Why Engaging with Reluctant Passive Talent is Essential in a Candidate Short Market! 

I’ve always been fascinated by the sinking of the Titanic. I was, I suspect, like many kids of my vintage, enthralled by the story of the voyage and the fatal encounter with the iceberg in the North Atlantic. It was a clear sky that night, but the ship’s lookout didn’t have his binoculars (they were locked in a safe and he didn’t have the key), so his cries of “Iceberg dead ahead” came far too late. It’s estimated that the iceberg Titanic collided with would’ve been 50-100 feet tall, but more recent experts have claimed it could’ve weighed up to 75 million tonnes. The Titanic didn’t stand a chance against that behemoth. What the ship’s lookout would’ve seen that night only made up about 10% of the iceberg that was visible above the waterline. The 90% below the waterline did all the damage, and that’s the part that always intrigued me. 

I’ve often used the above analogy when describing the talent pool in the Insurance market in Ireland. The bits we see – the active talent (candidates who are actively pursuing a new opportunity) only make up about 10% of the entire candidate pool. I’m eternally fascinated by the other 90% (below the waterline) that makes up the passive talent (candidates who are not actively job-seeking or gainfully employed) but are always open to a conversation. 

Right now, the War For Talent rages onwards, and with the talent shortage being acutely felt in almost every sector, not least in the insurance market, with many employers seeking out the hidden gems, the importance of engaging with passive talent has never been more evident. With decreased talent availability and increased competition for qualified candidates, finding sufficient people to interview, never mind the best people to fill positions, is like scaling Everest. This has led many employers to consider connecting with somewhat reluctant job seekers who are often highly resistant to change. This shows up currently in several ways, one of these being candidates who initially express some enthusiasm for a new opportunity, commencing a hiring process but then ghosting the employer and going dark just when the sausage begins to sizzle. 

So what’s going wrong in the market, and why are employers finding this a challenging hiring climate? For starters, there has been a sustained period of growth in many sectors with many new jobs being created, and the talent supply lines haven’t kept apace with the demands. Secondly, there has been a reluctance on the part of many employers who are finding it challenging to fill job openings through traditional recruitment methods to consider alternatives. It stands to reason that with a decline in supply, and a parallel increase in competition, finding qualified candidates creates a challenging hiring landscape. In this harsh hiring climate, employers must use alternative strategies that involve tapping into new and different talent pools, some unchartered waters.

Reaching Out to Reluctant Prospects

One of the most proactive ways to identify potential hires is by engaging with passive talent, candidates who otherwise are doing well where they are but can see the value in exploring new opportunities. They could also be reluctant job seekers who feel uncertain about seeking new employment opportunities, and this could be due to a lack of confidence in their skills or a general fear of change. This is an entirely understandable stance in an industry like insurance, where many are genetically engineered to be risk-averse. These prospects must be wooed and coaxed into a conversation before they’ll engage with any employer, and that process begins with the approach. Wooing job seekers that are not actively seeking new employment requires a delicate touch in reaching out to them with many reluctant to engage if the initial approach isn’t sufficiently compelling. There are many benefits for employers in reaching out to this passive talent. Accessing this hidden talent pool can provide employers with access to a larger selection of potential candidates. This can increase the diversity of the workplace, which is an important factor in finding the best candidates. Additionally, it will allow employers to tap into a new source of creative solutions, as job seekers may have different ideas and perspectives than those who are actively interviewing.

One way to address these reluctant prospects is by engaging them in an open conversation (Note: This should ideally be over telephone or virtual conference as opposed to a back and forth online) about their careers to date, identifying any gaps between where they are now and where they’d ideally like to be. Unless the opportunity you present in some way addresses this gap whether the gap is financial, career trajectory etc, the chances of wooing said prospect to your side of the fence diminishes. Remember these are not active job seekers who are actively seeking new opportunities, they’re potential job seekers who could be persuaded to join your team or organization if the underlying opportunity addresses some perceived gaps in their career. To understand what and why those gaps are important does require employers to get their heads under the hoods of these candidates careers and identify accurately what those gaps are and how their opening might address these. Broadly speaking gaps and potential areas to explore can be summarised under the following acronym – CLAMPS:

Challenge – some prospects are not sufficiently challenged in the roles they currently hold. Many are therefore reluctant to engage with employers if they perceive the opportunity as being at best a lateral career move.

Location – many candidates are now conditioned to working from home for a significant portion of the week. Put simply if the location of your opening demands a heavy commute or worse requires that they be in the office for the majority of the working week, given the success broadly of a hybrid working model, you’re going to struggle to get meaningful traction with any candidate.

Advancement – this is a key gap for many active and passive candidates. In the absence of a defined career path, some candidates may decide to seek an alternative employer. Most in my experience do not, but rather settle for the mediocre positions they currently hold because “better the devil you know”. Any approach to these candidates must address this key point early in the conversation. It simply has to make compelling sense for them to engage in a conversation about your opening and if your opportunity lacks the sizzle, they’re going to stay right where they are.

Money – always a little controversial and I’ve often fallen on the side of not engaging with any candidate whose sole motivation for considering a move is monetary. Frankly in my opinion, that’s a counter offer waiting to happen. At a deeper level though, any conversation that veers in the direction of Money must address what the additional remuneration will mean to that candidate and why making more money is important to them at this point in their lives. It’s too simplistic to just assign the reasons to plain old avarice or greed when there may well be a deeper meaning attached to remuneration hike.

People – one of the reasons reluctant talent often expresses reticence to leave their current employer is because of a genuine connection they hold with the people they work with or under. Many express open doubts that they’ll ever work for a “better boss” or a “better team”. Rather than seek to undermine this close bond they’ve formed, I often challenge them with “So you’re planning on remaining there until you retire then, congratulations!” This sometimes shocks them back into the reality and employers are better served holding up the mirror to what they’re actually saying rather than seeking to outpoint their current setup. The reality is that many reluctant candidates are often too scared to contemplate life beyond their comfort blanket and have built up this defence as a result.

Security – In the current economy of massive cost of living hikes, inflation, interest rate rises and uncertainty, is it any wonder that most people seek security first and foremost when it comes to entertaining an alternative. Many tenured candidates would rather the notional security of their current role than the potential for sudden unemployment should the move to their dream job not work out. In their view, it’s a massive gamble to move jobs knowing they’ll have to fulfill at least six months probation and run the risk that either party decides it’s not the right fit. Again when dealing with risk averse people this is a natural deterrent to many who will seek safety in holding onto what they’ve already got. In that scenario employers have to offer something that negates this need for security, be it a significant pay increase, added bonuses or other long term incentives that the candidate wouldn’t be entitled to with their current employers or some other non financial benefit such as additional/uncapped annual leave, better work/life balance or simply a guaranteed progression path (subject to key performance milestones being met).

Strategies for Connecting with Reluctant Talent

Connecting with reluctant talent requires a strategic approach. To make a successful connection, employers must make an effort to build trust with the individual. This can be done by establishing clear communication channels, showing empathy towards their unique situation, and displaying respect for them and their current situation.

Employers must also develop a creative recruiting strategy. Reaching out to passive talent may mean employers considering various methods sometimes concurrently such as using social media platforms to connect, leveraging referrals to widen their reach, and offering alternative recruitment options rather than a one size fits all approach to hiring. The most successful of these are often the employers who are willing to engage with passive talent any day of the year irrespective of whether they have an opening or not. A willingness to have exploratory conversations with someone can often lead to a more meaningful discussion than sometimes is possible in the pressure cooker of a formal interview. Many of these often lead to hires further down the line.


In a tough hiring climate, employers should consider connecting with passive talent to access a larger pool of potential candidates, increase diversity, and create more creative solutions. To make a successful connection, employers must build trust with the individuals by setting communication expectations, showing empathy, and displaying respect. Additionally, employers should develop a creative recruiting strategy to reach out to reluctant talent, such as using social media, leveraging referrals, and offering alternative recruitment options.

If you’re finding the current hiring climate a little too tough, why not reach out to Campbell Rochford for an open and honest conversation about the market and let’s share some ideas.

Campbell Rochford – Turning Good To Great!

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