Passive Candidates: How to Source, Interview & Hire Top Talent (Before They Start Looking For A Job)

Written by
Andrew Wood
Last updated:
Created on:
June 7, 2024

Passive Candidates: How to Source, Interview & Hire Top Talent (Before They Start Looking For A Job)

Traditional recruitment typically involves creating a job listing, waiting for applications to roll in, and choosing the best fit. Sure, this method works. But it only lets you target around 30% of the global talent pool—active candidates. 

The remaining 70% are passive candidates. They aren't actively searching for a job, but if the right opportunity is presented to them in the right way, they may be interested in making a move. Attracting, engaging, and converting passive candidates requires more effort, but the payoff can be more than worth it.

In this article, we will introduce you to the concept of passive candidates and then give you a step-by-step process for finding, recruiting, screening, and hiring them. Along the way, you’ll also learn how Willo can help you reduce friction in your recruitment process (which is absolutely key when it comes to passive candidates).

But before we dive in...

Who Are Passive Job Candidates?

Passive candidates are skilled professionals currently employed and not actively searching for new job opportunities. They're generally satisfied (or at least not unhappy) with their current job and not actively looking for a new one. But they are open to new opportunities if the right one comes along. 

The trick is convincing passive candidates that your company and the job you have to offer are worth leaving their current employer for. This is where effective passive candidate recruitment strategies come into play.

Why Should You Care About Passive Candidates?

Fewer screening headaches

Studies show you might need to screen 152 active applicants to find one good fit. With passive candidates, that number drops to 72.

Known competition

With active candidates, you might be competing with 40+ other employers for their attention. After all, the average jobseeker submits 16 applications per week. With passive candidates, you might be the only option they’re considering.

That means your primary competition is their current employer—if you can show that your opportunity provides more challenge, growth, compensation, or something else a candidate might be looking for, you may have an easier time recruiting them to your side. 

How to Source Passive Candidates

1. Identify your ideal candidate’s skills and responsibilities 

Before you start sourcing candidates, take a step back to define the role you’re trying to fill. Then, identify specific skills, tasks, or competencies that are essential for this role.

For example, instead of simply targeting the job title "marketing manager," you might identify the key skills as content creation, campaign management, and social media expertise. This shift in focus ensures you're attracting candidates with the abilities you truly need—not just those with a particular title.

Once you fully grasp the essential skills and responsibilities, you can use them to build your ideal candidate persona.

2. Create candidate personas

If you want an in-depth guide on how to do this, check out our article on creating a candidate persona. The short version is that you create a profile that includes all the essential information about your ideal candidate, including: 

  • Key competencies
  • Skills
  • Experience level
  • Career trajectory
  • Job title 
  • Goals and ambitions

You’ll then use these to inform your sourcing efforts. We’ll explain more in the following sections, but a simple example would be using the details from your persona as filters on LinkedIn.

3. Use your networks

Current employees are often your best source of passive candidates. 

Think about it—they have their own connections and networks that you can tap into to find passive candidates. Plus, they can vouch for your company as a fantastic place to work, which can help get candidates excited before they even start the process.

So, share your candidate persona with your employees and let them help in the search. You can even set up an employee referral program, offering incentives for every candidate they refer. This motivates them to pitch in and rewards them for their hard work. 

Employees aside, connect with colleagues, industry contacts, and alumni networks—physically or digitally. Let them know you're looking for top talent, and share the specific skills you need. You never know who might have a passive candidate in mind.

4. Use LinkedIn Sales Navigator 

Networking platforms like LinkedIn are designed for professionals to showcase their skills and experience. So, they’re basically tailor-made for sourcing passive candidates.

With LinkedIn Sales Navigator, you have access to powerful search tools that let you filter profiles based on specific criteria like: 

  • Location
  • Industry
  • Job titles
  • Skills
  • Keywords

For example, you can search for marketing managers with experience in social media advertising who currently work at a company that’s been outcompeting your own. This level of specificity makes it super simple to find the right candidates for your open positions.

Source: Evaboot

Use Boolean search queries (e.g., "[job title] AND [specialty] AND [company name]") to narrow down your results even further.

5. Search online communities

Online communities can also lead you to your next passive talent. Find and join the communities that are most relevant to your industry or the skill sets you’re looking for. 

X (formerly Twitter) is an excellent place to find these. Below is an example of some popular communities for front-end developers.


You can find communities on other social platforms, too. For example, here’s a community of sales management executives on LinkedIn with more than 500,000 members—if you’re looking for candidates, this can be a great place to start.

Here’s another one—an AWS DevOps community on Facebook with almost 20,000 members.

When you join these communities, you want to look for individuals who consistently offer valuable insights and demonstrate strong expertise. These individuals might be perfect for senior-level positions or roles requiring niche skill sets.

How to Engage Passive Candidates

1. Showcase what it’s like to work with you

After you create a list of passive candidates, your instinct is to reach out as quickly as possible. But there’s some work you need to do beforehand.

