Skip to main content

How to Engage Passive Candidates

Passive candidates might not currently be looking for new opportunities, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not interested. (Our latest Talent Index data found that 50% of people were looking to leave their current organization, but only 20% said they were actually actively looking.)

Most of the market is passive, so if you can tap into this segment effectively then you have far more talent to play with.

Why engaging passive candidates requires a different approach

Engaging passive candidates is very different from speaking to active job seekers. Active job seekers tend to be more open to learning more about different opportunities; by applying to different jobs, they’re qualifying their interest.

They’re also likely to be speaking to multiple companies at the same time, so the onus is on you to sell them on your company. Why should they pick you?

With passive candidates it’s a little different: It’s all about them (not your job). Why is this candidate such a good fit that you’re reaching out to them even though they’re not actually looking? What is it about them that makes them perfect?

1. Making first contact

If you want to get more responses from passive candidates, the answer is simple: write better messages.

Making a genuine, human connection with passive candidates makes a huge difference to your response rate. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you engage passive candidates:


Do some research on the candidate and their challenges, fears and desires.

We’re talking real research here, not a quick scan of their LinkedIn profile... Recruiters have access to more information than ever before, so it’s pretty easy to find out what makes most candidates tick in a few minutes.

Lines like “I’ve reviewed your profile” feel generic. Instead, show a candidate exactly how much time you’ve spent researching them with a message that stands out from the crowd. Show a candidate that you’ve really earned a response.

Remember, this message is about them, not you. Why are you really reaching out?


Does your message matter to a candidate right now? You can spend hours personalizing a message, researching everything from a candidate’s favourite colour to the name of their cat, but if your message lacks relevance it will fall on deaf ears.

People care about how they can build a career – is your company the best next step for them? If so, why?


Timing is often out of your control, but it can be the difference between relevant email and spam.

Often timing comes down to luck, but there are indicators that a candidate might be ready to move...

  • Does it look like they’re “stuck” at their current company? (i.e. have they held the same position for a significant period of time without being promoted?)
  • Do they have a history of moving company after a certain period of time?
  • Have they recently updated their LinkedIn profile?

2. The follow up

Getting your first message just increases your chance of getting a positive response, but there are no guarantees of success. Sadly, the majority of passive candidates that you contact won’t reply.

This doesn’t mean that they’re not interested. More often then not, the real reason why people respond to your follow-up email is very simple: timing!

Your original email arrived at the wrong time. Your target candidate was too busy or distracted to take action and reply. Silence does not mean no!

Emails have an incredibly short lifespan, so you can’t rely on a candidate to remember to go back and answer your email later. This makes following up completely essential, as you need to give candidates a chance to qualify their interest.

When you follow up with candidates, try to add value with each new email. Share content that gives them a clearer perspective on why your company might be a good fit or employee testimonials that add credibility.

3. Keeping passive candidates warm for later

Not everyone that you speak to will be ready to move.

If you’re reaching out to passive candidates, you’re likely to get plenty of responses like this:

Example of passive candidate message

Many of the candidates that you contact will be pretty happy where they are. That doesn’t mean that you should give up though. These candidates are leads for future roles.

Store these leads in your Talent CRM, and nurture them with relevant content to keep the relationship warm and build brand engagement.

Here are a few examples of the kinds of messages that are effective to send to candidates that you’re trying to nurture for the future:

  • Major company news. This has to be relevant, but it’s a nice way to restart a conversation. For example, you might have raised a recent round of funding or your sales team might have smashed targets.
  • Articles or research. Content that is genuinely useful to the candidate. Maybe a report that provides a lot valuable insight into where your industry is headed? Bonus points if it’s your own content, but it doesn’t have to be.
  • Events and employee stories. Do you run events for candidates? Are there opportunities for people to read more about your employees or even speak to them? This is a great nurture opportunity.

When a candidate is looking to move in the future, you want to be on their radar... If you are, you’ll get plenty of messages like this from top talent:

Passive candidate email 2

Why Does a Talent Organization Need a Talent Lifecycle Management System?

Top candidates have more options than ever before, and in such a competitive setting, every aspect of the recruiting experience matters. It’s on the talent function to design the new way of working that will bring in the best talent... even if it takes a little time.

Learn more about Talent Lifecycle Management.