How to be a successful passive candidate

After about one million years since we decided to do this interview, I finally got this girl on Skype. She has been kidnapped by a very blond and very German boyfriend, so she is currently living in Munich.

Her website Leah K Stewart is all about the “beyond the box” learning & education, and she launched the ‘Apprenticing Yourself‘ approach to help you take ownership of your own learning.

Now, if you take my interview Meet the Former Bastard: an EXCLUSIVE Chat with an Ex-Recruiter, you’ll see how persuading the guy to give me an (anonymous) interview has been exhausting; some of the parts have also been censored, and I bet he is still wondering whether he will get recognised in the street by his socks.

Leah K is a former recruiter too, she has worked in the industry for 3 years but she is fine with showing her face and her name, and this is extremely relaxing for me, so I let her speak about this passive candidate thing.

Passive candidates are the people who aren’t actively looking for a new job, and this is precisely the reason why recruiters will love and headhunt them.

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world, I know.

Hey Leah, what can you tell me about passive candidates?

Recruiters basically don’t really work hard for a candidate when they say they are an active candidate. We’ll work harder for someone who is a passive candidate, and there is a totally logical reason for that. Active candidates may be about to be made redundant or they may be forced to move jobs because of other circumstances.

Are active candidates more difficult to place?

Oh well, they’re not necessarily more difficult to place and when I say that I’d say I would just want to warn anyone who is an active candidate situation that recruiters won’t be as interested in them.


These are reasons for that. One, they’re under pressure. So they are under pressure much more than a passive candidate, because they need something sorted by a certain date. So that pressure can make people do silly things from a recruiter’s perspective. And those silly things are things like working with a lot of recruiters… basically working with any recruiter who calls them – that’s really frustrating for a recruiter because they’re essentially adding more competition for you.

And more risk.

Yes, and more risk, so if you put your heart into working with them when they’ve got some ten other recruiters working for them as well, is less probable that something is going to happen for you than a passive candidate who is only going to work with you and if they can be placed they can only be placed by you. So I’m gonna work ten times harder on that passive candidate than I’m gonna work with this active candidate.

It’s funny because you can hear people affirming the opposite, that a passive candidate is harder to convince to leave their job.

Well, then it’s the recruiter who is not being as good as sales as they could be. In my eyes, everyone was a passive candidate, unless they were active candidates. If they were active candidates I wasn’t that interested in them, it didn’t make sense to me to spend time on them – but anyone else in the market in my head was a passive candidate, whether they put so on their resume or not. The other thing active candidate do is, because they’ve got pressure, they can make direct applications and they don’t understand that this means a recruiter cannot help them.

Do you mean that they apply directly to the companies?

Yes, if you make a direct application to a company, then we can’t support you with that. And that happens much more with active candidates. And sometimes in their desperation, they’re not always so honest and they don’t tell us they made direct applications and we find out afterwards, which is just the worst thing. It’s likely that we don’t wanna work with that person anymore because they didn’t tell us they were already in, and then if they get the job we get nothing.

Everything you’ve just said is completely unknown for most job seekers, as they often think that the employer won’t wait for them because of their notice period.

Most profitable and good recruitment companies make their money and build their reputation by placing passive candidates, therefore their clients understand that if they want the best candidates, then obviously there is going to be a notice period. If you don’t have a notice period that’s fine – as soon as you angle yourself as a passive candidate. Rather than say “I’m doing nothing now, please give me a job” – maybe talk about some interesting projects that you’re doing but that you can leave and you can be available for interviews, and the projects can end as soon as you get full-time work.

So what would you recommend to a completely stranded and unemployed individual?

One thing is to make direct applications, so to represent yourself – in that situation, it’s probably the best way forward, then make sure that your CV is good so you can represent yourself properly.  If you are going down to the recruiter route, I would be as selective about which recruiter you work with just as selective as you might be about the places you apply for by yourself – and probably look for places that are doing work with people in that kind of situation.  The fact is that some people in that kind of situation can devalue themselves in the interview, which is frustrating for a recruiter because obviously the higher they get paid, the more we get paid.

Any more recommendations for people who are qualified to perform their job but are working in a cafe just to pay the bills?

Get your CV good and represent yourself. Be proactive. Get a strong online presence outlining the work you did in your field. I wouldn’t mention what you do at the moment to keep a roof over your head. I would rather talk about some kind of projects or some kind of research you’re doing.

Ok, Leah, just give me your final 5 Top Tips for being a perfect passive candidate and we will be done.

•  Win the best support from professional recruiters as a passive candidate
•  Lose by always being a passive candidate (your value to clients goes down!)
•  Win by not approaching recruiters but presenting yourself to be ‘discovered.’
•  Lose by being flattered into working with every recruiter who contacts you
•  Win for real by becoming an authority and never needing recruiters again!

Bonus: if you’re actively looking and really need a job then please don’t rely solely on professional recruiters; instead, get your CV edited and represent yourself well, because you care more about yourself (and will work harder for yourself) than any professional recruiter would.

Thank you, girl! 🙂

Leah K Stewart during a Ted Talk

Leah K Stewart


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