The Passive Candidate and the Science Behind Finding Them

Posted on November 16, 2016

Recent improvements in the housing market and the subsequent increase in hiring needs have led to challenges in identifying top talent throughout the various channels within our industry. Companies are seeking the best of the best but to be candid, the best candidates are working; they are making a positive impact on their current companies; they are not actively seeking a new job; they are not posted on the Internet, hoping to be found.  These are the Passive Candidates; simple to identify, hard to recruit.

Despite the general opinion that “there’s no good people out there,” there is still excellent talent out there, available but finding these passive candidates is truly an art, or as we see it, a science. How does that affect you and your hiring process? The science of identifying passive candidates can seem simple, but it ultimately depends on your approach, your communication and whether or not you can earn their trust. It may seem easy, but in order to really hook them you must first know the science behind it.

The most common procedure I’ve been told in our industry is to reach out to your wholesale rep. to see if they know anyone who may be interested in the confidential opening you have. After all, he/she is the person-in-the know for what’s going on with your competition so they must know who is secretly looking for a change right? STOP…..I mean really people, why is this ever a good strategy? Is it REALLY confidential if you’re talking with your rep. about it? Let’s be honest, these reps have loyalty to all of their customers big and small and one day they will be asked by another dealer if they know anyone looking for a change. Remember, if they will do it for you, they undoubtedly may do it to you and one day, it could very well be one of your top performers they recruit for someone else! Do they really have a vested interest in you hiring someone from a competitor? Are we putting them in a bad spot by asking? And so it begins, the vicious cycle that often goes on in our industry and one that many refuse to see hidden vulnerability with. By no means am I trying to beat up on wholesale reps, they work hard, bring us valuable follow up and services. I am only pointing out the flaw in the idea of asking them to recruit for your company.

There are 3 basic categories in which most of us fall into:

  • Foundation Stones: Those who will never leave their current employer; they are happy, loyal with what they have been doing and will retire at their current employers. Why fix what isn’t broke?
  • Rolling Stones: Those who are always listening/looking; they will jump from job to job for a few more dollars— caution these people are always on the look!
  • Building Blocks: Interestingly enough the majority of candidates (about 70% of them), are most often somewhere in the middle. They don’t have to move, although they have thought about it once or twice, but likely won’t search unless they are given a reason too. Here is our target, the Passive Candidate (PC).


Having a hunter mentality, just like many successful sales people in our industry; we have to network with our connections to identify the right path. Once the PC is identified, you need to know how to engage. How can I get this person to respond to my phone call or email when they know nothing about me and why I am calling them? This starts with knowing your audience, and once they realize you have something in common— they will listen.

Gain Trust:

We hear it all the time, the LBM market is a big industry and a small tight knit family. Keeping things quiet around here is a not easy, especially if the wrong person finds out. No wonder so many PC’s are afraid to reach out. Remember the vendor rep.? How secure do you think they feel confiding in a vendor rep. that they are passively looking? They might as well give notice that day, no way are they a safe outlet to the passive candidate. In our world, we create a safe harbor, a place the PC can pull up, discuss options and find the resources to find exactly what they need. We are their safe outlet, we listen to their story and let them tell or ask us anything they want. We become their trusted advisor. Getting them to invest in the process early on, allocating and helping them identify the relationship is a shared investment, and uncovering why the opportunity is in their best interest is what gains their trust. Believe it or not, we often coach candidates to stay put if we feel what they seek is unrealistic or if they are looking for the wrong reasons.

Establish Interest:

As you approach the PC, there are several questions to consider: Why would you consider a change? What are their career goals? Are they interested in what you have to offer? Is the job a lateral move, does it offer growth potential, is there a succession path? What does this role offer that theirs does not? Many of these questions are answered during the initial engagement process, but once you know what the PC wants it’s easy to understand precisely where their interest lies. Why would we call them in the first place if we didn’t already know there would be some curiosity in what we have to offer? Still it’s important to continue the rapport building process and share as much about the opportunity with the PC as possible. Cultivate their curiosity and allow them to engage and investigate further points of interest.


It’s time to act, if you have engaged with the PC in each of the preliminary steps—motivating them to act on the process should be seamless. The typical hang-ups are they are too busy, are at work, not sure when they could meet, have never made a resume, have not updated their resume, they are concerned about word getting out….You can hear the pressure building. This is the time when we need to lower the pressure and present the opportunity to “have a discussion.” Nothing too formal, a phone call will do. Make it a time to meet and talk about the candidate, where they have been, where they are going and how that fits into what your company is planning or in need of. Minimize the pressure, increase your opportunity to land the passive candidate. Remember the best relationships start with a conversation.

Over the last two years the economy has been changing—unemployment is decreasing and the talent market has become extremely competitive and aggressive. Passive candidates are not looking, so they will never contact you or respond to your job posting directly. We are industry specific recruiters with over 250 years of experience in the LBM Industry, thus know who to look for, how to find them and how to engage in a conversation that will lead to your having a mutually beneficial relationship. It’s sounds like a simple recipe, that many could follow – but there is a science and that starts with truly knowing your audience. Your recruiter is an advocate for the retailer, the wholesale, the manufacturing, etc. It’s the scientific understanding of people, coupled with a strong understanding of the industry and its business channels that enable us to go out and successfully target specific audiences to uncover the “Best in Class” candidates for your “Best in Class” business.


Written by: Kammey Grierson, Vice President
kammey@snapdragonassociates.com – 603-621-9037 ext. 107