Are passive candidates really the best?

Its a common held belief that if you want the best talent in the market, you need to tap into the “passive candidate market”.  A passive candidate is someone who is currently employed and not proactively searching for a role, but could be tempted for the right opportunity.  Recruitment agencies have jumped on to this as a justification for their services against standard job adverts.  And it is often true, but don’t just just assume that if someone is working that they must be the best in the market!


Passive recruiting is a difficult skill and often not one that is taught to agency recruiters.  It used to be called headhunting, but that term seems to have negative connotations, especially in the softly softly public sector market.  Too many agencies talk about targeting “passive” candidates but either don’t actually know how to do it effectively or get lazy and don’t really scrutinise their suitability for the particular role.  If they’re working, they must be good, right?

According to some Linkedin research, 75% of employees are “open” to a new opportunity, so its a huge pool to fish in.  This reflects the fact that this working generation (Gen Y and Z) is much more happy to work with many more companies than before (Baby Boomers and Gen X), and I discuss this in a previous blog here.  But does the fact that they are employed actually mean they are the best in the market?

Look around your office and you’ll no doubt see someone who is cruising, or not really that good at the role.  That might be because they are not engaged, or it might be that they are not right for that particular role.  If someone approaches them about a role, they will likely listen to the proposal, but are they the best option the market can offer? Probably not.  But to the “lazy” recruiter, they have got the holy grail- the passive candidate.  They will proudly produce them to their client and explain how clever they have been at tempting this person away from another company.  Truth be known, your competitor will be happy to be rid, and you’ll be burdened with this average employee.

So, if you get presented with a “passive candidate”, make sure you consider the following:

1. Look at their career path- if they have been with the same company, have they shown growth, ambition and have they hunted out new challenges, or have they sat in one role, comfortable and avoiding risk?

2. How difficult was it to tempt them away? If it was too easy, then ask why?  It could be that they have been “hiding” in their comfortable role, and been waiting for an opportunity to come knocking.  Again, that is probably a reflection of their drive and enthusiasm, or lack of it.  Are they the type of people to hunt out new challenges and drive your business forward?

3. Can you genuinely offer something different to their current situation?  If not, then you know for sure that you’ll end up in the same situation a year down the line, and they will likely have not brought too much value to the role.

4. Make sure they are genuinely interested, by constantly trying to put them off the role.  Lets be honest, its flattering to be approached- it makes you feel important, talented and is a boost to the ego.  So to get someone interested is easy.  However, the closer you get to an offer, the more real the whole situation becomes and passive candidates can get cold feet.  It is an agencies job to nurse people through the process and make sure that its the right move for both parties- revisiting this throughout the process.

5. If using an agency, ask how long they have known the candidate- the best passive candidates have likely been on their radar for a long time.  The best recruiters out there are pro-active and nurture their networks from day 1.  I have a number of people that I speak to regularly that I haven’t moved on to a different role yet.  However, I’d identified them as being exceptional in their roles, and although they are happy and focussed on their current roles/careers, they know that I am keeping an eye out for the “dream role” for them.  Sometimes this takes 6 months, sometimes it takes years, but I know that when that role comes up, they will be the ideal “passive candidate”.

6.  Have they moved around without really progressing their career?  This is a huge tell tale sign that they aren’t the best in the market.  They often talk a good game but often don’t deliver and then move on.

7.  And finally, are they genuinely better than the person who is not working and that applied for your role? Don’t just assume that because they are not working, that they are not the best out there- you may just be lucky that they are available when you need them.

There are too many people out there who are trying to over-complicate recruitment- trying to confuse their clients with buzzwords and snappy phrases that sound convincing, rather than focussing on ensuring they genuinely have the best product.  Test your recruiters by asking about the above to make sure you really do get the best in the market, be they passive or active!





Are we ready for the video CV?

I interviewed a candidate last week and they asked me the question,

“I’m thinking of doing a video CV, do you think its a good idea?”

To be honest, I hadn’t had the question before and so not sure how considered my response was but have since reflected and thought it worth putting it in a blog.  Please also be aware that my opinion is specific to the world of Social Housing recruitment, rather than a generic response to the question, as different industries have different “norms” and “trends”.


