Passive candidates

Why You Should Be Targeting Passive Candidates

3 min read · By Academic Positions · Published 6 months ago

Universities and research institutes often struggle to find suitable candidates for their open positions. When you’re looking for a new colleague, your first step will most likely be to post the vacancy on your institution’s website and then on an external job board. These strategies will ensure you reach academics who are actively searching for a new job, so-called “active candidates.”

However, job candidate behavioural data suggests that these traditional recruitment strategies reach only about 30% of possible candidates. An estimated 70% of the global workforce is made up of what are called “passive candidates.” While the concept of active and passive candidates will be familiar to those in the private sector, it’s still relatively new in academic hiring.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at passive candidates and explain why you shouldn’t ignore your biggest group of potential hires.

Who are passive candidates?

The easiest way to understand who passive candidates are is to first take a look at active candidates. Active candidates are people who are currently job hunting and actively looking for a new position. For example, an active candidate could be someone who is about to finish their PhD, or a research assistant whose contract is coming to an end. These people frequently check job boards and refresh university career pages to see if there are any vacancies that match what they’re looking for.

As opposed to active candidates, passive candidates are not necessarily looking to change jobs. This group is generally satisfied with their current position, meaning that they don’t often look at job boards or other universities’ websites. For this reason, hiring managers have traditionally ignored these candidates, deeming them “unavailable” and too difficult to reach. They worry that spending time and resources on candidates who are already employed is unlikely to pan out. After all, if someone already has a job, presumably they like it and aren’t looking for another one.

However, a LinkedIn survey shows that this is a serious misconception. According to their data, only 15% of employees are completely satisfied with their current position and would not even consider changing jobs. Most passive candidates are in fact open to new professional challenges and opportunities.

Why target passive candidates?

Since passive candidates make up about 70% of potential candidates, by ignoring them you’re reaching only a fraction of your desired audience. This fact alone justifies the important place they should have in your organization’s talent acquisition strategy. But sheer numbers aren’t the only argument in favour of this particular target group.

It is likely that someone who is already employed and not actively looking for a change of position will make a more long term colleague than someone who is on the lookout for a new job. Passive job seekers aren’t under the same kind of pressure as active candidates. If they accept your job offer, it will be because of genuine enthusiasm for your position and institution. These types of candidates notice and appreciate your carefully curated employer brand, as well as the unique opportunity you can offer.

Since passive candidates are drawn to your institution’s values and goals, they are also generally expected to be more long term employees. The Change Leader, for example, sees hiring people who truly want to work at your institution as the number one action to improve employee retention in higher education. Moving institutions as an established academic (not to mention potentially relocating a family) is a big undertaking and usually only done if that person has long-term plans.

Another aspect to consider is that highly qualified active candidates will probably be interviewing with multiple organizations at the same time. They might accept another offer before you’re able to finalize your own recruitment process or slow you down and keep you waiting while they negotiate other offers. With passive candidates you’re probably only competing with the candidate’s current employer, which could accelerate the often slow academic hiring process.

Targeting passive candidates could lead to a quicker hire and a longer commitment to your institution, which would significantly lower your recruitment costs in the long run.

Don’t rule passive candidates out

When reaching out to passive candidates, you might of course worry that they’re only interested in getting your offer to leverage it for better conditions at their current institution. This concern is understandable considering the time and effort that go into an academic recruitment process. This way of thinking, however, might make you miss out on great, long-term employees.

As we’ve seen, data shows that the majority of employees are open to new challenges and want to further their careers—including the ambitious, highly-qualified academics you’re looking for.

While targeting passive candidates is not without its challenges, their potential should not be overlooked. Passive candidates make up the largest part of the workforce and are oftentimes highly-skilled, experienced candidates that identify with your institution’s values. Given these benefits, dedicating some of your recruitment efforts towards passive candidates is well worth your time.


Guide: 8 Key Factors Shaping Academic Recruitment in 2024

Download our free guide to learn how to incorporate storytelling and content marketing into your talent attraction strategy.


Guide: 8 Key Factors Shaping Academic Recruitment in 2024

Download our free guide to learn how to incorporate storytelling and content marketing into your talent attraction strategy.


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