The second they’re contacted, the first thing they’ll do is check out the company’s website, social media profiles, and reviews. If your employer brand isn’t impressive, you’re going to have a very hard time convincing passive candidates to go through the application process.

This was actually a core finding in our 2024 Hiring Trends Report.

Source: Willo 2024 Hiring Trends Report

More than 83% of the recruiters we surveyed believed that a strong employer brand was either “Very…” or “Extremely important” when it comes to attracting top talent.

Your employer brand is simply how candidates perceive your company as a place to work. And passive candidates are going to be pickier than active candidates on average, so it’s important to make a good impression right from the start.

To make sure you impress:

  • Create a dedicated careers page that includes testimonials, benefits information, and an explanation of your company culture.
  • Showcase employees on your website and on social media (a @lifeatyourcompany account can be helpful).
  • Share company news, achievements, and events on your social media platforms to give potential candidates a glimpse into your company culture.
  • Encourage current employees to share their experiences on sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn to attract top talent.
  • Prioritize great candidate experiences so that even unsuccessful candidates will have positive things to say about your company.

2. Reach out where it’s convenient 

There isn't a single "best" place to reach out to passive candidates.

But as a rule of thumb, we recommend contacting them through the channels you sourced them from. For instance, if you found them on LinkedIn, you can send them a connect request to get the conversation started.

If you can get their email, that can also be a nice way to reach out (be careful, though, to look for personal emails—sending a poaching email to a corporate address could lead to being ignored). In the same vein, a call might be considered too intrusive or it might look like a scam. Instead, reach out via DM or email and try to schedule a quick call or video chat to discuss further.

3. Keep it short and sweet

When you’re contacting passive candidates, you're interrupting someone who might not be actively looking for a new job. Be concise and respectful of their time. Here are some important considerations when it comes to outreach:

  • Focus on a clear opening: Start with a friendly greeting and a brief introduction. Explain how you came across their profile and why you believe their skills and experience could be a great fit for your company.
  • Be specific: Give specific points to support why you think they would be a good fit for the role. This could include highlighting specific skills or experiences that make them stand out.
  • Keep it short: Your initial message should be no more than a few sentences. This will give the passive candidate enough information to pique their interest without overwhelming them with too much information.

4. Emphasize your company culture 

We also recommend that you weave aspects of your company culture into your outreach message. For example, mention flexible work arrangements, a strong focus on professional development, or a collaborative team atmosphere.

5. Provide the next step

End your message by giving interested candidates a clear idea about what’s next. 

A quick phone call is often a good place to start—include your phone number and a few times that you’re available. You can also invite them to check out your company website or send a message if they have any questions.

Here’s a sample template you can use for your outreach: 

Hi [Candidate Name],

I came across your profile on [Platform where you found them] and was impressed by your experience in [Specific skill or area]. At [Your Company Name], we're currently looking for someone with your expertise in [Brief description of the open position].

While I understand you might not be actively searching for new opportunities, I believe [Your company] could be a great fit for your skills and career goals. We offer [Mention something unique about your company culture or the position, e.g., a collaborative team environment, strong focus on professional development, or impactful projects].

Would you be open to a quick call to discuss your career aspirations and explore if there might be a potential fit? I'm available at [List a few times that work for you] or you can reply with your availability.

In the meantime, you can learn more about us at [Link to company website, specific page about culture, or relevant open positions].

Thanks, [Your Name]

Now, you wait for those responses to start trickling in. 

If the responses don’t come after 5-7 business days, a quick follow-up might help push things forward. You can check in with the candidates to see what they think about your message. Be careful, though—you don’t want them to feel pestered or harassed. Generally, we recommend a maximum of two follow-ups; if they don’t respond after that, leave them alone.

Here are two things you need to consider in your follow-ups: 

  • Your initial outreach method: A follow-up email after 5-7 business days is a good starting point.
  • Urgency of the role: If the position needs to be filled quickly, make sure that’s mentioned in your initial reach-out. Then, you might be able to justify a slightly shorter wait time before the first follow-up. However, even in urgent cases, balance persistence and respect. 

How to Screen & Interview Passive Candidates

During this whole process, the priority has been personalization. Passive candidates need more white-glove recruitment tactics to get them engaged—and that’s true for the screening and interview process as well.

A synchronous 1-on-1 interview is often the best way to maintain this personal touch. However, these interviews can waste valuable time (both yours and the candidate's) and may not always be easy to schedule.

The solution? A hybrid sync-async approach. Use async video interviews to gather foundational information and synchronous interviews for deeper follow-up conversations that build on the initial screening.

Here’s an overview of the process:

1. Start with synchronous 1-to-1s

Kick the process off with a synchronous 1-to-1 conversation between the candidate and a member of the hiring team. Your goal here is to get the candidate excited about the company, role, and process, as well as brief them on specifics, like:

  • What the interview process like
  • How many stages there are
  • Who they’ll be meeting with

Once you’re done explaining the process, let the candidate know that you collect an async video interview to cover the basics and that it will be sent to them after the call. Let them know that you do this so that they don’t need to start each interview by repeating their whole life story.

