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Building a passive candidate pipeline can be a great way to cut down on your time to hire, but does engaging passive candidates before you have a position to fill also carry a risk?

Is Building a Passive Candidate Pipeline Counterproductive?If you find yourself working internally in a recruiting function or even as a hiring manager, you may find a trend of hiring similar or identical roles year over year.

Once the initial hire has been made for these roles it may take less time to find candidates with a similar, closely aligned skill set. This is most likely for several reasons:

  • The initial hire may have a network to reach out to and refer qualified applicants. If a referral is hired, they may have additional qualified referrals for the role, creating an domino-like effect.
  • You have spent time understanding the marketplace and overall landscape of hiring for this role, therefore you know what to expect.
  • You can refer back to a target company list, or other resources you have spent time putting together to aid in recruiting for the role.
  • You recognize the necessary hard and soft skills it requires to be successful in the role and how to screen for them.

Another strategy that can be helpful when hiring for multiples of roles during the year is to build a pipeline of candidates.

Pros and Cons of Building a Passive Candidate Pipeline

Building a pipeline of candidates means you are reaching out to and networking with qualified candidates for a role that may not necessarily be open at the moment, but will be opened over the next several months. This way, when the position is ready to be recruited for, you have a list of candidates who are ready to interview, rather than starting from scratch.

Pro: Reducing Time to Hire

This can be a smart recruiting strategy to implement in order to build out your candidate options and cut down on time it takes to fill a position.

Con: Engaging Passive Candidates May Turn Them into Active Job Seekers

As Glen Cathey writes in a post for his blog, once you reach out to a passive, currently employed candidate, there’s always a risk that the gears may start turning and they may begin checking out other opportunities.

By speaking with you and learning about another exciting position, it is likely the candidate will begin contemplating what other interesting opportunities are out there waiting for them. Not only will they be more open to recruiters reaching out to them, they might even start to actively seek employment on their own by applying.

By the time the position opens up at your company, it’s possible this formerly “passive” candidate you thoughtfully engaged with and carefully placed into your pipeline will have accepted another position.

Staying Connected with Candidates and Keeping Your Pipeline Up to Date

To combat this, be mindful of this candidate behavior. Consistently check in with candidates in your pipeline to inquire about any other interview activity. You cannot prevent a candidate from seeking out other opportunities, of course, but it is best to be aware ahead of time when you’re about to lose a candidate in your pipeline so you can gather information on the details and make updates and fill his or her space, accordingly.

Do you think building a passive candidate pipeline is counterproductive? Or are there ways to maintain it more effectively?


Katy Smigowski is responsible for recruiting initiatives for both the firm and its portfolio companies.

  • IntraWorlds -english

    It may not surprise you, but at IntraWorlds, we believe building a candidate pipeline definitely is a good idea. There are actually a lot more pros for building relationships to potential candidates that far outweigh the con mentioned here. As a Munich based SaaS provider of Talent Relationship Management solutions, we are working with some of the largest and most reputed employers globally (including BMW, Adidas, McKinsey, KPMG, and others). I think start-ups not building pipelines of thousands of candidates can definitely learn how the big talent factories are approaching this topic with us. Check here for more insight into it: