Do passive candidates read job adverts?

Before writing this blog, I crowdsourced the opinions of anyone who cared to express one.

I was surprised by the results. I was expecting more recruiters to say that the only way to find passive candidates was to source them directly.

I was especially encouraged by the comments posted by non-recruiters (also sometimes known as candidates and clients) – many of whom suggested that for them to respond whilst browsing job ads at a time when they didn’t need another job, the ad would need to stand out from the others and/or be remarkable in some way.

What that means in basic terms is looking at a page of search results for, let’s say a Marketing Manager, and not seeing opening sentences in each advert summary like:

“We need..”

“We are seeking…”

“You will be responsible for..”

Instead of something that potentially relates to their needs or intrigues them, like:

“Still not got that promotion you’ve been hoping for?”

“Here’s proof you’re not earning what you’re worth.”

“My English teacher used to tell me to avoid the word ‘nice’…”

Opening sentences like those last three are called ‘attention grabbers’ or ‘pattern disruptors’.

They’re designed to encourage people to click and to reader further. They work – but only if the job ad then lives up to the inherent promise made in the opening line.

There’s a standard sales tactic that many agency recruiters use in conversations with hiring authorities. One that evolved in the early 2000s when the Internet, LinkedIn and Job Boards had started to democratise the sourcing of potential candidates.

It goes something like this:

“The best candidates aren’t browsing job ads because they’re too busy being good at their current job. We specialise in finding candidates who are in the market, not on the market.”

This particular piece of sales rhetoric became especially popular around 15 or so years ago when many recruitment agencies stopped being horizontal market specialists and started being vertical market specialists. It’s where the 24 year old International Headhunter who a year ago was selling mobile phones in your local high street was first born.

The problem is of course that they’re not really headhunters and they don’t know how to attract people to jobs who are otherwise reasonably happy where they are. The flood of automated agency emails containing awful content is testimony to that.

The reality is that so-called passive candidates are far more likely to respond to an advert, a social media update, an email or a phone call if the job in question potentially offers them something their current job isn’t able to do. And that something is almost never a bigger salary cheque.

However, the logic of my argument notwithstanding, this is just anecdotal evidence from a handful of comments on LinkedIn and a recruiter with copywriting courses to sell.

Empirical data on recruitment activity is, and always has been, difficult to come by.

This is largely because those who have the most of it (recruitment agencies) either don’t want to share it or don’t measure very much of it, so I’ll end this blog with an attempt to offer more scientific clues that strongly suggest passive candidates do look at job ads. A quick perusal of Google Trends shows that as many people are searching for jobs as they were back in the recession years of 2008 to 2010. Depending on the job discipline, sometimes it’s more.

The dips in the graph coincide with the pre-Christmas periods. The huge spike in 2011 is when Steve Jobs died.

So firstly, people in general are still typing some kind of job-related search term into Google.

So, they’re looking, but are they reacting?

According to some of the analysis from reputable recruitment service providers like Social Talent and Jobvite, the percentage of job ad viewers who do not click ‘apply’ is around 98%.

Think about that one for a moment.

For every hundred people going to the effort of searching for the term “marketing jobs”, only 2 are responding to those jobs.

Thirdly, Shane Gray of Clinch; a recruitment marketing and CRM platform, suggests that, according to his data, the majority of viewers of job ads are passive. I quote:

“The research showed that a large proportion of people who look at jobs are primarily looking for new opportunities, they already have a job but are looking to improve their situation. Better salary, better conditions, promotion opportunities, the reasons are many and varied.”

Bottom line?

Potential candidates are looking in the shop window, but not walking into the shop.

So, to answer the question posed in the headline…

Yes, passive candidates do read job adverts. If they’re worth reading.

And if they like what they read, some of them will get in touch. Those that don’t get in touch, might just remember you when they are ready.

But they’ll only remember you if your ads don’t read like all the others

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