Passive Job Seeking in 2020

passive job seeking

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many professionals back into job-hunting mode again. Now, new research from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business suggests applying for a position is totally passé. It found that a strategy of letting the job find you, known as passive job seeking, often yields better results.

By Yvonne Milosevic

At the start of this year, Fuqua professors Ines Black and Sharique Hasan surveyed 13,000+ U.S. workers to better understand the digitization of the labor market. They discovered that companies proactively hunting for the right candidate accounted for more than half of all hires as of January 2020.

“Jobs in business and in STEM fields are the ones that get the majority of hunters for talent,” says Black. The higher end of the income distribution of jobs also gets more interest from firms, she adds. Black and Hasan recently discussed their findings in a live broadcast on LinkedIn.

This targeted approach included using recruiters and asking current employees to recommend qualified candidates. Also, more firms now turn to social media to look for workers. Hasan marvels at the fact that in places like Silicon Valley, a quarter of open positions go to candidates who weren’t looking to switch jobs.

“If 50-60% of people have gotten their job offers by active, firm involvement in the recruitment process,” says Black, “then you need to think of yourself as a candidate who may already be evaluated, even if you have not applied yet.”

Stand Out from the Crowd

It’s too soon to tell how the pandemic will affect firms’ use of recruiters to fill future positions. But, companies have already invested heavily in developing these recruitment strategies. That’s unlikely just to go away overnight, says Hasan.

“What may happen is that when the labor market starts picking back up, there will be many more applicants for each job,” he adds. “It’s going to be even more challenging to set yourself apart, maybe even as a passive candidate.”

To stand out when you’re passive job seeking, you need to have a clear, discoverable, and understandable presence online, Black explains. Meaning, when a recruiter, firm, or HR manager looks at your profile, they should instantly understand your specialty and skills.

passive job seeking
Image credit: Ben Scholzen (CC BY 2.0)

Making your LinkedIn profile SEO-friendly is vital. Figure out the keywords recruiters use in searches by browsing posts for positions like the ones you want. Look at the high-value keywords that appear under qualifications and skip generic keywords like leadership. Likewise, LinkedIn recommends using keyword-rich job titles.

Recruiters tend to find people who are doing the same thing at a competitor firm, says Hasan. “So definitely the keywords matter, but also the title matters. And the fact that you’re doing a similar job in another firm.” Even if you have the skills, if they don’t match the desired profile to a T, you might not make it through the hiring process, he warns.

Finally, stay connected to the people in your network—comment on and like their posts, and share articles that would interest them. A little effort goes a long way toward keeping those relationships alive. By staying engaged, your contacts will feel more inclined to offer help should you need it.