4/3/2015 | Erik Sherman

The entire U.S. economy is seeing continued hiring growth, and the middle market is heavily involved. Recruitment must be more than a haphazard activity as more companies compete for the best talent. One of the keys to successful hiring is an understanding of how to reach so-called passive candidates: the qualified people who already have a job but may be interested in new opportunities.

Why Passive-Candidate Recruitment Is Vital for the Coming Talent Wars

Last year, the country saw the creation of 3.3 million jobs. February alone saw an additional 295,000 added. Some hot areas were service positions, including accounting, legal and engineering, that will be important to middle market success in virtually any industry. Middle market companies have been actively hiring throughout 2014 and are likely responsible for a large chunk of those new jobs. There's no indication that the trend will slow or stop.

According to the ADP Workforce Vitality Index, year-over-year employment growth in the fourth quarter of 2014 was 2.2 percent, while the job turnover ratio was up by 22.5 percent. Wage growth for those who stayed in their jobs was 2.7 percent, and it was 8.2 percent for employees who changed jobs.

What does this prove? That not only is the number of positions growing, but so is the likelihood that employees will leave a company for a better opportunity elsewhere. The combination means more recruiting for middle market companies because they will need to expand as the economy recovers while also dealing with turnover. There are only so many qualified candidates coming on to the market at any time, which is why the need to look at passive candidates is necessary.

Here are some ways to identify potential matches among passive candidates:

  • Social networks. Look at Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Search through groups or lists to find people who are involved in the type of position you're hiring for. From their activity, you may be able to get a good sense of who has the most experience and expertise. Also, monitor social networks for public conversations that might indicate relevance to your needs and industry.
  • Blogs and publications. In many fields, some participants write blogs or contribute to third-party publications about their areas of expertise. Do web searches for highly ranked online spots for relevant material and then look the contributors' names and affiliations.
  • Award winners. Look for winners of relevant competitions and awards that indicate expertise or competence.
  • Instructors. Search for people who are instructors in a field and have enough expertise to teach the subject. Also, consider those who have created instructional videos on YouTube or presentations that are online at sites such as SlideShare or Scribd.
  • Trade shows and conferences. There are always panels of speakers on various subjects at conferences. There will be a list of their names available because the conference producer wants to attract an audience. Send someone to attend the conference and scope out any candidates. If attendance isn't a possibility, then use the identified participants as a recruitment cold-call list.
  • Referrals. An in-house referral system, with bonuses to employees who refer successful candidates, is a good way to attract quality people who might not have formally been looking for a new job. Consider asking them for names of people who have the right qualifications, not necessarily people they think are looking for a new job. You can even ask potential candidates who aren't interested in a new job who they know that might fit the bill.
  • Previous applicants. You may have a database of potential candidates who didn't work out for whatever reason. Don't waste all that information. It could be that someone took a position but wasn't completely happy with it and might be persuaded to jump ship.
  • Make sure people know you're looking. Some companies include their interest in potential talent in most of their communications. The benefits here are that there is no additional cost and you increase the chance that someone might take notice.

How much time should you spend on recruiting passive candidates versus those who are actively looking for work? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

Erik Sherman is an NCMM contributor and author whose work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, the Financial Times, Chief Executive, Inc. and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch. Sherman has extensive experience in corporate communications consulting and is the author or co-author of 10 books. Follow him on Twitter and circle him on Google+.