Active and passive candidates: 3 data-backed differences

Passive candidates are the most critical of their employers
active vs passive candidates

Every talent acquisition professional knows the general definitions and differences between active and passive candidates. Generally speaking:

Active candidates are the talent in the market for a new job today. They are either currently employed or unemployed, highly motivated to find a better opportunity, and actively looking for a new job.

Passive candidates are talent who are currently employed and not actively seeking new employment but are open to the right opportunity, if and when it comes along Passive candidates are often the top performers in their company and field and are considered the most sought-after candidate in the talent pool.

These definitions are helpful, but they only scratch the surface. Our recent study surveyed 667 candidates revealed insights that help us expand beyond these definitions and offer some guidance on how to reach and appeal to more active and passive candidates.

Passive job seekers are more likely to identify as a top performer compared to active job seekers

Employers assume passive candidates are the top performers in the talent pool, and it turns out, passive candidates agree. 77% of passive candidates rate themselves as top and/or above average performers, compared to only 70% of active candidates, and 67% of non-job seekers (employees who have no plans of seeking new employment).

One might assume that active candidates who are the most motivated to leave may think most highly of their abilities. In fact, when we polled our webinar audience on this question, the majority guessed that active candidates were the most confident of the bunch.

We’ve regarded passive candidates as top performers, but we rarely hear how candidates rate themselves and see our assumptions affirmed through data. This insight supports the view that passive talent are choosing to stay at their companies, but they would say they are performing to the best of their abilities but are open to taking those abilities elsewhere soon.

Active job seekers are more likely to say their employers’ handling of Covid played a part in their desire to leave

72% of active job seekers said the way their employers handled COVID-19 did play a part in their desire to leave, compared to 62% of passive seekers. In contrast, nearly half (48%) of non job seekers cited their employers’ handling of COVID-19 played a part in their desire to stay at their company.

Even though active seekers seem to report being the most motivated to leave a company due to its COVID response, a good share of passive candidates—nearly two-thirds—appear to share this critique of their companies as a motivating factor.

If your company has responded well to the changes spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, then be sure to tell that story. Employees who are now emerging from a year of crisis are looking for their next career move that can promise them the stability and predictability in their workday that the pandemic most likely put to the test. Sharing good examples of how your company has adapted and perhaps changed for the better during this time will attract passive and active candidates alike.

Passive candidates are the most critical of their employers

Passive candidates may not be in a rush to leave their companies, but they aren’t giving them the highest approval rating. In fact, as a group, passive talent gave their current employers the lowest average star rating of 3.66 out of 5, compared to active seekers who ranked their current or most recent employer 3.83, and non-job seekers who gave their employers a 4.18 star average.

We’ve generally assumed passive candidates aren’t as motivated as active seekers to leave their job because they are content with their current employer. The data tells a different story.

But what are they most critical about? Instead of asking them what they dislike most about their current job, we instead learned what they want most in their next one. We learned that what passive talent desire most are improvements in their day-to-day working lives, namely work-life balance and remote and flexible work environments. In fact, passive job seekers are faster to turn down a job with worse work-life balance than one with lower pay.


Need help reaching more passive and active talent? Telling your employer brand story more effectively and more often on the social media sites candidates visit every day. Sign up for a CareerArc demo to learn how.

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