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Employee Engagement | 8 minute read

5 Ways to Activate Today’s Best Passive Talent

January 10, 2018

Talent leaders and their recruitment teams are feeling the narrowing candidate market. Specifically, the US unemployment rate has dropped to 4.1 percent at the outset of 2018, with the global unemployment rate reaching as low as 5.8 percent in 2017. In addition, passive talent makes up 75 percent of the global workforce; only 45 percent of these candidates are “open” to speaking with a recruiter – making them harder to find using traditional search methods, harder to engage with, and ultimately harder to land.

Passive candidates are, by definition, not looking for a new job opportunity. They’re content in their current situations, likely successful and engaged. That said, even with the above research in mind, the right recruitment strategy can get them to listen. As companies seek to overcome the narrowing candidate market, talent leaders need a way to tap into the passive talent pool. The following uncovers five proven ways to spark the intrigue of today's top passive talent.


Employment branding is a unique, ever-present challenge. Strategic efforts in this area facilitate customer and business partner growth, passive candidate funnel expansion, as well as employee engagement, retention and performance. This isn’t a new revelation by any means. However, many are still challenged trying to transition brand strategy from aspiration to reality.

WilsonHCG recently held a conference with various partners and peers to explore ways in which industry leaders are overcoming these challenges and leveraging their brands in a way that optimizes talent acquisition, including its impact on the recruitment of passive talent. The leaders and companies in attendance put their heads together to develop nine steps to optimize employment brand, achieve buy-in at the executive level, and ultimately move the business forward.

To summarize, according to Mary Megali, Director of Talent Acquisition at OpenText EIM (Canada’s largest software company),“You cannot just put words on a screen and tell people who you are; you need to discover who you are and live and breathe that authenticity.” As Ms. Megali explains, companies first need to discover and define their brand, because falsities will be recognized – especially by passive candidates who are already less engaged than active candidates and often rely on referrals from people they trust to learn about opportunities.

At WilsonHCG, we recently teamed up with Talent Pulse from HCI to explore the latest trends and challenges in talent acquisition. For one report in particular, we spoke with more than 200 C-level, VP-level and director-level industry leaders to gain insight into employee referrals and their unique impact on passive talent recruitment.

According to our research, 85 percent of HR leaders agree strongly that current employees are their most effective employment branding/recruitment tool. However, just 41 percent of employees would recommend their place of work to a friend or former colleague. In addition, nearly 30 percent of surveyed organizations have increased their use of employee referrals over the past year alone.

The above feedback from these peers suggests that companies have quite a bit of work to do in order to encourage active employment brand ambassadorship in a way that attracts passive talent; it starts by first creating a workplace people want to “be” and who will, then, feel empowered and inspired to promote across social media, job review websites and through referrals. Referral programs are one of the most impactful ways to sway passive talent; if companies can inspire their people to impress upon passive candidates your culture, mission, vision and leadership, the business results are significant.


The marketing and talent strategy lines are continuing to blur. According to one Fortune 500 employment brand leader we spoke with, “Companies are starting to respect employment brand as much, if not more, than company or consumer brand. Business leaders are realizing that employment brand has a great impact on finding and keeping top talent in order to have and provide the very best products and services.”

Toward this end, companies need to partner with marketing to tell their employment stories, to make certain go-to-market strategies are aligned organization-wide, and to achieve maximum outreach. You may have a remarkable brand and top place to work, but if candidates aren’t learning about it you’re simply back to the tree falling in a forest analogy.

At one Fortune 500 company, talent acquisition sees upward of 15 touches (e.g., referrals, job boards, benefit exploration, culture, compensation, social media profiles, among others) before a candidate applies. Companies need to figure out what 15 touch points make the most difference in a passive candidate’s decision, the most enticing points are that draw these candidates in, and what compels them to say “yes” to your invitations.

One of the primary solutions to turning the heads of passive talent – and what too many companies are not doing, out of fear – is to invest in and communicate real-time performance management and robust learning and development (L&D) opportunities; opportunities that not only engage, motivate and equip your workforce for the future of work but likewise inspire your people to share the employment brand gospel with outside talent.

Regardless of generation, the attraction of passive talent and retention of your workforce relies heavily on providing legitimate opportunity for your current people to grow, at the outset of their tenure. People of all generations are demanding more and, to outpace the competition leading organizations need to offer the opportunity for personal and professional growth.

Training your employees may indeed cause them to look elsewhere (where the aforementioned “fear” arises from), but building an engaged, motivated and empowered workforce is the blueprint for successful long-term talent strategy. The reality is, people are going to voluntarily leave. But if they are treated well, challenged, trusted and given the opportunity to grow, they are much more likely to incite loyalty and retention. They’ll also spread the word to passive sources about your exceptional environment and open roles.

When prospecting the best of the best passive talent, patience perseveres. "No” often means not right now. When seeking to attract passive talent, always leave the door open. If a candidate says no, move them to your talent pool – talent acquisition is synergistic and circuitous, so keep your communities engaged and invested in. According to WilsonHCG Fortune 500 Top 100 Employment Brands report, if candidates (active and passive) see positive employee and candidate experiences on review sites or in communication with peers, they feel “significantly more confident” in making a career move. 

In the following brief but insightful podcast episode, Craig Sweeney, WilsonHCG Senior Vice President of Global Strategic Talent Solutions, dives deeply into recruiting hard-to-fill sales roles and how to best nurture passive sales talent. In addition, Craig offers up the fundamental steps of a proactive, engaging salesforce recruitment strategy in the midst of today's digital revolution. Access the episode today!

[PODCAST] Your Guide to Sales Hiring

About WilsonHCG

WilsonHCG is an award-winning, global leader in total talent solutions. Operating as a strategic partner, it helps some of the world’s most admired brands build comprehensive talent functions. With a global presence spanning more than 65 countries and six continents, WilsonHCG provides a full suite of configurable talent services including recruitment process outsourcing (RPO), executive search, contingent talent solutions and talent consulting. TALENT.™ It’s more than a solution, it’s who we are.