Passive Candidates Won’t “Apply Now”!

Passive Candidates Won’t “Apply Now”!

January 16, 2019
Your outreach to passive candidates shouldn’t be about your jobs, your EVP or your company at all.


We’re acting strange as a recruitment industry.

There’s a skills shortage in most markets, and we all know that attracting passive candidates is the only way to fill that gap.

This requires a long-term approach, right?

So why on earth are the vast majority of the recruitment activities, narratives and budgets still focused on the short term? 

That’s leading to a lot of money and time being wasted fueling and dealing with worthless applications.

For example, did you know that on average each corporate job opening will generate 250 applicants, and only 1 of those will get a job?

Have a look at this report with the Top 99 Recruiting & Hiring Statistics Pros Must Know in 2018, it really puts our collective craze for applications in perspective.

On the other side of the spectrum, we’re dealing with job openings that receive next to no applications at all.

Yet many of us have trouble addressing the higher level reasons for why this is.

A lack of employer brand awareness among our desired audiences, a strong EVP to offer them, or well-established personal networks with them, for a example.

Instead we just keep pushing job openings through advertising channels and sourcing specialists.

Saturating job boards, cluttering up social media timelines, spamming online search results, and blowing up inboxes of disconnected and unresponsive candidates.

Needless to say, this isn’t effective and should change… but how can we go about this?


The recruitment industry has been conditioned to focus on the short term.

“We’re hiring! Apply now! Join us now! Advance your career!”

It makes sense, because empty seats hurt the business, so naturally recruitment professionals feel the pressure to fill them as quickly as possible. 

(Sidenote: Becoming more proactive and planning ahead to avoid empty seat time is another major issue recruitment professionals need to address, but I’ll leave that to Danny Hodgson to explain in this article and offer a solution with Foresight)

The problem is that passive candidates, unless they’re on a sabbatical traveling the world or something similar, are usually employed somewhere.

If you trigger them, they might exchange some of their valuable time to explore your company, your EVP, maybe even have a chat with someone from the hiring team.

Most of them will not want, or even contractually be able, to switch jobs right away.

This means there is practically no chance that a passive candidate will ‘Apply Now’, yet by far the most used CTA (calls to action) when advertising career opportunities.

Or how about this.

Career websites often dedicated their first landing page to job searching in the form of something like this: “I’m looking for a job in _ENTER DISCIPLINE in _ENTER LOCATION”

Do you really think that the first thing passive candidates want to do when interacting with your career website is search for jobs?

Jobs that they know they can get almost everywhere, at any time, because their LinkedIn inbox is exploding with offers from recruiters?

Of course not!

They are much more likely looking for a quick ‘n’ easy to consume piece of content that expresses a hint of what’s it like to work for your company and how this could impact their careers and their lives.

But guess what, if they start considering a job switch, they will take their sweet, sweet time to make a well-informed decision and likely explore opportunities with other employers as well, before engaging in a conversation with you, or applying.

So it’ll be up to you, to generate so called ‘touch-points’ with them in between and keep them engage during their consideration process.


Now that we understand that passive candidates are very rarely ready to switch jobs right away and will need to be nurtured over time, how should we adjust our recruitment process?

1. Provide more and less demanding options to connect with you

Here are a bunch of CTA you could use, instead of asking to apply.

You’ll see a much better response and click through rate (CTR) from passive candidates and have all the information you need to follow up on accordingly.

  • Like/Follow our
  • Download
  • Subscribe to our
  • Stay informed about
  • Find out more about
  • Learn more about
  • Tell us what you think about
  • Receive
  • Beat our and win
  • Find a way to solve and win
  • Test your
  • Attend
  • Join our <GROUP OR FORUM)
  • Contact me after
  • Connect with <RECRUITER/HIRING MANAGER> (link to LinkedIn profile embedded)
  • Request a call back
  • Have a chat with us
  • Speak with the hiring manager
  • Talk to a team member
  • Visit our office

You don’t have to limit yourself and candidates to just one CTA either.

It’s not (apply) now or nothing.

You can leave the apply button below a job description, but why not add something like:

“If you’re interested but for whatever reason not ready to apply now, feel free to ”?

You could even make it a drop-down menu with several options.

2. Acquire relevant candidate information in return

You want to be able to follow up with with candidates and create the previously mentioned additional ‘touch-points’ after they first interact with you, so you need to acquire some of their personal information.

Don’t try to get everything at once.

First of all, this increases the risk of candidates dropping off and not giving you anything.

Secondly, as you are planning to re-engage with them anyway, you’ll have enough chances to get more information as you go along.

Here’s a list of the information you should capture.

Start by convincing candidates to accept cookies and tracking pixels, which will already allow you to track:

  • Source of website visitor
  • Visited web-pages
  • Times spent on web-pages  
  • Links that were clicked
  • Content that was viewed

That will provide you with a ton of relevant information about your candidates interests.

You’ll also be able to ‘follow’ and re-target them across other websites and social media they visit.

You’ll have to ask for the following information:

  • E-mail address + GDPR Opt-in
  • First & last name
  • Social media profiles
  • Location
  • Current job title
  • Previous work experience
  • Specific skills
  • Interests (professional as well as private)
  • Phone number

Pro tip 1:

The less information you ask at once and the easier you make it for candidates to provided it, the higher your chances are you’ll get it. I recommend not asking for more than two things at once on a web-form behind a CTA button. Allowing to register using social media accounts like LinkedIn and Facebook is great way to get a ton of information, while requiring very little effort from the candidates side.

Pro tip 2:

Make sure to align your CTA’s as much as possible with the content displayed on the web pages they’re placed and if you career website allows it, change them based on search and click behavior.

3. Take a candidate-centric approach and adjust to their timelines

Instead of letting yourself be led by your empty seat and the pressure to fill it, look at your career opportunities from the passive candidate’s perspective.

Understand that they are not feeling the same pressure.

They’re probably in a pretty good place right now, and it will take time to sway them to even seriously consider becoming your colleague. 

That’s why your first content, outreaches, and conversations when following with newly triggered passive candidates shouldn’t be about your jobs, your EVP or your company at all.

They should be about the candidates and the things they care about. Their ambitions, their profiles, their posts, their work, what they do in their spare time, what they like, what annoys them, stuff that makes them tick.

This will create the rapport you’ll need to have a platform to present your opportunity to them.

The time this will take can differ a lot depending on a candidate’s situation, but plan approximately 3 to 6 months when building your pipeline of passive candidates and taking them through the awareness-, consideration- and decision making stages. 

(Sidenote: We’re entering the realm of pipeline building and talent nurturing with that last remark. Check out Adam Gordon’s content to learn more about this and his CandidateID to help improve it)

Although this might seem a lengthy amount  of time to close a candidate, that’s only the case when you’re starting the process up.

Once you get the engine going, you’ll continuously have enough candidates in all stages of their journey (or your funnel, however you want to look at it).

It just requires a change of mindset, and maybe some support to bridge the gap when starting up.

(Sidenote: Although I know that all my in-house recruitment friends take pride in reducing agency spend, this is where agencies might help to fill your short term need at an increased price, while you focus on building a strategic, long-term and much more cost-effective solution, instead.)


Worry less about hoarding CV’s and focus more on making genuine long-term connections with your desired candidates, by investing in truly getting to know what moves them and delivering it over time.

Doing this right will make you far less dependent on high numbers of applications to meet your hiring objectives, as the quality of the candidates that apply will increase, and you’ll tap into a much larger pool of passive ones to source from.

Book a Free Workforce Planning Consultation Call: