Behaviours: Active or Passive Candidates Anyone?

Shane Gray
4 min readMar 12, 2018


When I first heard these expressions a couple of years ago I didn’t really know the difference between them or what really defined active or passive candidates.

Are you actively applying or just actively looking…?

I also assumed they were black and white, you were either one or the other.

I realise now it’s not that simple but I’m still never 100% certain what is meant when people talk about active or passive candidates as there are different interpretations.

But looking back at data collected from our internal use of Clinch over the last year I think I can start to describe what active or passive candidate behaviour actually looks like with more accuracy.

But first back to 2014 when I came across an academic paper that was a study on how people looked for jobs. It described behaviours that we are now observing ‘in the wild’ after collecting millions of data points and heat maps on candidate behaviour using Clinch.

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.

There are also the candidates whose search is more urgent, they need a job, preferably as soon as possible. They may be unemployed, soon to be redundant or really unhappy in their current position.

At the outset, both ‘types’ of candidate tend to start their online search in a search engine looking for jobs that match their skills and geography. They find lists of opportunities that match and end up on an aggregator or jobs board. If the role looks like a match they usually click on the link and visit the job on the company career site or ATS landing page.

(There is another category of visitor and applicant who have no real interest in getting a job so by definition are not really a candidate but are still worth mentioning as they can account for over 20% of applications in some cases. They are hugely wasteful of your time. If you have this problem you will know exactly what I mean and you should be trying to flag them as early as possible in the process.)

Then it starts to get interesting…

The job seeker or “active” candidate will quite likely start an application as quickly as possible. They need a job and the more applications they can fire off the better they feel a sense of accomplishment. (Here is some more interesting research which Virginie Kidwell was kind enough to share with me and has more details)

Heatmapping sessions indicate that no matter how much employer branding or other job-related content you expose them to they tend to jump straight to the apply button without reading anything else on the page.

How well they ‘convert’ is then a function of how easily they can make the application in the ATS environment and how much of a hurry they are in to make their quota of applications for the day.

If you’ve ever received cover letters seemingly for a different job or riddled with speed induced typos you are seeing a direct result of this type of active behaviour. You get a real feeling they have adopted the candidate version of post and pray.

If anyone who has a pulse can do the role you are hiring for and you need the volume then it’s happy days and you don’t need to do anything.

That’s usually not the case so if you are seeing and struggling with the volume this type of behaviour creates then anything you can do to screen out these people before they complete the application will make your life easier. Otherwise, you’ll end up having to spend time screening or rejecting them later which is a waste of everyone’s time.

‘Passive’ behaviour is different,

Looking at the passive, “I have a job but I’m looking for my next opportunity” candidates who land on job content we can see they exhibit a different type of behaviour.

It can be compared to the type of behaviour consumers exhibit when researching a product before a purchase. They are looking for information. Information about the workplace, the people who are doing the job and the employer, the list goes on…

The more information you can deliver and the easier you make it for them to signal themselves as being potentially interested without taking the psychological step of clicking apply the better or they will move on and never take that step.

Of course, that’s assuming you want the opportunity to engage with these candidates but in most cases for difficult to fill roles these are the people you need to target.

It’s not black and white.

Naturally, there is a range of candidates who exhibit behaviours that sit between these two ends of the spectrum. We also believe that different channels deliver different ratios of behaviours but more on that again.

If you are looking to help people self-select in or out of an application here is something you may find interesting…

After the job description, the piece of content that gets the most interaction on a job landing page is a profile of a person doing the job or supervising it with links to their social profiles.

I wonder does this information tell people more about what is actually required than the sometimes poorly written job description…

What do you think?

Originally published at



Shane Gray

A veteran of technology business development and strategy with the uncanny ability to distill a complex issue into something that is clearly understandable.