Friday, August 19, 2005

Is There Any Such Thing As A Passive Candidate?

Some of you may have seen the article in the WSJ just a few days ago that was talking about the hunger recruiter's have for finding the so called "passive candidate." One of the comments in the article that I thought captured the bias that someone who is unemployed faces was CareerXRoads co-founder Mark Mehler's comment which was "You may be employed on Friday at a big company at a big salary, and at 4:55 on Friday get fired. On Monday [to a recruiter], you're a different person." I don't think many would argue that Mark's comment is, unhappily, right on target.

There certainly is no point in asking why since the bias that is operating in the world of employed versus unemployed simply has to take its place on a long list of stuff like this that has no basis in fact other than ignorance.

But I have often wondered what all the hoopla was around "passive candidates" and more importantly, how does one even define what a "passive candidate" is? There is so much hype around this phrase that one would think that every "passive candidate" was somehow endowed with some super intelligent DNA that those who are more assertive about managing their careers simply don't have. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Indeed I wonder if a lot of the hoopla and hype isn't really marketing copy to help me feel that the ROI I got from the fee I paid to the recruiter was because I hired a "passive candidate" who clearly is superior to anyone else out there because they "weren't actively looking."

Maybe someone else has seen it, but in all the survey data I have seen over the years, I don't recall ever seeing anything that suggested that the "passive" folks did any better than the "active" folks. Indeed, I recall seeing or reading somewhere that a study done by The Center for Creative Leadership found that 40% of new executives failed in the first 18 months on the job. In our annual survey of the executive marketplace that we do every year, the feedback we got from the search community as well as corporate HR departments came in with numbers very much along the same lines.

So, I am sitting here wondering if these executives who are failing are the "passive" ones that recruiters have worked so hard to find and place, or if they are simply the "active" ones who somehow slipped through the screening process? My belief is that one has really very little to do with the other, that when an organization is seeking talent, they would be far better served to look for people who can fix their problems and not worry so much about if a person happens to be working at the present time or not. At the rate we have been downsizing in this country for the past 10 years or so, we are long past the "also rans," and while we're at it, and given the competitive position in which we find ourselves on the global level, we would do well to stop worrying about some of these other "criteria" such as age, sex, race, and a dozen more "factors" I could name.

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