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Debunking the Myth: Why Active Candidates are Great, too

Debunking the Myth: Why Active Candidates are Great, too

It’s time to debunk what may be the costliest myth in recruiting - that active candidates are inferior to passive candidates. When recruiters consider candidates who are gainfully employed, but also actively applying to new jobs, they have traditionally seen disloyal future deserters, the chronic complainers and slackers that aren’t nearly as desirable as the loyal employees who are contentedly chugging away at their daily work without considering moving on to something new.

But recruiting isn’t a videogame and ‘leveling up’ in difficulty isn’t in and of itself beneficial. While passive candidates are important and can certainly make great hires, active candidates who are employed but available are much easier to reach, much more willing to take the leap, and often just as qualified and capable.

Active Candidates: The Facts

According to 2016 Indeed research, 71% of adults who are in or want to enter the labor force say they are actively looking for or open to a new job. 58% of those adults look at jobs at least monthly. That may be unsurprising, since it includes the unemployed and it is only logical that they should be actively job searching.

This, however, is far more compelling - 65% of employed people go back to looking at new jobs again within the first three months of starting their new job. That’s unsettling for the HR department, since employee turnover is expensive, but it’s also an indication that opportunistic job seeking is the new normal and actively applying to jobs while employed doesn’t mean that a candidate is low quality.

It might, in fact, reflect the opposite. The same research showed that those actively looking at job opportunities are more likely to be younger and better educated. More qualified candidates may be aware that they are great hires and want to stay open to new opportunities, challenges, and rewards. Further, being open to moving between jobs and companies is a millennial trait and cannot be a deterrent in a candidate if you want to hire across generations and build a workforce that will not all go into retirement concurrently.

Why Good Employees Quit

There are many valid reasons why good employees look for new jobs. Looking for a new job no longer means than an employee is underperforming and proactively job hunting before an inevitable firing. Here are the reasons why high performers leave their jobs.

1. Low pay.

As billionaire financier Sir James Goldsmith famously said, “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” High performing employees will realize, sooner or later, that there’s a disconnect between the value they provide and how they are compensated. If you don’t pay your employees what they deserve, the only employees you will have left are the ones who don’t deserve more.

Salaries that started out fair but don’t go anywhere inspire job changes, too. In a 2015 Ernst & Young survey of 10,000 working adults in eight countries, including the United States, stagnant wages were the number one reason why people quit their jobs. Roughly three-quarters of respondents said they low or nonexistent salary increases would cause them to look for a new job.

2. No upward mobility.

Just as high achieving employees expect regular salary raises to reward strong performance, high performers want the chance to grow into bigger and better positions. If your company doesn’t promote from within, or if promotions are political rather than based on merit, your best employees will go somewhere where they can have the higher title, greater responsibility, and higher pay that they have worked for.

3. Stingy benefits.

Offering an at-market salary isn’t enough anymore. With more and more companies offering a plethora of luxe perks, especially in the tech industry, you’re going to have to offer at least a solid benefits package if you want to keep your employees satisfied.

This doesn’t mean that you have to offer unlimited free snacks and meals, free laundry service onsite, a gym membership, or nap pods. Funding for continued education, good health insurance, generous sick days, flexible hours, telecommuting options, ample vacation time, and above-minimum maternity and paternity leave are the benefits that employees want the most.

4. Inadequate recognition.

Your employees are people, too, and people like to feel like their hard work is valued. Public recognition, promotions, and pay raises should be awarded appropriately when employees deliver exceptional work or go above and beyond in their commitment.

5. Lack of work-life balance.

Millennials are the first generation to willingly choose shorter hours and more vacation time over higher salaries. If your employees are expected to regularly burn the midnight oil, work on weekends, or forgo personal and family commitments, they won’t hang around for long.

Washington Post contributor Libby Hoppe already knew on the first day of her new job that she would quit. She did, two months later. When Hoppe had to pop out of the office to take care of a sick child, she was penalized with a loss of vacation time. Lack of flexibility with how and when work is performed can turn good employees off of employers, especially if they have family commitments. When it comes down to choosing between working your company and their families, most employees will choose their families.

6. Too much or too little work.

Great employees are often capable of more than they were initially tasked with and it can be very tempting for employers to pile on more work, when their employees continuously prove themselves able to rise to meet the challenge. “That level of capability can result in an employee being asked to do more work than he or she can handle, which can lead to long hours, frustration at contributing more than the rest of the team and ultimately, burnout” says Kate Anania, a multidisciplinary researcher at the RAND Corporation.

According to a 2015 TinyPulse Employee Retention Report, employees that are tired or burnt out are 31% more likely to look for a new job than their well-rested counterparts. Overworking your employees is drives down productivity and drives up turnover. Too little work can result in boredom and lack of fulfillment, which can be just as toxic.

7. Toxic work environment.

Sometimes a work environment is toxic and it has nothing to do with the employee’s behavior. Office gossip and conflicts, even experienced solely as an observer, can make an office an unpleasant place to work.

Further, not all managers know how to properly manage their teams. According to the 2015 TinyPulse Employee Retention Report, micromanaged employees are 28% more likely to consider switching jobs. Finally, there’s the question of culture.  According to the 2015 TinyPulse Employee Retention Report, employees who are dissatisfied with the work culture are 15% more likely to consider looking for a new job.

8. Changing career goals.

It is no longer uncommon for workers to switch industries at any point in their careers, if something else is more appealing. According to a 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics release, most people born in the late baby boom (1957-1964) have had 11.7 different jobs between the ages of 18 and 48.

Why Passive Candidates Are Overrated

By no means do we recommend pursuing only active candidates. The best recruitment strategy involves a good mix of active and passive talent and we at Happie pride ourselves on being experts at sourcing and converting top passive talent.

There is, however, the misperception that if a candidate is employed and not seeking new employment, she is thriving and engaged at her current job. Research debunks that myth. According to a 2013 Gallup study only 13% of employees are engaged at work. The other 87% lack motivation and are unlikely to put in more than the required amount of work.  

Active candidates may be looking for a new job because they are dissatisfied with their current position, but the evidence does not support that most passive candidates feel any differently. But how does this align with data from the CEB Recruiting Leadership Council Global Labour Market Briefing of 2014, which showed that passive candidates’ performance was rated 9% higher than active candidates’ performance and that passive candidates were 25% more likely to stay with the company in the long term than active candidates?

The answer lies not with the candidate, but with the process. “I don’t think that passive candidates are any better than active candidates per se, but the passive-candidate hiring process is probably more discerning from both the candidate’s and the employer’s side” says Kazim Ladimeji. “Passive candidates can be more choosey than active candidates and cherry pick roles they think that they are best suited to. They are in a stronger bargaining position and probably negotiate better conditions, meaning they are more engaged.”

Passive candidates are an important part of a strong recruiting pipeline, but they should not be valued at the expense of active candidates. Research suggests that passive candidates may not be consistently higher quality than active candidates, but rather that their hiring and onboarding process is more effective. Instead of writing off good candidates for coming to you first, focus on improving their outcomes by learning from the success of the hiring and onboarding process for passive candidates.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Danai Kadzere

Danai is a Content Marketer at Happie. Before Happie, she worked as a freelance writer, ghostwriter, and children's book author, after graduating from Harvard University with a BS in Human Evolutionary Biology. If she's not working, she's probably reading, baking, or getting lost.

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