Headshot of Bergin Sullivan

By: Bergin Sullivan, Creative Marketing Specialist

The Art of Sourcing Passive Candidates in RPO Recruiting

Passive candidates can be some of the best when conducting a job search, however, landing them is quite hard. Take a deep dive into what works (and what doesn’t) to help bait your passive candidates within the realm of RPO recruiting.

Most job searches gain much attention from active candidates who apply and put forth the effort to get their foot in your door. Those candidates can be great, but passive candidates can be better. Active candidates can easily apply to any job they see online, most of the time seeing one or two keywords in the posting that seems appealing to them and going for it. This makes for many unqualified candidates or ones that simply aren’t that interested in your job, just interested in a job. This is why landing passive candidates is key, and why job boards will never replace RPO recruiting.

What is a passive candidate?

Passive candidates are those that are not actively looking for jobs. They most likely have a good job already with steady career plans and no anticipation to change that anytime soon…unless a better opportunity comes along. By understanding passive vs. active candidates, you can recruit them easier. With the right language and tactics, you can take on an RPO recruiting approach and land passive candidates. First, you need to fully understand who these candidates are.

Active candidates are looking for jobs because…

  1. They currently don’t have a job
  2. They currently do have a job, but they hate it
  3. They currently have a job but see no opportunities for advancement

Passive candidates are not because…

  1. They currently have a job
  2. They are content with their current job meaning their employer is treating them well
  3. They are busy, meaning they don’t have time to look for a new job

These candidates come across your desk by direct applications as well as by having the potential of a great candidate. Within RPO recruiting, these passive candidates might consider you, if it was presented to them in the right way.

What is the right way?

Studies show that the most marketable item within RPO recruiting is company culture. Many would have guessed money, right? Wrong. 48% of people would quit their job for a new role even if it meant less pay. The work environment is one of the most important elements of the workplace for passive candidates. Therefore, that culture needs to be conveyed to passive candidates through your language and messaging approaches. Job descriptions can show candidates how to work for your company, but your outreaches can show candidates why to work for your company.


A major key to reaching out successfully to passive candidates is to use the right wording. Think about getting unsolicited messages from marketers in your own inbox, what types of phrases grasp your attention? Now take those personal preferences and translate them into your RPO recruiting approach. Studies show that a simple friendly greeting and direct messaging help grab attention and prompt candidates to continue reading.

Substituting basic words with others can be helpful as well. For example, studies show that the word “opportunity” is not received as positively as “role” or “position” within recruiting outreach. This goes back to the fact that passive candidates are busy and do not have the time to read on things that are not legitimate and of direct interest to them. Keeping things in professional terms that present the job as a real opening rather than a mythical opportunity can help with successful RPO recruiting.

Another approach with wording and language is to keep all outreach humanized. Avoid letting your automated processes seem that way, and let candidates know there are still humans behind the computer. Technology is constantly allowing for new automated services that help save time in RPO recruiting, but sometimes they can hurt the process. By ensuring to keep a personal touch with your outreach strategies, you have a better chance of catching the attention of passive candidates.

Common Misconceptions of Passive Candidate Recruiting

There are several individuals and companies who claim they have “perfected” RPO recruiting, yet still follow common misconceptions in their outreach strategies to passive candidates. Here are a few…

“I’ll keep this short…”

This is a classic opening that when writing, seems to make sense, right? You’d think that by telling them off the bat this won’t take long, they’ll seem interested. Wrong. This is a clear through and through strategy to trick the candidate into biting on to this and then getting sanctioned to a series of emails/phone calls about something they never agreed to. Be honest when asking for time. Request a 5-minute call where you can introduce the role, see if they’re interested, and then either move forward or move on.

“Feel free to pass this along…”

With passive candidates, once again, they’re busy. Although it seems to make sense, if the candidate you’re reaching out to isn’t interested, maybe they know somebody who is? Sure, most people could think of a handful of colleagues that might find the job interesting but taking the time to look into your messages and send the information along is a time sacrifice that most passive candidates will not take. This type of messaging also makes it seem like you’re not that interested in the candidate since you’re so quick to ask for the referral.

“I found your profile on LinkedIn…”

Being in the industry, we all know most of the time the profiles are not in fact found on LinkedIn. Sourcing teams find their profiles from a multitude of channels. Even when we do find them on LinkedIn, it’s not effective to use that as your pitch. We’re in 2020, and you can find anyone’s profile online within minutes. Starting with this just tells the candidate you’re doing what anyone else with internet access can do. Try to personalize this a little more by adding job-specific qualities that they align with.

“I’ll give you a call on Thursday at 10 am.”

Although this seems like a good tactic, throwing out a certain day and time to connect, it can come across as too bold to candidates. Once again, these candidates are busy. Their calendars could be full of meetings and other obligations that are taking time away from being able to focus on the tasks at hand. By adding one more “meeting” to their plate, you could just annoy them. Try using services like Calendly, where candidates can book with you on their own time when they have openings. This tactic is a more hands-off type of way to get that call scheduled that can also be received much better.

In a nutshell…

Getting passive candidates on your team can be difficult but rewarding. Work through your process in RPO recruiting to find, attract, and recruit these candidates. Source the right people who align with your jobs and company culture, attract them with the right messaging, and recruit them with your perfected process. As stated before, passive candidates will make a move for more than just money. Use your company culture and what it’s truly like to work with your company to speak for itself. If it’s a company you find yourself passionate about, relay that passion to those passive candidates and make the best hires for your team.

For more information on RPO recruiting and JCSI’s supplemental passive candidate approach, visit www.jcsi.net today.