How To Attract Reluctant Job Applicants (Passives)… As The Pandemic Winds Down

Facing a shortage of applicants? Use these passive sources and attraction factors to solve that problem. Yes, the pandemic with its accompanying record-high unemployment rate has caused a dramatic and painful reduction in the number of applications for open jobs. 

Nearly 70% of US companies reported that they are struggling to find skilled workers, the worst level since they have been tracking it (Source: The Manpower Group).

To avoid the current record shortfall of qualified applicants, first, fully understand the 14 foundation causes driving fewer qualified prospects to apply covered in the companion article “Why You Can’t Attract Enough Applicants During This Pandemic… Fully Explained”. After understanding these causes, the following two major strategic recruiting steps require shifting to “passive recruiting sources” and highlighting the most effective pandemic-related “attraction factors” in your job descriptions.

The Next Strategic Recruiting Step

Focus On These Top 10 “Passive Sources”… That Are Specifically Designed To Identify Reluctant Top Prospects That Are Not Yet Actively In The Job Market 

It’s a fact that the very best and the most desirable potential hires are already fully employed (traditionally, no more than 30% are actively looking). Therefore, it makes sense to prioritize using the sources that most effectively identify these “passive candidates.” The key goal for this step is to prioritize using passive recruiting sources while simultaneously reducing the use of active sources. In most organizations, shifting to a passive candidate recruiting strategy is a major undertaking. Almost all of the most commonly used recruiting sources are instead “active sources.” Designed exclusively to attract only “active jobseekers” (i.e., job boards and newspaper ads are for actively looking applicants). Unfortunately, none of these active sources will identify and attract the passive job seeker currently employed or temporarily unemployed but waiting until the pandemic winds down. To tempt members of the “are currently looking” group and who are reluctant to enter the job market, you will need to prioritize using “passive recruiting sources.” The top 8 most recommended, “passive sources” are listed and described below.  The most effective passive sources appearing early in the list. 

Passive source #1

Employee referrals should be the primary passive source – #1 in producing both the highest recruiting volume and the highest candidate quality. This source aims to produce a diverse range of hires that exceed 50% of all hiring volume. Referrals are effective because “Good People Know Other Good People” (Google’s slogan). Referrals work during this pandemic shortage because your employees know the best professionals in their field that are currently reluctant to enter the job market. But more importantly, your employees are likely to be the only ones to know when one of their top colleagues becomes disenchanted. Seizing this sudden disenchantment is an opportunity. Your employees are also likely to be the most effective people at convincing these reluctant individuals to agree to become active and consider applying at your firm. Involving your employees also means increasing your organization’s total recruiting time because your employees accept some of the burden of identifying and assessing outside talent. And because your employees “live the job” every day, peer employees are also the best salespeople for convincing other professionals to commit the time to apply.

Passive source #2 

Emphasize boomerang rehires because “returning” is a low-risk option – the uncertainty of the pandemic makes many reluctant even to consider a new risky opportunity. However, returning to a former employer (as a “Boomerang rehire”) is considered a less risky opportunity by most since they proved themselves in the past. “Boomerang rehires” from among your former employees are often the #2 source for quality candidates. This source produces excellent results because you only attempt to bring back a few former employees that were clearly top performers. It’s also easier to get these individuals to apply for an open job when a trusted former coworker encourages them to come back. At the top firms, up to 20% of all hires are Boomerang rehires.

Passive source #3 

Keep track of and hire Silver medalists – hire those that came in a close second or third in last job search for this position. Because now that six months or a year has passed, they are even more qualified.

Passive source #4 

Searching online for “the work” of top performers – if you are trying to find a great artist, you could more accurately identify their greatness by viewing their work rather than viewing the resume. And because passive candidates seldom actively apply for jobs, often you won’t be able to find them through their current resume. An alternative way of finding them is “through their work.” One of the factors that distinguish top performers is that they routinely make their work clearly visible and available. One of the most effective ways of identifying the best prospects in a field is by having your employees (during their routine work and learning) notify a recruiter whenever they come across an example of exceptional work relevant to your company. Examples of their work may come in the form of PDF reports or pictures of their actual work. Or find examples of their in articles, podcasts, and blogs that they have created. Or in their slideshows or the videos of their presentations. In addition, many top professionals reveal their knowledge and competencies through instructional videos that they post on sites like YouTube. Even if you don’t have a current opening, it makes sense to develop a “most wanted list” for future recruits based on finding examples of their excellent work.

