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How to Recruit Passive Candidates for Your Small Business

Manasa Reddigari

Passive candidates, numbering over 190 million in the U.S., make up the majority of the nationwide talent pool according to HRO Today. But who are they, and how do you attract these under-the-radar workers?

Read on for a primer on passive candidates and how to recruit them for your small business.

What are passive candidates?

Passive candidates are people who are satisfied with their current jobs and don't want to move but open to talking to a recruiter, or open to reaching out to their network of contacts.

Whereas active candidates are in job-hunting mode and submitting applications to businesses. Alternatively, passive candidates aren't actively looking for a job or asking their contacts about possible job openings.

Often, this is because passive candidates are highly qualified. Their robust skill sets and their lack of a need for a job make them in-demand in the eyes of big and small employers.

Herein is the difficulty of recruiting passive candidates: Since their resumes never cross your desk, they won't come to your attention through traditional recruitment strategies. Instead, you as the business will have to seek them out using creative hiring techniques.

What are some strategies for recruiting passive candidates?

Below are several approaches you can take to recruit passive candidates.

Social media

Modern workers are increasingly establishing social media profiles on platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Which make these platforms an ideal place to find and reach out to passive candidates who aren't prowling the usual job boards. Once you reach out, aim to pique his or her interest in the job opportunity you want to fill.

In parallel with this effort, you should establish a social media profile for your own business and actively post links to job descriptions. This way, the passive candidates can find and come to you instead of you having to find them all individually.

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Setting up an employee referral program can bring to your attention those ultra-stealthy candidates who may not be active on social media. After all, employees whom you already know to be reliable are the best source for referring to new talent.

Once you set up the program, encourage employees to tap their network for individuals who may be qualified for a job but not actively looking for one. You can give employees an extra incentive to refer candidates by offering referral bonuses that fit your budget.


When is the last time you scouted out your LinkedIn network to hire a new employee for your small business? If the answer is not recently, you're missing out on a valuable recruitment strategy for passive candidates.

Possibly, that perfect-fit for a job opening is lurking on LinkedIn or another professional group to which you belong. Passive candidates might lurk right under your nose in your local volunteer group, baseball league or another personal network.

Stand-out benefits or perks

Having to compete with the compensation packages of bigger businesses presents yet another challenge when recruiting passive candidates. You should strive to pay employees fairly for every job opening. But beyond that, keep in mind that compensation is only one aspect of an employee's decision to join a business.

You might be able to make up for a lower compensation by offering rapid growth opportunities, a closer-knit team, generous vacation policies or other employee perks that are more appealing than what big businesses usually propose.

What if passive candidates not actively networking or updating their profile?

It's not unreasonable to assume that many passive candidates are not updating their LinkedIn profile or out there networking among their peers. There are a few ways of digging them out of the woodwork.

One way is to use LinkedIn's boolean search feature to conduct "NOT" and "OR" searches. A modifier can broaden the search scope to related roles a candidate may have held previously: e.g., sales OR marketing OR advertising.

If you come across a barebones LinkedIn profile, don't ignore it. Use InMail to reach out to the person and request a short phone call for a more in-depth discussion. Practice the opportunity to learn about their skill set and interests not typically mentioned in that person's LinkedIn profile.

Don't limit your search to individual profiles. Alternatively, search LinkedIn groups catering to the industry of the job you're trying to fill. Find active participants in group discussions and reach out to them. They are likely to be knowledgeable about their industry and may either be passive candidates or know other passive candidates.

Keep your own business's LinkedIn profile current and encourage existing employees to explore their network of like-minded individuals. Do this by holding a short LinkedIn training session and ongoing internal contests that reward participation.

The more active your business is on LinkedIn, the more likely passive candidates are going to find your business. And the more likely it is that you'll become a power user who can discover those hard-to-find candidates on LinkedIn and other social networks.

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