• Estimated read time: 7 mins
  • Date posted:01/12/2018
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What’s the difference between active and passive candidates and who should I hire? It’s a question our consultants get asked frequently. But while the differences mainly boil down to their personal circumstances and job search activity, each type has its own merits and drawbacks.

Active candidates

Accounting for approximately 25% of the global workforce, active candidates are those individuals who are proactively seeing work. They might be full-time employed or unemployed. There are a number of reasons why these candidates might be seeking new opportunities including:

  • They seek to grow and develop their career, accruing more responsibility
  • They would like to make a career change and develop new skills
  • The would like to relocate to a new town, county or country
  • They dislike their current employers working practices or culture
  • They took early retirement but are missing the world of work
  • They were made redundant as a result of downsizing, relocation or mergers
  • Their employer was acquired by a new business and they fear for their future
  • Their employer went into liquidation and were forced out of a job
  • They quit their previous position voluntarily or were fired

It is these candidates who are most active on job boards, corporate career pages and who proactively register with recruiters and executive search firms. They spend considerable time polishing their personal brand – CV’s, cover letters and LinkedIn profile – applying to job adverts and actively networking. Even if they don’t apply for one of your job ads, these candidates can be easily found on social media or search engines. Any active talent strategy worth its salt will be able to reach, engage and qualify these candidates. They want to be found and are eager to hear from you.

In summary: Active candidates fill millions of open vacancies each year. They are usually eager to interview and already have their job search touchpoints – CV’s, cover letters and LinkedIn profile – in fine fettle. Those in employment have made a conscious decision to leave their employer, so you don’t have to worry so much about tantalising counter offers. And those out of work don’t have long notice periods to contend with, reducing time-to-fill. Find them through job postings, outreach messages and employee referral programmes (EPR).


Accounting for 15% of the global workforce, tiptoers bridge the chasm between active and passive talent pools. They won’t have launched their job search strategy or be applying to open vacancies just yet, but they have made the important decision to move on from their current employer. They could be moving for the following reasons:

  • They seek to grow and develop their career, accruing more responsibility
  • They would like to make a career change and develop new skills
  • The would like to relocate to a new town, county or country
  • They dislike their current employers working practices or culture
  • They took early retirement but are missing the world of work

Unlike active candidates, tiptoers are unlikely to be on the radar of Talent Aquisition and HR. Instead, they’ll be keeping a low profile, proactively reaching out and engaging with their wider networks in the hope of enquiring about and securing a referral. Under no circumstances do they want their current employer to find out that they are looking for new roles. It’s important to catch tiptoers early on in their job search before they become active candidates. This reduces the likelihood of them starting the interview process with your competitors.

In summary: Tiptoers, like their active candidate counterparts, have made the decision to leave their company but have not yet started their job search. As such, they are unlikely to be in the interview process with your competitors, and might even have their job search touch points in place for a fast turnaround to the Hiring Manager. But they will be in full-time employment, increasing time-to-hire, and you will need to employ passive search techniques to unearth them. Find them through proactive sourcing and employee referral programmes (EPR).

RELATED: Increase quality-of-hire by partnering with a reputable boutique executive search firm

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Passive candidates

Accounting for 45% of the workforce, passive candidates are full time employed. When combined with the tiptoers, this talent pool accounts for a whopping 60% of the candidate market.

Passive candidates are not actively job seeking. In fact, with the exception of tiptoers, passive candidates have not come to the conclusion that the time is right to leave their current employer. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in hearing about new opportunities. In fact, 60% of passive candidates are open to talking to an executive search consultant.

Passive candidates don’t make themselves known to recruiters, executive search consultants and HR teams. They won’t apply to a job advert and are unlikely to be swayed by a talent acquisition campaign (although these undoubtedly raise employer brand awareness).  Passive candidates have to be proactively sourced, but it’s worth your effort. Here’s why:

  • They have the right skills and attributes and continue to polish these in the nurturing environment of their current employer.
  • They are under no pressure to leave and so the acceptance of an interview indicates genuine interst in the role and organisation.
  • They are not interviewing elsewhere, meaning they are likely to be able to make a fast, informed decision when an offer is made.

With the exception of candidates unearthed by your internal employee or candidate referral programme, the best method of finding passive candidates is through proactive headhunting.  Headhunting techniques don’t rely on the candidate raising their hand by applying to a job advert or visiting a career page. Instead, they rely on extensive market mapping, established networks and thorough candidate qualification processes to unearth and qualify the top performers irrespective of their job search activity and deliver these to the hiring manager.

In summary: Unlike their active and tiptoer counterparts, passive candidates have not made the decision to leave their company.  They will be in full-time employment, with potentially long notice periods for senior-level candidates, increasing time-to-hire. But they will be qualified, won’t be interviewing with competitors and if they’ve taken time out of work to interview, fully engaged and psych in the role and your organisation.  Find them through proactive sourcing and employee referral programmes (EPR).

Super-passive candidates

Super passive candidates account for 15% of the workforce. They aren’t seeking new opportunities and won’t be swayed otherwise. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be open to new opportunities in future. In fact, treat conversations with super passive candidates as opportunities to increase employer brand awareness.  You might not get the opportunity to qualify them during your initial conversation, but ensure you don’t miss the opportunity to let them know you’re interested in hearing from them if and when the time comes to explore new opportunities.

Active Vs tiptoers Vs passive candidates – which to choose?

The simple answer is whichever candidate has the best mix of skills, qualifications, expertise and character traits to succeed in the role. It doesn’t matter whether they were active, passive or tiptoers. What matters is that you qualified and shortlisted the very best candidates regardless of their job search activity. To do that, you need to ensure your search covers all bases.

While both proactive and reactive search methodologies can unearth top performers, the more thorough nature of proactive search techniques employed in retained search solutions means the likelihood of discovering high-calibre talent is greater. Proactive search techniques, by their very nature, leave no stone unturned and are deployed by the best headhunters and executive search firms. Providing the role is not confidential, they deploy job ads and campaigns to snare the curiosity of active candidates, while delivering a retained search, including market mapping.

And never overlook your employee or candidate referral programmes (EPR). Referrals are the fastest, most cost-efficient way to hire and an excellent tool for recruiting passive talent. But they will only snare active job seekers and tiptoers in your wider network (and that of your employees), which means they are not always suited for finding difficult-to-fill and specialist roles.

For more hiring advice tailored to hiring managers in the life science industry…

* Fraser Dove International is a specialist executive search firm operating exclusively in the Life Science industry. Passionate about people, we take pride in helping exceptional life science organisations source the talent they need to design, manufacture and distribute life-changing drugs, treatments and devices which transform and save patient lives.

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