HR & Management

How to engage passive candidates when recruiting for growth

6 min read

20 June 2018

Not all candidates approach the job search like they would any day-to-day task, with energy and proactivity. Some are less enthused by the process and engage on a more passive level. 

Nowhere are passive candidates more prevalent than in the technology sector, where the skills gap is a major issue and many software developers just aren’t being active in their job search. HR managers and recruiters in the tech space have had to work around this in novel ways, which can be applied to a number of other industries.

Defining the problem: what are passive candidates?

Not everyone who might be interested in a job will actively apply to it, even when approached with an opportunity. In the tech industry this group makes up a significant part of the candidate pool, where developers (technical staff like programmers and data scientists) are spoilt for choice when it comes to new jobs.

According to Stack Overflow’s global developer hiring landscape report, which is based on data gathered from over 100,000 developers, only 11% of developers in the UK are actively looking for jobs. Some 56% are not actively looking, and over 94% are employed at least part time.

This poses a real challenge for recruiters. There are more jobs to fill than ever, but the talent pool for those jobs is by and large unengaged and uninterested in hearing about opportunities that might be available. Sound familiar?

Know your candidates

It’s no secret that tech professionals are tough for HR to really get to grips with. Their work is fundamentally something that many people don’t have direct experience of and can’t relate to. This means recruiters in technology have to go the extra mile to really understand candidates and make sure they’re communicating with them effectively.

Stack Overflow’s report also details that salary is top of the list of things developers want to find out from job listings. No surprises there. Next on the list, however, is information about what technologies they’d be working with, and after that, details of opportunities for professional development.
It’s more complicated than that. While salary details top the list of considerations for men surveyed, women, gender non-binary and transgender job prospects valued the office environment and company culture as more important.
So understand your candidates and what they’re looking for in a new job. If you’re armed with this knowledge, you’ll find it’s easier to create compelling messages that actually engage the people you’re talking to, as well as cut out any unnecessary information that you might not need to disclose in order inspire a reply. 

Make the case for switching jobs

Some people might need a little encouragement to consider making a move. In the tech world, developers tend to prefer jobs where they can work with the latest technologies, and so it’s become standard practice for companies to use job postings and recruiting content to show off the modern tools and technologies the company uses.

This is just as applicable to businesses in other sectors. You don’t necessarily need to offer something specifically trendy or new to get candidates’ attention, but it will pay dividends to think about what specifically your company has to offer that’s unique.

It might be a special way of organising your team that cuts down on admin. Promoting these more boldly is more likely to garner your job opportunity the attention it deserves. 

Don’t be generic

No one likes a generic recruiting email or standard template interview. It can be hard to personalise all your communications with potential candidates, but something as simple as noting how long they’ve been at their current position can go a long way, simply signalling that you’ve put a bit more thought into the outreach than copying and pasting your last email.

You only get one chance to make a first impression, so if you’re doing the initial approach, make sure to avoid typos and awkward formatting. This can turn off candidates very quickly, and reduce the likelihood of getting a reply from them.

Finally, it’s always worth making sure you’re using the right channels for contacting your candidates: a candidate might be passive on one channel but very receptive to job information on another. 

Passive candidates are a challenge no matter what industry you work in. Tech recruiters and HR managers have learned the hard way just how important an appreciation of the detail of a developer’s job, and background research on developers’ preferences, is in generating positive responses to recruitment approaches.

If you can demonstrate that your message is thorough, friendly, well-researched and with the information candidates actually need, your outreach will go far.

Sean Bave is general manager and vice president of Stack Overflow Talent.