Passive source #5 

Poach employed talent directly away from your top competitor firms!  I have routinely found that the best talent in any industry is seldom unemployed. Instead, they are likely to be currently employed, working at one of your competitors. In most cases, you know that they are good because your competitor’s recruiters initially selected them. You also find that they are routinely promoted (by viewing their LinkedIn profile). So, charge your recruiters with the task of identifying and then creating an individual talent profile of the top-performing employees that you should be targeting at your competitors. And then, over time, build relationships with those targeted individuals to the point where it is easy to convince them to apply for a job at your company. Targeting and poaching the top talent from key firms will also provide your firm with their knowledge of many of your competitor’s best practices. While at the same time, you are simultaneously weakening your competitors by removing their key talent.

Passive source #6

Utilize online technical contests and competitions to find talent – a proven method for identifying top performers among college seniors and active jobseekers. However, when your company sponsors the contest, they can also identify some top-performing current employees that are not in job search mode. The competitive spirit and their need to contribute within many top-performing employees will drive participation in contests and competitions that seek solutions in important technical areas. Targeting any award winner or those recognized is a great way to use the recognition as the beginning of a longer-term recruiting trust relationship.

Passive source #7 

Recruit during Professional events – usually only the best employees are sent to major professional events. So during the event, encourage your attending employees to subtly approach the best speakers and questioners among the participants and vendors. Because you can physically see attendees, physically attending these events may help you identify more diverse recruiting targets.

Passive source #8 

Have your recruiters use “direct sourcing” to identify currently employed top prospects – instead of waiting for the best candidates to show up on their ATS system or some major job board. The best organizations have their in-house recruiters practice direct sourcing. Recruiters should proactively source, assess, and then reach out to build a relationship with a handful of fully qualified employed “not currently looking” top prospects. This approach is especially effective because it finds individuals that are not currently in the job market. And because a strong trust relationship is built with your recruiter, these individuals are more likely to agree to apply to one of your openings eventually. During the pandemic, direct sourcing is only effective when your in-house recruiters are highly skilled in presenting and selling the “attraction factors” that have the highest impact during the pandemic (i.e., employee Covid-19 safety).

Passive source #9 

Use LinkedIn to identify employed prospects to target – although LinkedIn is an active job site for some members. 70% of the individuals on LinkedIn are not currently actively looking for a job. So, you should utilize LinkedIn, the social media site for working professionals, as one of your primary “passive sources.” LinkedIn can be used to initially find the names of nearly every professional employed at each firm that you are targeting. Then their profiles can be used to assess the skill sets, the experience, and the potential performance level of each initially identified professional. By connecting and following the work of individuals, your recruiters or your employees can build long-term trust relationships with them.

Passive source #10

Job postings on niche job boards can sometimes indirectly catch the attention of professionals keeping current in their industry –  large job boards are normally only effective at finding active job seekers. However, you can sometimes find top talent in a particular technical function or industry by posting your jobs on niche job boards (restricted to a single profession). This approach may work because many forward-focused professionals periodically browse through these niche boards. Not to find a job but most often to keep in the know by learning “which firms are hiring and what advanced skills they seek.” If you’re lucky and your job postings are well written, This periodic “browsing to learn” may cause some professionals to notice one of your open jobs accidentally. And that could pique a professional’s interest to the point where they may decide to conduct further research on that interesting opening. At the same time, purposely reduce the use of active sources – in addition to prioritizing the use of the above listed eight “passive sources.” Counteract the 14 current pandemic-related factors causing a decreased number of applicants. Recruiting departments will also have to stop doing some things. Including putting a much smaller emphasis on sourcing through using the common popular sources that mostly attract “active candidates.” The most well-known among these active sources include: 

Large job boards

Print ads

Career fairs

Social media that are primarily social

Employment agencies

Individuals that independently source for you co.

