active candidates.

Passive candidates are not invested in your employer brand yet, they’re probably not even aware of the existence of your company let alone your job positions.

Aso, candidates have more opportunities and higher expectations than ever before so it’s harder to get them to consider your employer brand.

You have to engage them over a series of interactions, or touch points, to get them caring about your company as a potential employer.

Imagine being approached on the street by an absolute stranger. Shortly after introducing themselves they ask you to come with them to have a look at something they’re offering. Would you go with them? Probably not, but this is what most recruiters do in approaching candidates: one shot direct messages that focus on the need of the company, instead of focussing on the candidate’s need for the longer term.

To get passive candidates acquainted, comfortable and excited about your employer brand and job offering you need several touch points over time where you provide the right information at the right time and be available to the candidate.

That’s what engagement is all about.

2. How to engage passive candidates

Since passive candidates still have to become aware of your employer brand and jobs and they are heavily competed for, you need a proactive approach to engage them. 

Funny enough, passive tactics don’t work for passive candidates

Job posts won’t attract passive candidates because they’re not actively looking for jobs.

To engage passive candidates you need to reach them proactively and keep them engaged over a longer period of time to get them interested enough to invest their time in further exploring what you’re offering.

It helps to look at the marketing funnel as a reference: the marketing funnel is a concept designed to show the stages that a lead moves through when evaluating a product. The same funnel can be applied to the (passive) candidate evaluation of their next potential employer.

Source original image: Sprout

These are the marketing funnel stages translated to the candidate journey:

  • Awareness: the candidate knows of the existence of the hiring company
  • Consideration: the candidate considers becoming an employee of the company
  • Conversion: the candidate becomes an employee of the company
  • Loyalty (employees): the employee decides to stay for a bit with the company
  • Advocacy (employees): the employee becomes the ‘recruiter’ themselves and promotes the employer brand 

The conversion through this funnel can take 2 weeks to complete for the one candidate and months or even years for the other. For most candidates the funnel will never complete at all because they drop off at earlier stages.

Many candidates, or leads, drop off during the engagement with the hiring company. They become disengaged. That’s something you can prevent by providing the right touchpoints in the funnel.

Most of the engagement activities can be partly automated. See the last part of this guide on tools you can use to do this.

This is how you can engage passive candidates throughout the funnel:


In the awareness stage the passive candidate has yet to hear from you and realize that you even exist. They have yet to become aware of your employer brand, team culture and job opportunities.

In the awareness stage it is especially important to provide the right information in an enticing way so the curiosity of the potential candidates get triggered.

The goal of the awareness stage is to get the candidate curious enough to explore your company further.

How to engage candidates in the awareness stage:

  1. Use outbound recruiting tactics like email outreach to land in the personal mailbox of the candidate and make them aware about the existence of your company and open job positions (see here the full email outreach guide).
  2. Write blogs about your company, team and culture to pull candidates into your employer story.
  3. Create educational content that your candidate target market typically searches for to attract talent that is looking for answers to their professional questions but might end up applying for your jobs.
  4. Launch an Employer Brand Awareness campaign to target potential candidates with content on your employer brand: this can be anything from company videos to social media posts.


In the consideration stage the passive candidate has seen your initial outreach and has expressed initial interest in the hiring company and open jobs.

At this stage they are considering making a job change but are not convinced yet if they should do it. They are typically evaluating their options, you being one of them, and researching your employer brand, the team and the open job position.

The goal of the consideration stage is to focus the candidate’s attention on you as their best option.

How to engage candidates in the consideration stage:

  1. Send personal follow up mails after the candidate has shown interest, share valuable information about the company, role and benefits (here’s a full guide on personalization).
  2. Offer multiple channels for the candidate to reach you and learn more about your employer brand and jobs, use channels like chatbots, email, forums and social media to interact with candidates who have questions.
  3. Send a weekly email newsletter out to candidates in this stage about your company to inform them about team activities, company cultural values and open jobs.
  4. Connect with the candidate on social media so you keep up to date with their (professional) lives and you can better understand where they are in their career exploration.


In the conversion stage the passive candidate will confirm (or not confirm) their interest by making a decision about proceeding with their application. The most important decisions in this stage for the candidate will be 1) if they will officially apply and 2) if they take the job when offered.

The goal of the conversion stage is to give the right information to the candidate about the company, team, job and benefits and excite the candidate about the prospect of becoming an employee.

How to engage candidates in the conversion stage:

  1. Check-in with the candidate with email, direct messaging or phone call and see if they’re ready to move on to the next stage.
  2. Now you have developed the relationship with the candidate further, use more direct and personal communication channels like SMS or Whatsapp to keep the candidate informed about the rest of the process.
  3. Introduce more stakeholders like future team members and executives to the engagement process so the candidate gets acquainted with the team and feels more invested in the company and job opportunity.
  4. If the candidate doesn’t take a job offer directly, nurture the candidate with valuable information and updates about the company and new job opportunities that might be a better fit.

3. Tools to use for passive candidate engagement

Engagement doesn’t have to be a manual process. In many cases the use of automation tools increase the level of engagement of the candidate and bring more efficiency in the process.

With this set of tools you can enable the full cycle of passive candidate engagement.


An ATS (Applicant Tracking System) is a software application that helps organizations to manage the recruitment process, including job postings, applications, resumes, and candidate tracking.

Organizations use ATS to collect, store, and track job applicants throughout the recruitment process. The system may also be used to screen candidates, schedule interviews, and communicate with applicants.

An ATS is very helpful from a candidate engagement perspective because you need one source of truth where you manage all the information around the candidate’s profile and when you last interacted with them to be able to engage with them in an informed way in the future.

Example: Beamery

Talent search & engagement tool

A talent search and engagement tool is a software that helps companies identify and engage with potential hires. It does this by searching for candidates who match the company’s desired skills and qualifications, and then connecting them with the company through various channels such as email and social media.

Some talent search & engagement tools can find billions of profiles with rich profile information and have a very high level of outreach personalization and automation.

A talent search & engagement tool is important from a candidate engagement perspective because you can initiate relationships with new passive candidates that you didn't find before.

Example: HeroHunt.ai

Email marketing tool

An email marketing tool is a software application that helps the hiring company manage their email marketing campaigns to candidates. It provides a way to create and send mass emails, track the results of your campaigns, and segment your email list.

Email marketing tools can be used to promote new open job positions, increase employer brand awareness and drive traffic to your career page. They can also be used to grow relationships with candidates and candidate prospects.

Email marketing tools are important from a candidate engagement perspective because they help automate a steady flow of touchpoints through email with the candidate over a longer period of time so you stay top of mind as their possible future employer.

Example: Sendinblue

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