There does seem to be a growing movement towards “innovative” job applications.  I think this has come from peoples growing frustrations at getting no response to countless applications, and the sporadic news stories of people successfully getting a job from “thinking outside the box”- see these examples here and here.  But for every “sandwich board applicant” and “chocolate bar resume” out there, there are hundreds of copycat failures, so its key to make sure your efforts don’t fall by the wayside.

So what are the pro’s and cons of creating your video CV.  Lets start with..

The positives:

1. You will stand out from the crowd (at the moment).  I am still yet to receive a video CV.  In a climate where there are more applicants per role than ever before, you need to find a way to be “memorable” (but for the right reasons- don’t go too wacky!)

2. It gives you an opportunity to convey your personality much better than any paper CV.  As a footnote to this, if you aren’t the best in front of a camera, I’d stick to the traditional format!

3. It demonstrates your creativity and desire for the role.

4. It allows you to engage more effectively with the employer.  By using your communication skills effectively, you are getting a head start on the others, as you will be recognised when you turn up for interview.

5. It taps into our current communication fashion.  In this “social” world, where we can check people out on Linkedin, Facebook, Instagram etc, and probably learn more about them than any CV will tell us, it feeds that desire to “get to know people” better and quicker.

6. It can play to your strengths.  If your written skills are not as strong as your verbal communication, then it enables you to play to put your best foot (or should that be face/voice??) forward and increases your chances of getting selected. If the role requires these soft skills, then it also demonstrates your abilities much better than a CV ever could!

The cons

1. I’m not sure our market is ready for it.  The recruitment process is stiffled by needless hoops and barriers, and especially in the Housing market, there is a firm structure as to how people recruit in order to ensure a fair and measured approach.

2. You risk being forgotten– people still seem to print off all CVs.  So if someone has a pile of CVs that they have to go through, they may get focussed solely on getting through them, and your video on their email may get forgotten.

3. They may not have the capability to watch the video– some organisations’ IT systems may not be able to cope with the format or have firewalls that prevent the format being accessed.  I still remember a time not too long ago, when I had to fax CVs across to clients (dinosaur recruiter alert!)!!

4. There is an argument to say that it could increase the potential for discrimination, although my experience of the Housing market would tell me this probably won’t be the case.

So if you decide to go for it, you would certainly be one of the “early adopters”, but that’s no bad thing.  And it appears that there is the appetite for it being a viable option.  According to career publisher Vault Inc.’s annual employer survey, 89% of employers would watch a video CV if it came through to them, but only 17% have actually received one.  However, I did a rudimentary small straw poll of about 15 of my HR contacts and it was a narrow majority of them who would consider it (8 of them), and only then, as a supplement to their current process.

With that in mind, I would suggest taking the following action to make sure that all your efforts aren’t in vain.

1. Call ahead and explain that you have a video CV and would they have any issues with you submitting it?  Many organisations will have a very prescribed process and will discount people who don’t comply with that.  If they want you to complete an online application form or send a standard CV, ask if you can send the video CV to supplement it.

2. Remember that you aren’t Steven Spielberg- you need to focus on the aim of your video CV- to demonstrate why you are the best employee for a particular role- and you are not creating a movie masterpiece.  Save the special effects for something else- this is new to many people and I think you’d be better served keeping it simple and professional.

3. Tailor it to the specific role.  This applies for paper CVs too, but I would advise against a general “one size fits all” video.  Take a little extra time to tailor it to specific roles and watch your success rate shoot up!

4. Keep it short- the most successful video CVs are between 1 and 3 minutes long.  If it gets much longer, it will start to work against you.

5. Look the camera in the eye- use the same principles as you would in an interview to ensure you engage with the viewer.  If you have a script off camera, it will be uncomfortable for the person watching it.

6. Be yourself- the benefit of using this medium is that you can express your personality, so do that!

7. Structure it like you are telling a story- make sure it has a beginning, middle and end, and have your contact details at the end, as you want them to have them to hand after watching it.

I do believe that there is a future in using this medium.  I have had so many poor CVs come through, but then been blown away when I met the candidate in person and this addresses that. It can also save employers time by making the same “gut feel” assessment before inviting someone in, and can enable you to represent yourself so much more effectively than on a couple of pieces of A4.


But most of all, be prepared for the question, “Why have you got a video CV?”, because you will undoubtedly be asked it, and your answer could actually be the reason you get employed!