University career functions

The Final Strategic Recruiting Step 

Utilize These 8 Applicant “Attraction Factors”… That Have Changed Under The Pandemic

We call them attraction factors. Most managers and recruiters are confident that they know which ones can successfully attract talent to their organization. However, few realize that the pandemic has significantly changed the expectations and the job component priorities of most potential job applicants. So, as part of your employer branding, recruitment marketing, and job advertisements. Make sure that your organization highlights each of the following high-priority “attraction factors” and benefits. As a result of the pandemic, the best prospects are now expecting. 

  1. Employee health and safety may now be the #1 most important attraction factor – the pandemic taught us all to be concerned about our health. So, almost anyone looking for a new job (especially one that requires some face-to-face interactions) will now also want to know upfront what the company is doing to prevent its employees from catching the Covid-19 virus proactively. So, it’s a recruiter’s job to proactively provide all potential applicants with information that completely covers every possible applicant’s Covid related concern and question.
  2. Job security is also now a critical attraction factor – almost everyone witnessed what they thought to be long-term job security almost instantly fade away as the lockdown continued during the pandemic. Unfortunately, this recent negative experience now makes it more likely that potential applicants will use “a high level of job security” as a “screening-in factor” for their next company and job. So, it makes sense to clarify to potential applicants the level of job security they can reasonably expect if they join. You can’t make promises, but you can clarify that you have definite plans to strengthen the company and create more job security. Another fear to address is the impact that future technology and automation will have on future job security.
  3. Remote work and face-to-face work options are now both critical attraction factors – it’s clear that too many potential applicants working from home are still an attractive option. While other potential applicants yearn for a return to face-to-face work. So, if you want to maximize your number of applications, you may need to make it clear that you offer both of the work options, as well as a hybrid model. Added flexibility covering when an employee works (i.e., four-day workweek, etc.) may also be an effective offering.
  4. Sick leave is now a critical attraction factor – the pandemic has certainly made many hourly workers more aware of the value of having sick and family leave as a provided benefit. Because of the year-long stress of the pandemic, how much total PTO or vacation time that you now offer may be an increasingly important attraction factor.
  5. Health insurance is becoming a critical attraction factor – even though Covid-19 shots and testing have been mostly free. The constant talk of health and health-related issues has made more applicants aware of the value of having fully funded health insurance. So, proactively, make it clear what you have that is above average health insurance coverage.
  6. Support for commuters – as a result of the pandemic, many applicants may be wary about having to commute on public transit regularly. If your organization offers options that allow employees to avoid relying on it, make those options clear.
  7. Childcare support – the pandemic has made parents much more aware of the importance of childcare options. So, listen to your employees and make it clear to applicants what support you provide.
  8. Scheduling transparency – the pandemic experience has made many employees wary of scheduling issues, especially those in the restaurant, hospitality, and retail industries. So, if you offer new hires some degree of certainty, consistency, or transparency in their scheduling, make that clear to applicants. Also, communicate any formal ways for increasing work/life balance by minimizing night, holiday, and weekend work.

Final Thoughts

Of the many impacts from the pandemic, perhaps the most surprising is a shortage of applicants when so many are under and unemployed. Unfortunately, many of those factors can’t be changed by any one company. It’s critical for recruiting leaders to understand the factors that are keeping applicants away. And then to use the best “not actively looking” sources and the most effective attraction factors to overcome the many current and upcoming pandemic employment issues. 

And one final thought. Even if you do get sufficient applications for your open jobs, the competition for a top candidate will be fierce.  Remember, companies will be hiring a high volume of people during this summer and early fall. To win more than your share of talent competitions, you better hire the best recruiters who also excel at successfully “selling” top candidates that are so good they receive multiple job offers.

Author’s Note 

  • This article was designed to make you rethink an important recruiting area. And if it succeeded, please help others by proactively sharing it widely among your team and network.
  • Next, please join the many thousands that have connected with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn. And after following or connecting, you can leave comments and read others about this article on his LinkedIn page.
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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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