2. Set up async video interviews 

Next, create a list of the questions that every stakeholder will ask. This will save everyone time and ensure consistency in the evaluation process. Make sure you’re not going beyond the basics here—passive candidate async interviews need to be short and to the point.

Then, set up the interview using your async video interview tool.

Willo has helped thousands of businesses screen and interview interview candidates at a scale with seamless async video interviews. WillowTree uses Willo to screen over 17,000 candidates yearly, and we saved Packaly the cost of hiring up to four recruiters.

Here’s how this part of the process works:

  1. Create a list of questions: Again, the idea here is to focus on core information that everyone on the hiring team wants to know. Willo supports a wide range of response types (e.g., video, audio, text, and file upload), so you can get creative. We also let you set redo and time limits to add structure and consistency to the process.
  2. Invite candidates: This is as simple as sending an invite link via email, text, or messaging platform (or however else you’ve been communicating with the candidates). Candidates can access the interview and record their responses from their computer or smartphone at a time that works best for them.
  3. Review responses: Willo also makes your life easier on the backend with tools for reviewing, sharing, and evaluating candidates. You can create interview scorecards, shortlists, and more.

It’s important to inform stakeholders and interviewers about the pre-recorded responses so they don't repeat questions in live interviews. Repetition can be a major drain on candidate excitement and might make them question your company's organization.

Schedule buffer time before and in between live interviews so that interviewers actually have a chance to review async responses, catch their breath, go to the bathroom, etc.

3. Move onto live interviews

Once you’ve reviewed the pre-recorded responses, it’s time to move on to live interviews.

In these conversations, the goal is to build on the information you collected during the async stage and dive deeper into:

  • Skills and qualifications
  • Personality and cultural fit
  • Motivations and career goals

Make sure to have a clear structure for the interview, with specific questions tailored to each candidate. Remember—personalization is an important part of this process.

How to Hire Passive Candidates 

1. Highlight value (beyond salary)

While compensation is important, salary alone won't necessarily sway a passive candidate. Take this opportunity to reiterate your company's unique value proposition.

  • Career growth opportunities: Outline clear paths for professional development. Highlight training programs, mentorship opportunities, or participation in industry conferences. Demonstrate your commitment to investing in their long-term growth.
  • Positive work environment: Emphasize the aspects of your company culture that resonate with the candidate. Is it a collaborative team atmosphere, a strong focus on work-life balance, or the opportunity to work on impactful projects? Tailor your offer to highlight aspects that align with their values and career goals.
  • Flexibility and autonomy: Many passive candidates might be happy in their current roles but are seeking a more flexible work arrangement or greater autonomy. If your company offers these benefits, highlight them within the offer package.

2. Keep candidates engaged

The time between offer and acceptance can be a crucial period. Maintain clear and consistent communication with the candidates to keep them engaged and excited about the opportunity.

Here are some tips:

  • Set expectations: Outline the next steps after they receive the offer, including any background checks or paperwork they need to complete.
  • Open communication lines: Let them know they can reach out to you with any questions they might have about the offer or the onboarding process. This open communication fosters trust and demonstrates your commitment to a positive candidate experience.
  • Address concerns proactively: If the candidate hesitates or expresses concerns, address them promptly and transparently. Be prepared to answer questions about the role, company culture, or team dynamics. This proactive approach can help alleviate any doubts and encourage them to accept the offer.

3. Proactive onboarding

Don't wait until the first day to welcome your new hire. A positive onboarding experience starts even before they officially join the team.

  • Pre-boarding communication: Send a welcome email with essential information about their start date, key contacts, and any pre-boarding tasks. This creates a sense of connection and sets them up for a smooth transition.
  • Warm welcome: Plan a warm welcome for their first day. Introduce them to their colleagues, familiarize them with the work environment, and provide the necessary resources to get them started.
  • Mentorship and support: Assign a mentor to guide them through the initial learning curve. Offer regular check-ins and opportunities for feedback. Investing in their success from day one demonstrates your commitment to their long-term development and well-being.

Recruiting the Best Passive Candidates 

Targeting passive candidates opens you to a wider and potentially even more qualified talent pool. In this article, we covered how to nail down your passive candidate recruitment strategy, from sourcing and outreach to screening and hiring.

Keep in mind that your screening and interview process significantly influences whether a candidate will join your team. Using a tool like Willow to streamline your interviews and parts of your hiring process gives you a significant advantage for success.

The best part? You can start using Willow for free today!

Andrew Wood
LinkedIn profile

What you should do now

Book a demo

See how Willo is already helping 5,000+ organizations streamline their hiring processes.

Check for more resources

Our blog is full of useful stories and resources.

Share this post

Use the links below to share this post on the platform of your choice.