Inside the Brain of the Passive Candidate: Explicit Hiring Signals

March 29, 2013 at 1:18 AM by Vivek Reddy


This is the final part of a series exploring tendencies and cues that can help recruiters gain a better understanding of passive candidates and how to target them better. This post delves into how you can use individual-level data to better target passive candidates. You can read the introduction to the series here, company-level data Part 1 and Part 2, and individual-level data

All of the signals that we have listed thus far are primarily indications that someone might be looking for a new opportunity. The aforementioned indicators are positively correlated with passive candidates being on the lookout for something new, and can serve as strong signals of candidate availability.

However, it’s even easier when passive candidates explicitly say that they are looking for something new. This is the middle ground between a candidate actively applying for a job via your company website or a job board and a passive candidate who has not explicitly stated an interest in a new opportunity. Below are ways that people signal that they are looking.

#1 - Language indicators in social networking profiles

Candidates will often put phrases into their bios, resumes, etc. that signal that they are looking. Examples of these are things like the following:

  • “actively pursuing”
  • “actively seeking”
  • available
  • “available for”
  • “in search of”
  • “new job”
  • “new opportunity”
  • “new opportunities”
  • “open to”
  • pursuing
  • seeker
  • seeking

These are just a dozen. There are hundreds more of these types of phrases that might be utilized and many recruiters will incorporate Boolean strings to find resumes that match on these phrases. (Note: You will typically find a good number of false positives when doing these types of searches.)

Glen Cathey at Boolean Black Belt has written a very comprehensive article on this topic entitled How to Find and Identify Active Job Seekers on LinkedIn. We highly recommend that you check it out for additional background.

LinkedIn is also a special case here for another reason. Every LinkedIn profile contains “Opportunity Preferences,” a section that allows each user to signal their openness to being contacted about various things. The settings in this section are as follows:

  • Career opportunities
  • Expertise requests
  • Consulting offers
  • Business deals
  • New ventures
  • Personal reference requests
  • Job inquiries
  • Requests to reconnect

“Career opportunities” and “Job inquiries” are the items most closely correlated with someone’s likelihood of being open to something new. “New ventures” might also have some signal, especially if you’re recruiting for a startup. Do note that these preferences are notoriously out-of- date much of the time for candidates. That said, it does make sense to look at these for each candidate that you’re planning to contact. LinkedIn strongly advises against contacting candidates for inquiries unless they have explicitly mentioned that they are open to that type of communication.

#2 - Participation in hiring-related sites

Recently, there has been a rise in sites that attempt to match job- seekers and employers in a non- public way. While these services are still fairly niche, they can often provide good candidates depending upon the industry and geographic region that you’re focused on (they’re best right now for tech candidates in major U.S. cities). Some examples are the following:

Sites like these are either completely free (in the case of AngelList) or charge a fee only upon successful placement of a candidate. This lowers the risk of using these services to no avail.

#3 - Presence in a resume database

While resume databases are on the decline in many industries (the growth of social networking sites has, in large part, led to their demise) they can still be valuable sources of data. For free resume databases and any paid resume databases that you have access to, you should be looking for the following:

Recently added resumes: Candidates typically only add their resume to a database when they start looking. If the database allows you to see who recently added their resume, you’ll get a good sense of availability.

Recently updated resumes: Similar to recently added resumes, people typically only update their resumes when they are thinking about looking for something new.

Other explicit signals: There are literally hundreds of other ways for people to explicitly signal their availability. For example, on the website Dribbble, people have a flag called Hire Me that indicates their openness to new opportunities. Freelance websites are other good places to look as the mere presence of a profile on one of these sites typically signals openness to job inquiries.

What to do: Familiarize yourself with the various signals that are out there related to explicit availability. Then, depending on the roles that you’re looking to fill, do a deeper dive in the areas that are the most relevant to you. For example, if you’re doing tech recruiting in the Bay Area, definitely sign up for AngelList, WhiteTruffle, etc. as there’s no harm in doing so and it may yield some candidates. If you’re recruiting for a position where people commonly post their resumes to a resume database, actively check for new and newly updated resumes.


There are, no doubt, many factors that can signal passive candidate availability. If you’re interested in using our product, sign up at We wish you the best in your recruiting efforts and if you have additional ideas on this topic, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line at

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