Our New Least Favourite Word: “Candidate”

Not too long ago, I argued – very lucidly, I thought – that we should all stop using the word “talent” and instead focus on the concept of “expertise”.  I argued that there is no such thing as talent, and that expertise comes from hard work and practice, not from some sort of intangible, god-given essence installing only the lucky with particular skills above and beyond the levels that others will ever reach.

Now obviously, just as I expected, no-one paid a blind bit of notice.

So, given that no-one is likely to pay a blind bit of notice to this either, I want to spend a little of my evening explaining my disliking of another recruitment term: candidate.

Around the time I started recruiting (back in the strange world before social networks and the opening up of personal information), the recruiting industry came up with the idea that there are two types of “candidate”: an active candidate – i.e. one who is actively seeking a new job, and a passive candidate – one who isn’t actively looking for a job, but is nevertheless interested in considering new jobs, if they are better than the one they’re currently in.

The general argument was that active candidates – who were relatively easy to come by – represented only a very small part of the available expertise pool, and that great recruiting relied upon having access to the holy grail – the passive candidate.  You couldn’t find out about passive candidates by mining a CV database or by lumping an advert on a job-board, and there were no social networks, blogs, forums or any other form of user-generated content so you had to rely on your own networks to find them.  Once you did, and you got them interested in a job, they became a candidate that no-one else knew about: you were delivering access to expertise that others weren’t able to.

Now that last sentence was important.  Particularly the bit that said “they became a candidate”.  Because a candidate, in our world, is only a candidate at the point where they are being considered for a particular job.  Until they are involved in a recruiting process, they are just a person.  Until they say “yes I would like to be considered for that job”, they are not a candidate.

That was then.

Now, the concept of “passive” candidate has become so stretched that it no longer makes any sense.  Now that information about people and their professional competencies/skills has proliferated to the point where finding out about people is much easier, everyone is a candidate.  We’ve seen training courses about tapping into “passive” candidate pools on LinkedIn.  We’ve heard how to find “passive” candidates using Twitter.  Suddenly, everyone who a recruiter can find out about on-line without using a “traditional” on-line recruitment channel is a “passive” candidate.  Does that make sense?  You probably aren’t paying a blind bit of notice, so perhaps it doesn’t matter, but it would be nice to know you’re following.

I think that this is ridiculous.  A candidate is a candidate when they are under consideration for a job.  Exactly how that candidate was identified is now – in this more open world – irrelevant.  The fact that you are sourcing people on LinkedIn does not mean that you are providing access to “passive candidates”.

So, on this day of late September, 2012, I propose to the recruiting world a new, improved way of classifying the people you are hoping to engage with about jobs.  Our new classification system features three groups: job-seekers, job-peekers and job-keepers.  You can define each of those – if you must – like this:

Job-seekers: A job-seeker is a person who is actively looking for a job.  They become a candidate when they apply for a job, or when someone finds out that they are a job-seeker and approaches them about a job.  Information about job-seekers could be available on the open web or in closed CV stores.

Job-peekers: a job-peeker is not looking for a job.  Job-peekers are currently working/otherwise engaged.  Job-peekers don’t *normally* respond to adverts.  However, a job-peeker IS interested in looking (peeking) at job opportunities.  They like to know “what’s out there”.  And, if you put the right opportunity in front of them, they will become a candidate.  Information about many job-peekers is available on social networks, blogs, forums and all the other places the modern digital recruiting is fond of.

Job-keepers: A job-keeper is fiercely committed to doing what they are currently doing (be that employment, entrepreneurship, self-employment, whatever). Becoming a candidate is not on their radar.  It doesn’t happen, and won’t happen.  They won’t respond to even the most enticing-seeming opportunity.

This time round, we’ll invest a little more energy in trying to get our argument to stick.  We don’t think the word candidate should disappear, we just think it needs….refining a little.  So, recruiters of the world, join us in working with seekers, enticing peekers, and not getting upset when we encounter keepers.

If you’re taking a blind bit of notice, make our day and let us know what you think…otherwise, happy hunting!




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