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What’s the difference between active and passive candidates—and how can you recruit both?

What’s the difference between active and passive candidates—and how can you recruit both?
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The key to successfully recruiting your next star employee may lie in understanding the difference between active and passive candidates and developing the right strategies for finding and recruiting passive candidates that you might otherwise overlook.



Recruiting. The word alone makes many of us want to take a deep breath and grab another cup of coffee—especially in technical fields, where the law of supply and demand is alive and well. The national unemployment rate of 3.6% — the lowest in more than 50 years — combined with a limited pool of qualified technical candidates means that the struggle is real. But if you’re only looking at the people actively searching for jobs, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. The key to successfully recruiting your next star employee may lie in understanding the difference between active and passive candidates and developing the right strategies for finding and recruiting passive candidates that you might otherwise overlook.

What is an active candidate?

Active candidates are pounding the pavement, actively searching for new jobs. Maybe they are unemployed due to downsizing, ready to leave jobs they hate, or are seeking new opportunities in which to grow. They are building their employment brand, obsessively checking job boards, sending out resumes and applications, and ready to make the jump today—or at least with two weeks’ notice.

As long as you put your developer job openings out on boards and social media sites where active candidates will see them, you’ll probably capture their attention. However, active candidates only make up about 30% of the talent available to you.

What is a passive candidate?

Passive candidates are under no pressure to leave the job they have, and they’re not necessarily thinking about finding a new job — but if they happen to hear about your amazing opportunity, maybe they would be willing to make a change. They represent the bulk of the software developer market.

The most valuable part of a passive candidate is that they are - usually - far less competitive than engineers who are actively searching for work. Since they are often content in their roles, the likelihood that they have many interviews lined up is very low.

How can you source passive technical candidates?

So how do you go about finding passive candidates? You’ll need to get creative and go beyond the traditional job boards and LinkedIn searches. Here are five tips for sourcing passive candidates:

Social media and internet forums

You can still hit the internet for recruiting, but you’ll want to venture off the beaten path. Check out social media channels such as Reddit, Github, and Stack Overflow, where programmers go to talk about programming. And don’t just lurk there — search for the programming languages your company uses, and start conversations with people who are also interested in those languages. In addition, stay active on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as your own company website to connect with passive candidates and subtly encourage them to be open to new opportunities with you.

Conferences and events

When it comes to identifying passive candidates at conferences and events, you might think it’s only to “go big or go home,” but that’s not necessarily the case. Certainly, you’ll want to look for the best developers and programmers at major industry-leading events such as Apple’s WWDC and Google’s Next. But your next amazing employee might also be an early adopter who’s always checking Meetup and Eventbrite for niche conferences with new technologies. Make sure you go there as well; with smaller crowds, you’ll definitely have a better chance of catching their time and attention.

Employee referrals

Birds of a feather flock together, and so do employees. The members of your staff know your company and its needs, and they also probably know other people who would be a great fit. So ask your employees for potential passive candidates. Whether you have an official employee referral program with financial incentives, or you just casually remind folks to keep an eye out for top talent, you’ll want to collaborate with your employees to build a strong pool of candidates for your next job opening — and their next partner on a long-term project or for a quick water cooler chat.


We love that developers often take our coding quiz just for fun. With confidential results, they can see how they stack up without worrying about sending up red flags to their current employer. Once they take the assessment, they’re accepted into our database for life. When you’re looking for new talent, we can help you find self-taught coders, former entrepreneurs, area specialists, and other passive candidates who just might fit the bill.

DIY database

Regardless of whether you find them online, at conferences and meetings, through referrals, cold calls, from us, or from another source, you should keep a file of potential candidates. Remember to include people you’ve interviewed and liked, but weren’t a good fit for that particular role. Set up a simple database with their contact information, qualifications, experience, strengths, and where and how you met them. Then, when you have an opening, finding top passive candidates will be as simple as a quick search of your vibrant database.

How can you attract passive candidates?

Now it’s time to build a sustainable talent pool by getting these attractive passive candidates to take an interest in your company as well. You can start with cold call recruitment. You can leverage job board integration, linking job postings on your website with your social media presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. But the key to getting and keeping their attention begins with building relationships.

Certainly, the fact that you’re making an effort to connect with them is a plus. But for passive candidates to take a genuine interest in your organization and any current or future roles, you have to take a genuine interest in them first. Think about what it would take for them to move to your company.

Do they seem interested in advancing their careers? Do they appreciate a corporate culture such as the great one you’ve built? Are benefits important to them? Is your messaging both educational and engaging so they are eager to learn more?

Get to know what your target audience wants, then show them how you can offer all that — and more.

How can you recruit passive candidates?

Now that you have found solid passive candidates and you have captured their interest in your company, how do you recruit them to accept your extraordinary job opportunities? Here are five questions to ask yourself:

What’s on their minds professionally?

Before heading to a conference or meeting to network with your targeted passive candidates in person, head over to their social media postings to check out their latest projects, interests, and research papers or blogs. Dale Carnegie, bestselling author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” said it best: “Talk in terms of the other people’s interest.” That guidance holds true when recruiting passive candidates.

Where are they now?

Remember, passive candidates probably want to stay where they are. A new job title or even job security won’t be enough to convince them to leave. Your job is to understand the company where your candidate currently works, figure out what your candidate truly wants, and then find and fill the gaps. Study the work environment, culture, benefits, opportunities, and challenges of the passive candidates’ current situations, then sell them on all the ways that your job opportunities are better.

Where do they want to be?

Now it’s your turn to highlight all the reasons that your open roles are a step up from their current ones. Go beyond talking about money and your overall compensation package, which is probably similar to what talented developers already have. Emphasize exciting new projects in their area of interest and expertise, opportunities for long-term professional advancement, the chance to take on a leadership role, a better work/life balance — whatever your secret sauce may be.

How can they succeed in these roles?

You have already matched the candidate to your job description, so don’t waste time talking about the skills, experience, or requirements needed for the roles. Also, don’t tie yourself to specific proficiencies; recruiting passive candidates is a great way to “hire for attitude, train for skills.” Focus your discussions on your expectations, the results you’re looking for, the match with your passive candidates’ passions, and how front-runners can be successful at your organization.

How can you stay on their radar?

Everyone is busy, and finding a new job isn’t at the top of a passive candidate’s to-do list. Strike a balance with your in-person, phone, social media, and other outreach to ensure that when your ideal candidates are ready to listen, your voice is the first one they hear.

How can Triplebyte help?

If you’re debating whether to recruit active vs. passive candidates for your next hiring process, the answer is simple: Do both. The approaches are different but complementary. You should pursue active candidates using the tried-and-reasonably-true option of posting on job boards and social media sites while also filling your prospective pipeline with passive candidates by building relationships and talking their language.

Triplebyte can help you identify both active and passive candidates for the open roles on your team. We help you find highly-skilled, prescreened, and diverse technical talent in order to save you time and money throughout the hiring process. With us, companies improve their onsite-to-hire ratio to 40% — that’s roughly twice the industry standard. The data speaks for itself.

Book a demo to start reviewing top engineering candidates today.

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