How to Find Employees in the Era of the “New Passive”

In today’s “new passive” market, where nearly everyone can be considered a candidate, creative searching and outside-the-box thinking leads to more effective recruiters, and, in turn, employers that can fill their open jobs and keep more of their employees for the long run.

Let’s face it—recruiting and finding new, qualified employees isn’t getting any easier. As the economy has improved since the Great Recession, more people are employed and fewer are landing in the laps of hiring managers waiting for their start dates. Hiring times have changed. Last year, the United States alone added more than 2.5 million jobs, its best year since the turn of the 21st century. Good for the U.S., bad for us.

This change is causing recruiters and HR to shift the way they think about effective recruiting and the very nature of a “candidate.” No longer are our inboxes flooded with easy-to-find active candidates looking for any work at all or new work and a new challenge. And while passive candidates traditionally have been the white whales of the recruiting industry—people who are already gainfully employed tend to be the best candidates—the very definition of a “passive candidate” has changed drastically, as well. With today’s talent market thinning, recruiters are rapidly broadening their concept of candidate, blurring the traditional lines of the simple two-dimensional categories.

The old definition of “passive” is no longer relevant. It doesn’t encompass what it truly means to be a passive candidate in today’s dynamic talent market. The definition must be broadened.

We have entered the era of the “new passive.”

What Is the “New Passive”?

In the era of the “new passive,” everyone can and should be considered a passive candidate for any role, at any time. According to an Indeed survey conducted by The Polling Company, 85 percent of employers agree that highly skilled, in-demand workers are now the ones keeping an eye out for new employment opportunities. Start a conversation the right way and anyone will listen.

However, another problem exists in this world of “everyone’s a candidate.” With more employed-but-looking people and fewer truly “active” candidates, being in the right place at the right time is now as important as knowing where to look in the first place. Even worse, on sites such as, the recruiter sees contact information only if the candidate shows engaged interest in the job. The power is once again in the hands of the candidate.

So when the traditional recruiting rules are erased and candidates hold the majority of the power in this relationship, what are recruiters and HR to do?

Out of the Box Is in

The simplest, most obvious steps are usually the ones most often overlooked. Surviving and thriving in this “new passive” talent era begins with developing a solid engagement strategy and a strong process in order to capitalize on candidates’ interest.

Today, the focus of recruiters and hiring managers should include not only skilled and secure candidates, but skilled talent in various states of employment, as well as those with tangential skills, or those with surprisingly unrelated skills that offer an employer a new perspective or a strategic balance to an existing team.

Creativity in recruiting today is a must. Talented recruiters can look a resume or candidate profile like a doctor looks at an X-ray. Most people can see the bones and the general outline of a body, yet few can read the results and see through to find the breaks. A strong recruiter can translate a candidate’s tangential accomplishments and skills into the profile of an applicant who needs just a little training to become the perfect fit and a more satisfied employee. By expanding what qualifies as “passive,” recruiters will find they’re having more positive discussions about applicable skills, cross-training, and better employee engagement.

  • Discover applicable skills: Finding diamond-in-the-rough candidates begins with prioritizing “skill searching” ahead of “experience searching.” By examining skills at the onset, it can be easier to identify what talents a person has that may be applicable in a different job, industry, responsibility, etc. A talented, creative recruiter will be able to decipher what skills can be best transferred to the role at hand.
  • Embrace cross-training: With many companies beginning to (finally) realize the importance of training again now that the economy has recovered, candidate searches should be expanded to include those who, regardless of specific prior experience, can be cross-trained in a new role. Another positive to increasing training opportunities: Candidates who haven’t been fully ingrained in an industry often are seen as more malleable, reporting better skill development because prior methods and habits do not need to be “trained out.”
  • Improve candidate and employee engagement: There is a side benefit of this change in recruiting methodology. By expanding conversations and breaking norms, recruiters and hiring managers can develop their own skills that make them more adept at assessing where employees’ interests lie and how their skills may be better applied elsewhere. By expanding what constitutes a quality candidate, recruiters and HR professionals will improve their relationships with candidates and current employees, finding ways to make them both happier in current and future roles.

The best recruiters aren’t those who can find the obvious candidate. Anyone can do that. The good ones can see a job description and a seemingly unqualified candidate profile, match them up, and know there is untapped potential just waiting to be unleashed.

In today’s “new passive” market, where nearly everyone can be considered a candidate, creative searching and outside-the-box thinking leads to more effective recruiters, and, in turn, employers that can fill their open jobs and keep more of their employees for the long run.

As vice president of Recruitment Process Outsourcing at Yoh, Andy Roane is responsible for driving the strategic direction, as well as leading the delivery of Yoh’s RPO business. Roane brings more than 15 years of human capital industry experience to the role, including six years as vice president of Operations for PeopleScout, where he led RPO engagements with Fortune 500 companies.

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