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The Proactive Candidate

The conventional wisdom is that passive candidates are the best talent. They aren't. Passive describes someone who is stuck in place, and top performers are always on the move. Maybe not from one employer to another, but always on to the next challenge. And, it's that quest to experience their better self which is the key to recruiting them.

For years, we've been laboring under this notion that people who are not looking for a job are somehow better than those who are. We've even seen job postings of late which specify that active job seekers need not apply.

That kind of blatant discrimination, however, is an aberration. Most recruiters don't consciously differentiate between passive and active prospects. Unconsciously, however, it's often a different story.

If the final selection for an opening comes down to two equally qualified individuals - one who is unemployed and actively looking for a job and the other who is employed and not searching for work - the nod will almost always go to the passive person. And, that's true even in this turbulent economy when almost all of us know someone who is an excellent worker but in transition thanks to this layoff or that downsizing.

So, where does that leave us?

I think we should stop focusing on the active or passive characteristics of candidates and, instead, examine their proactivity. Wikipedia defines that term as "anticipatory, change-oriented and self-initiated behavior in the work place. ... It means taking control and making things happen rather than just adjusting to a situation or waiting for something to happen. Proactive employees generally do not need to be asked to act, nor do they require detailed instructions."

Can you think of a better description of the ideal candidate?

Recruiting Proactive Talent

Let's be clear about the implications of this definition right from the outset. Proactive people can be active as well as passive candidates. Their proactive behavior has absolutely nothing to do with their employment status. Rather, it indicates someone who is committed to moving continuously into ever more challenging assignments in the workplace. In other words, they are always searching ... for new ways to express and experience their talent.

How do you recognize them?

It takes putting another truism from the dark ages to rest. This one has to do with so-called "job hoppers." For the last fifty years or so, they were supposed to be people you couldn't count on. They weren't loyal employees and, more often than not, didn't make a meaningful contribution.

Whether or not that was true in the past, a job hopper today is exactly the kind of employee every employer needs. They regularly move from one job to another, not to add to their paycheck but to take on more responsibility, not to shorten their commute but to develop their skills and knowledge. They are the quintessential self-improvement persona imagined by Dale Carnegie.

These proactive candidates also demonstrate two attributes that all employers crave in their workers. First, they show initiative by constantly seeking opportunities for their own development. And second, they are courageous because change is intimidating to everyone, including them.

Sometimes a proactive person will move within their current employer, and other times they switch from one employer to another. However, their search for jobs that will challenge them and enable them to grow never ends, and its pace is as regular as a metronome.

Look at the resume of either an active or passive candidate, and if you see a record of change every three-to-four years, you may well have spotted a proactive prospect. You will still have to confirm that they are moving for the right reasons, but it's that movement which gives them away.

The distinction between active and passive candidates is real but irrelevant in today's War for Talent. What counts is not their job search status but their search for greater responsibility and higher performance. And, that kind of movement is best described by their proactivity.

Thanks for reading,
Peter

Visit my blog at Weddles.com/WorkStrong.

November 2011
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