Reaching passive candidates – the key to a high quality, diverse candidate pool

These days, it’s not difficult to get lots of applications for your open jobs. Post them to your own website and a job board or two and the job hunters will find them.

The trick is reaching not just lots of candidates, but the one great hire that will make your search a success. And the reason finding that great hire can be so challenging is very simple – great hires aren’t job hunting. They already have jobs.

That’s why your recruiting strategy has to include smart ways to get job information to “passive candidates” – engaged professionals who don’t consider themselves on the job market, but might be intrigued by a new opportunity if they learn about it.

Keep in mind Inside Higher Ed’s 10 tips for recruiting passive candidates, and surprise yourself with the quality of your next candidate pool.

  1. Network! Don’t think of advertising as your only means for communicating about open jobs. Talk to the great people already working in similar jobs about how they found their jobs. Find out if folks on campus are members of the right professional group or association for the job you’re filling – is there a listserv? An online bulletin board? Get creative.
  2. Advertise your institution, not just your jobs. Your marketing department is always promoting your institution to students and some of the same marketing strategies can ensure that when you have job openings, great candidates will be interested. Be less reactive (starting the recruitment process when the job opens) and more proactive (think of recruiting as an all-the-time activity, like student recruiting).
  3. Advertise beyond the job boards. When it is time to publicize a specific opening, job boards are efficient and economical, but they’re only going to reach job hunters. Look for websites and other outlets that have a draw for professionals who aren’t on the hunt (like Inside Higher Ed :)
  4. Put your job announcements to work. Passive candidates won’t dig your posting out of a database – take advantage of tools like Google AdSense, banner advertising and email advertising to get messages in front of them even when they’re not searching.
  5. Write your job postings with passive candidates in mind. Don’t start with responsibilities and qualifications (which are about what you need); instead, highlight the reasons a great hire would really love the job (more on writing effective job postings in our Write Job Postings That Land Great Hires section).
  6. Make sure your own jobs website sells your jobs. The page candidates hit when they click from your postings or your home page to learn about jobs at your school should create an immediate, positive impression of what it’s like to work at your school (more on effective employment websites in the Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Jobs Pages section).
  7. Never miss an opportunity to promote jobs. Make sure the URL for your jobs web page is included in ALL institutional marketing materials (you never know whose parent might turn out to be your next top hire).
  8. Don’t start the application process too quickly. Never assume a candidate has arrived at your site to apply for a job. Always provide them with a quick link to your job application, but also organize the kinds of links that a person who wants to explore your institution will find useful.
  9. Keep your application as simple as possible. It’s easy to get caught up in how easy your Applicant Tracking System can make your data collection and processing and lose sight of the candidate’s experience. Keep your requirements focused on what you really need at each point in the process, not on what your database can collect.
  10. Treat ALL candidates politely. Acknowledge applications, respond to inquiries and let folks know the status of the search and their application. The person who’s not quite right for the job you have open today could be a perfect fit for the one that opens up tomorrow.


Dos and Don’ts of Effective Jobs Websites

What’s the most important website in your recruiting strategy – your own!

Is your employment site designed for desperate job hunters or does it appeal to terrific hires? Does it reinforce your institution’s brand, or communicate all the wrong messages?

Take our quick challenge:

  1. Start on your institution’s home page.
  2. Click the link for prospective students – you’ll probably like what you see.
  3. Now go back to the home page and click the link for jobs – if what you see makes you wince, you’re not alone.

A top-quality faculty and staff is a key competitive differentiator for any institution. Yet at most colleges and universities, employment recruiting is perceived as an administrative chore rather than an important strategic investment. Nowhere is this more evident than on college and university websites, one of the most visible communication channels for your institutional brand.

How can you make a dreadful jobs site into one that sells your jobs to the best possible hires? It just requires thinking from the perspective of the candidate rather than the recruiter. And following Inside Higher Ed’s 10 dos and don’ts of effective job recruitment websites:


Create an obvious, prominent link to your jobs from your institution's home page.

Communicate your institution's "brand." Use your "prospective students" page as a model – many of the same qualities that attract students will attract employees.

Put smiling faces of real employees on your jobs home page.

Lead with the most compelling reason a great hire wants to works at your institution – this can be anything from your location to your benefits to your culture, but really sell it.

Feature your most interesting jobs prominently.

Treat even your lowest level jobs as important – sell the groundskeepers as enthusiastically as the development directors.

Make faculty jobs as easy to find as staff jobs – even if they're not in the same database, provide clear links and instructions from your main jobs page.

Sell every job! Start each posting with a clear, concise and compelling statement of why candidates want this job!

Use language that creates a candidate focus – label the link to your application "I want this job" rather than "apply now"

Use technology to be polite – acknowledge receipt of applications, keep applicants informed as the search progresses, and remember that a polite rejection is vastly preferably to being kept hanging.

Don't hide your jobs in confusing navigation or behind cryptic labels ("jobs" is a better link than "Join the team").

Don't communicate your ATS's brand. Don't make your applicant tracking system your recruiting page – remember that the FIRST thing great hires do is explore, not apply.

Don't use clip art! (it's ALWAYS obvious.)

Don't lead with off-putting legalese – at this point, you don't have applicants, just prospects. Save the mentions of drug testing, criminal background checks, and campus crime statistics for later in the process.

Don't treat all jobs as equally compelling – nothing is more off-putting to a senior applicant than seeing a job list with custodians and VPs lumped together.

Don't consider ANY job a commodity – every hire (even those custodians) has a contribution to make to the success of your institution.

Don't assume that no one's coming to your site to search for faculty jobs – they are!

Don't use internal job descriptions as external postings or treat a database view as a publicly available job list.

