Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

How to Approach a Passive Candidate

By James Ball | Dec 8, 2014 | Attracting Staff

Although the current recruitment market is candidate rich, you are not always guaranteed to find what you are after from those that apply for a vacancy.  This is especially true when it comes to the more specialist roles or for those roles in a geographical location where good candidates are thin on the ground.

And this is where an approach to a passive candidate may well be the answer.

What is a passive candidate?

A passive candidate is a qualified candidate for employment who isn’t necessarily looking for work, but who may be interested if the right job comes along.

Whilst there is plenty of advice out there on how to address candidates that have taken some initiative in their job search, there aren’t many guides on how to cold call a passive candidate.

Here at Coburg Banks we are well versed in the ways of talking to the passive candidate.  Here a few tips if you feel the task could be a daunting one:

Approaching a passive candidate, Tip 1:  Do not pitch the job!

The worst thing you can do is a hard sell on the position to the passive candidate.  You will have done your background research on the candidate, so strike up a conversation about their company and their industry.

Rather than just waffling on for 10 minutes about the vacancy, try and also build some rapport with the candidate by understanding a little bit more about their personal background.  The more the passive candidate feels that you know about them and the industry they are working in, the better chance you have of getting them onside.

Approaching a passive candidate, Tip 2:  Email them first

Although it may feel counter-intuitive, starting your conversation with a passive candidate via email is the most unobtrusive introduction method at your disposal.

Try using an easy three-step Email method where the first step is a non-solicitous networking request email. Remember that you are reaching out to someone who is most likely not actively looking for new opportunities so they will not respond well to bait-and-switch messages or overt recruitment approaches. When reaching out to passive leads using e-mail does not directly solicit them for employment in any way.

Your first step is your initial contact email should include:

  1. Asking them if they would be receptive to networking with you
  2. Mention that you are initiating contact electronically out of respect for their time and privacy
  3. A clear way to get in touch with you privately (i.e. your phone number)
  4. Enough detail so they can decide if you are worthy of a reply

The second step is a quick and simple voicemail the day after your e-mail. Indicate your desire to speak with them for networking purposes. Keep it brief, inform them of your intent to network, and clearly state the best way to get in touch with you.

The third step is a follow up email sent immediately after you leave a voicemail, verifying they received your voicemail and re-stating your contact details. This greatly increases the chance of a return call because it bridges the gap between the “electronic” world where spammers exists, and the “live” world of phone calls and face-to-face meetings.

Approaching a passive candidate, Tip 3: No does not always mean no

As you would expect, the best passive candidates are successful and therefore busy people.  So if you accept the initial ‘no’ from somebody, then you are unlikely to speak to many good people.  Once someone answers you may get some initial resistance to the conversation or even a very outspoken “no”, but you can often overcome this initial reaction.

They may say no for a myriad of reasons from being busy to their boss being in the vicinity.   So try and schedule a follow-up at a more convenient time.


Although working with passive candidates requires a shift in the methodology for those companies who are accustomed to working with active candidates, cracking the passive candidate market could give you a significant competitive edge.

By breaking the passive recruiting process into steps – source the appropriate potential candidates, engage them in conversation, use a combination of communication methods, and give the prospect every opportunity to respond positively – committed recruiters can readily adapt to the new recruiting landscape.

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