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Active vs. Passive Job Candidates: Not Either/Or but Both/And

February 15

Thinking in rigid dichotomies has become less rewarding for employment management. A case in point is the recent Internet debate on blogs and chat sites about the relative value of active and passive job candidates. Conventional wisdom has held that these two constitute very separate categories, requiring specialized techniques. Active candidates supposedly are the low-hanging fruit. They are not nearly as valuable as passive candidates, pictured as a highly skilled, happily employed, hard-to-get denizens of the deep thickets of the corporate jungle.

This picture was more accurate when job hunting was a time-consuming laborious process, dependent on paper resumes and phone calls. Once hired, only the most ambitious wanted to pursue it as a leisure time activity. Yet the digital era has blurred the hard and fast boundaries between who's looking for a job, who's completely satisfied and who's always ready to move should the right offer come along. This latter group clearly transcends the old active versus passive categorization.

As a result, the stock of active candidacy is rapidly increasing. Many qualified people are easily accessible via online job boards. After all, few must give up their Sundays to searching want ads. Whether "desperately seeking" or "just looking," with a few clicks, anyone can see where greener pastures lie. After all, today the average job tenure is shrinking to the three-year mark, and loyalty is a tenuous bargaining chip for both sides.

Astute employees of any stripe regard themselves as free agents. Remaining cognizant of their marketplace value is critical to their long-term success. The shrewd employer at the other end of the chessboard similarly needs a new strategy that encompasses both active and passive candidates. The either/or paradigm is simply no longer helpful for complex issues like quantum mechanics, global economics and staffing.

Fortunately, the same online tools available for the "never-satisfied employee" are easily accessible for the hiring manager. You can cost-effectively dangle opportunities in front of a large pool of candidates irrespective of their present job status. Responses will likely cover a spectrum of people from ardent job seekers to those whom in a bygone era would be called passive. Some passive candidates may be worth the chase. But neglecting the active job seeker can burn time, energy and money. The "both/and strategy," geared to the current career marketplace, should budget carefully for the hats in the ring. Otherwise the shoes can go unfilled.

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