Don't treat candidates as data entry clerks – ask only for what you really need at each step of the process and keep things simple.

Don't use technology to commoditize your candidates – personalize email messages and make sure message templates can be adapted to unique requirements.

Recruitment Ads – a letter to the person you want to hire

Writing effective recruitment ads is not difficult, but it does take a little thought. Too often institutions use an internal job description, or the sketchy information that resides in an applicant tracking database as an ad – with woeful results. The thing to remember above all is that you’re not just writing for people who are actively job hunting (and therefore won’t be put off by jargon or a de-humanizing experience), but for terrific hires who are NOT looking. Your ad needs to grab attention with a strong statement about why a great hire should be interested. And it should be written from the candidate’s perspective.

Here are some quick tips and examples to help you write your next letter to the person you really want to hire.


  • Mistake your database entries for ads – use real language not internal jargon
  • Start with the “screening” stuff (responsibilities and qualifications)
  • Send people to a generic website and expect them to track down the ad


Marketing and Outreach Coordinator (940710)

Position Type: Part-Time Professional Non-Instructional/Adm Task
Position ID: 854152
Grade: HI

FLSA: Exempt — Not Eligible for Overtime Compensation
The Marketing and Outreach Coordinator assists the Executive Director of the Center for the Literary Arts with the promotion and marketing of activities

Minimum Requirements:

Bachelor’s degree with two (2) years experience or an Associate’s degree with four (4) years of experience in a related field
Excellent organizational and communication skills (both oral and written)

To apply, please visit

EA/EO Employer


  • Start by selling the job
    - a compelling title
    - why your great hire wants the job
  • Use candidate-focused language:
    - “To succeed in this role, you’ll need…” not “Qualifications:”
    - “You’ll have the opportunity to…” not “Responsibilities:”
    - “If this sounds like the job for you…” not “Application Procedures:”
  • Show a little personality – your model should be online dating, not online tax filing


Join a creative marketing team supporting a growing arts organization

The Center for Literary Arts at Our University is a terrific place to work. As our new Marketing and Communication Coordinator you’ll work with talented people to create exciting marketing campaigns to support the meaningful work of the Center. All in a lively small city with a burgeoning arts scene.

To succeed, you’ll need a solid liberal arts foundation (a B.A. degree is one way to demonstrate that) and a bit of experience in marketing.

If this opportunity sounds inspiring, visit for more details and instructions on how to apply.


The Inside Higher Ed recruiting hall of shame

Reading job postings these days it’s hard to believe they’re supposed to be advertising. An effective job ad will sell your opening to a terrific candidate. But the dull, computer generated, or even confrontational style of many postings ensures no one but the most desperate job seeker will respond.

Need proof? Read through this Job Posting Hall of Shame – every example was pulled straight from an actual job posting. You may laugh, but we’re betting it’s a laugh of pained recognition. We’ve also provided some examples of effective ads – the difference is pretty stark. Don’t let your posting end up in next year’s hall of shame when it’s so easy to do it right!

Names have been changed to protect the guilty.


Worst job posting titles

Online, your ad will appear in a list of similar postings from competitive institutions. Your title is the “grabber” that will entice terrific candidates to click and read more. Are you losing the best prospects right at the start of the process?

Second Runner Up:

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR – Full words, always an improvement over pointless abbreviations. But you have to click on the job notice to discover of what, exactly, you’d be an assistant professor.

First Runner Up:

FT 12-MO FAC 3131B – even deciphered, this title is totally uncommunicative. Worse? The ad is categorized only as “faculty” and the description text includes no information at all – one would have to click to the institution website to even discover what field of study the job will teach!

And the “Winner” is:

SUP SPEC I-09076 – terse, with overtones of obscurity. The added touch of including the HRIS database job number ensures that there’s no human touch whatsoever to this posting.

So what makes a good posting title? Something as simple as “Lecturer, Spanish Language and Literature” at least tells a candidate what the job is all about. But going a step further by making a strong case for the job in your title is even better: “Lecturer position in lively Spanish department available for dedicated teacher.”


Worst job posting introductions

On some websites, the first few words of your posting will appear on the search results page, and on any site the first few words of your ad may be all a candidate reads – the conventional wisdom is that you’ve got 25 words to grab a passive candidate. Are you wasting that opportunity by regurgitating HRIS data, boring statistics about your institution, or exhaustive lists of requirements?

First Runner Up:

The University of (City) is a comprehensive, private University with an enrollment of 5,300 students. It offers more than 80 undergraduate majors and minors, as well as graduate degree programs, in a residentially-based educational experience. Yawn.

Second Runner Up:

The Operations Manager works closely with the Director to maintain, promote, and enhance the programs and services the Division provides. Can’t wait.

And the “Winner is:

Open for Recruitment: March 28, 2008 — April 28, 2008. Announcement #: 15773013841. Salary Range: $33,000.00 to $35,000.00. Full or Part Time: Full Time. Shift: Variable schedule. Ouch.

So what’s a good intro? Try these:

The University of (State) is one great place to work. Our agenda – simple – to accelerate the movement toward academic excellence and become known worldwide for the quality of our academics, commitment to undergraduates and engagement with society.

Think palm trees, orange groves and wide sunsets reflected in sparkling lakes. That’s the setting for our beautiful Mediterranean-styled, primarily residential Assemblies of God university offering a vital, Christ-centered education.


Special awards

Worst application requirements:

Ask yourself, what chance does the institution that posted these requirements have of getting a single application from a passive candidate:

Please be sure to have the following information ready before beginning the process of creating your application:

  • Resume – in MS Word or PDF format
  • List of references (including contact phone number and address)
  • