How To Be A Passive Candidate When You Are An Active Candidate

When I started my job search I didn’t realize I was a “candidate.” Much less, I didn’t understand I was the worst kind of candidate… that is, one who is actively looking for a job. As I started understanding the recruiter world, I learned this:

An active candidate is someone out of work and actively looking for a job.

A passive candidate is someone who doesn’t know they are looking for a job, and seem to be happily employed.

The idea is, if you are an active candidate, you probably suck. There is some reason you are out of work. Perhaps you are incompetent. Perhaps you were fired with cause. Perhaps you slept on the job, made too much noise, didn’t produce well, etc. All of the things that would make me, as an employer, NOT want to hire you.

You are a Loser.

On the flip side, a passive candidate is the golden candidate. Since they have a job, they must be good, right? They work well with others, are competent, add value to the company, and probably won’t deliver any grief to anyone… and this is exactly what a recruiter wants to take to their client (the company with a job opening)… not a loser, but a winner!

Obviously, whoever came up with this theory has never seen THE OFFICE!

I found out how this works when I was an active candidate. I was a loser, and it really, really sucked.

It’s unfair, and in my mind, discriminatory. But hey, we’re human, and that’s how it is.

Regardless of what I’ve done before, or what I could produce for your company, I was not desirable.

Just because of one thing (my unemployment status), something that I was trying desperately to resolve.

So how do you become a passive candidate when you are, indeed, an active candidate? I’ll share two ideas, but I’d love to hear your ideas:

  1. Volunteer. Seth Godin wrote for a blog carnival I had almost two years ago that he would volunteer for 6 weeks. Imagine, put yourself in a professional environment, doing what I was good at, meeting new people, rubbing shoulders with decision-makers where I was not a “job seeker,” rather “Jason the [job title].” Powerful, eh?
  2. Have an awesome profile on LinkedIn. Harry Joiner, the Marketing Headhunter, told me he calls LinkedIn his “passive candidate database.” Go there and look like a passive candidate.

I know there are more ways to be, or appear like, a passive candidate… what have you done or seen?

8 thoughts on “How To Be A Passive Candidate When You Are An Active Candidate”

  1. There are so many examples of how to not be a loser. They all point to being aware of your SWOT and making deposits in your bank balance networking when you don’t need anything specific.
    As a connector who thinks everyone should be active candidates, I help people differently in this order of preference:
    1) contact me because they are working themselves out of a job or company is accomplishing exit this year. Has been a resource for me and/or my valued contacts.
    2) contact me because change is causing a more proactive look at specific companies. Already knows what is going on out there.
    3) contact me because they just got fired and know I know people. (these people get tough love first)
    4) To whom it may concern, I would be a perfect fit for your company or clients. (real tough love from me and likely I will not be a connector for them)

    You may like ideas in my post called “Recruiters Suck in this Town”

  2. The real issue here is a poor understanding of personal branding and the need to build real relationships. Just last week I mentioned to a co-worker that I use JibberJobber and LinkedIn to manage and nuture relationships. His response to me was: “Oh, are you looking for a new job?” I said absolutely not. These are simply tools to manage and grow relationships.

    I hate identifying a problem without offering a solution, but I think we (those who get it) need to do a better job of educating people on personal branding, relationship building and turning them into passive candidates. I don’t know how we do that.

  3. WOW Weeeee! I love this very direct post. Jason, you say things in this post, that I have thought about saying. This paragraph was exceptional: “The idea is, if you are an active candidate, you probably suck. There is some reason you are out of work. Perhaps you are incompetent. Perhaps you were fired with cause. Perhaps you slept on the job, made too much noise, didn’t produce well, etc. All of the things that would make me, as an employer, NOT want to hire you.”

    When I am in a coaching relationship, I am very direct, no holds bar (tough love as described by David). Thank you for inspiring me. I will be linking back here to this post.

    As far as how to make active candidates passive. I believe assisting people get jobs is at the forefront, given your definition. If they are not employed, helping them understand what’s in their way. Helping candidates self-correct. What is it that they are accountable for that placed them in the ranks of unemployment. I believe the issue of accountability looms large when dealing with unemployed candidates. Many times, they are wallowing in self-pity or playing the shame/blame game. As a coach these are the two things I go after first. Candidates are completely unproductive if they are hanging out in self-pity or shame/blame. That’s my two cents. More to come on my post.

    Interview Guru

  4. I think one of the most important things you can do is be prepared and ahead of the curve. If you see an imminent job switch brewing, either because of firing, or a contract ending, or quitting in a fit of righteous indignation, then be prepared as soon as possible and start marketing yourself while you’re still employed.

  5. Jason,

    I focus on teaching people to create a team-based approach to their career. Being active or passive only changes the activities team members are engaged in. By using a team-based approach, each member of the team supports the other member’s career, in whatever capacity that may be. Maybe it’s marketing their skills for a new project, promoting their abilities to specific managers to get them hired, connecting them with key social network members within the company, downplaying a political faux-pas, teaching each other specific skills, helping accomplish tasks and tons of other possible scenarios. The real jist to a successful career is not getting caught alone. There’s no quicker way to become active than not having others looking out for your reputation and how others, especially those influential managers, perceive your abilities. The real power to this approach is that you CAN paint the perceptions you want managers to have of you. We’ve tested it. Use your team to paint your desired perceptions. Managers don’t work close enough to their employees to refute the evidence provided by your team members. Also, most people will believe others before they believe you, especially when you are praising your own abilities.

    Never Climb Alone,

    Todd Rhoad, MSEE, MBA
    Author, Blitz The Ladder

  6. Hi, Jason – great post. The whole notion of active vs. passive as a reason for choosing/excluding candidates seems to me an arbitrary and short-sighted action by recruiters. I wrote an article for trying to convince recruiters to shed their bias against active candidates. My point: they bring (or should bring) much more to the process than simply uncovering passive candidates. Also, why should those very same highly desirable passive candidates turn – overnight! – into dog meat simply because they’re no longer employed or decide to actively look? They have the identical set of skills, experience, accomplishments, etc., that they had the day before.

  7. Jason-

    Glad to see that you are facilitating another conversation about this deceptive distinction between active and passive candidates. I recall that Deb Dib wrote about this on Career Hub, and I commented then as well.
    A few new reflections:
    * Every passive candidate is one e-mail or phone call away from becoming active – the status ascribed to passive candidates is short-lived.
    * Passive candidates may not be fully engaged in the management of their careers. Such candidates may not have long-term staying power if placed, as it is likely that they haven’t fully vetted the new company and/or industry.
    * Why should we ascribe greater value those who are not actively involved in managing their own career? One of the most important roles played by a manager or executive is that of mentor – one must be able to lead by example.
    At the risk of seeming self-serving, I wrote a post this morning that advocates a candidate-based proactive approach to career management – one that is effective (I think it is imperative) regardless of whether you are considered “passive” or “active.”

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