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Passive candidate sourcing: step-by-step guide [2024]

70% of the workforce is passive talent. They are not looking for a job, but the majority is open to offers. This is how to tap into the biggest and most untapped pool of talent out there.

September 29, 2020
Yuma Heymans
March 8, 2024

Why passive candidate sourcing is effective

Passive candidate sourcing is recruiting for talent who have not indicated that they are open for a new job and are not applying for any jobs.

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

And for good reasons.

Passive candidates make up the biggest talent pool

70% of the workforce is passive talent (source).

They are not actively looking for a job but are mostly open to discuss opportunities that are relevant for them.

83% of talent acquisition professionals see passive sourcing as an important source of hire (source).

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.

This enables you to source in a bigger talent pool and have less competition at the same time.

Matches are more accurate

With passive candidate sourcing you decide who to reach out to.

With active sourcing a lot of unqualified people apply to your job that you will have to screen. This creates a lot of noise and can be a big waste of your time.

On average, you will invite just 2% of candidates that applied to a job for a conversation. The other 98% you have to screen but will not lead to any next steps.

Quality of passive candidates is higher

When recruiters focus their efforts on passive sourcing, 73% of them find higher quality candidates (source).

Even if an active candidate seems to be the right candidate, they might not have the right reasons to apply for the job.

They might be laid off or desperate to find just any job to get out of the discomfort at their current job.

These cases sometimes only surface when you already hired them.

Passive candidates are usually of higher quality because if they show interest in your job, it is usually because they really like the job you’re offering. Otherwise there would not be a good reason to leave their current job.

There is more data than ever

On LinkedIn only there are already 700 million users. GitHub has 65 million, Xing 19 million, Stack Overflow 14 million, Kaggle 5 million, AngelList 2.5 million not even to mention Facebook, Dribble, Twitter, Reddit and all the other platforms.

This data and the access to it enables you to find passive candidates in a very efficient way.

How to recruit for passive candidates

Passive candidates are usually employed. So it requires the right strategy to win them for your company and job.

You need know where to look for them, how you can screen profiles and information and you need to know how to reach out to them.

These are de steps that make you win in passive candidate sourcing:

  1. Know where to find your candidates
  2. Screen profiles using the right tooling
  3. Find contact details
  4. Hyper-personalize outreach
  5. Follow up and build the relationship

1. Know where to find your candidates

LinkedIn is flushed by recruiters searching for candidates. The competition is fierce, so you have to differentiate your approach from other recruiters.

Many candidates can be found in other places than LinkedIn.

And as a matter of fact, many talent categories prefer to spend their time on other platforms than LinkedIn.  

Take engineers for example, you can better find them on platforms like GitHub and Stack Overflow.

And there are many other platforms where engineers can be found:

  • GitHub, all engineers
  • Stack Overflow, all engineers
  • Reddit, all engineers
  • HackerRank, all engineers
  • AngelList, startup minded engineers
  • Xing, German area engineers
  • Kaggle, data scientists and data engineers
  • Medium, engineers with a voice
  • Tumblr, all engineers
  • ResearchGate, (data) research focussed engineers
  • GitLab, all engineers
  • Coderwall, all engineers
  • Dev.to, all engineers
  • StackShare, all engineers

Also other talent can be found in different places.

Sales executives and marketers can be found on:

  • Medium
  • Twitter
  • Xing
  • AngelList

Designers can be found on:

  • Dribbble
  • Behance

Find all alternative sources to LinkedIn here:

Select the platforms that match your target talent pool and search them using an X-ray search or a talent search engine.

2. Screen profiles using the right tooling

There are more than one billion profiles across the internet.

You're obviously not going to screen through all those profiles so you need to be smart about filtering your profiles so you end up with a good selection of candidates that you can manage to screen for fit with your job.

Since we're talking about lots of data here, a tool can be really helpful to do the initial filtering.

One tool that is used to search and screen tech profiles is HeroHunt.ai.

HeroHunt.ai takes your job description and automatically translates this to a search.

Based on that search, the best candidates are found through different platforms and given to you so you can do your final screening.

The recruiter gives in their job description and based on that the keywords are automatically recognized.

Candidates from different platforms are matched based on those keywords and returned to the recruiter, including public contact

3. Find contact details

Now you have made your selection of candidates, you can start reaching out to them.

To do that the first thing you need are contact details.

You can send a LinkedIn message, but response rates on LinkedIn are not always the best for the roles you're recruiting and you might not have a LinkedIn profile in the first place.

Therefore it helps to find additional contact details like email, phone and Twitter.

You can use a talent search engine that finds contact details.

Or use a contact finder like ContactOut, Lusha or RocketReach.

4. Hyper-personalize outreach

Remember that when you reach out to passive candidates, it is very likely that they haven’t interacted with you or your brand yet.

Next to that, good candidates get a lot of mismatched outreach messages by recruiters who ‘spray and pray’ using automated messages.

Therefore you have to differentiate yourself from them and really deep dive into their background and interests and show in your outreach that you’ve done your research.

A hyper-personalized outreach message could look something like this:

Hi [first name], I saw that you’re a big Guardians of The Galaxy fan, can’t wait until the GoTG 3 release in 2023.

I’ve been looking at your GitHub repos and was impressed with your JavaScript projects, especially the chrome dev tools projects, not something I have seen a lot of people working on but seems to be very relevant.

With [your company name] we’re building out our [subject] app which is reaching 15k business clients and we’re looking for someone who’s able to not only write smashing JS code but who also can take the junior team to the next level (this is the product and tech stack we’re building on).

With the variety of your JS projects and the level of complexity you’re handling it seems to be something that you might love to do.

If you want to have a chat over this you can reply in short and I'll take care of arranging our chat. Enjoy this sunny day!

5. Follow up and build the relationship

Don’t dismiss talent that’s not a perfect fit for your current positions. You will literally let future hires go to waste.

Build a relationship and show how your company can focus on the long term value of a relationship. Don’t get transactional.

Show the candidate that you're valuable for them and can help them progress their career and find something they love.

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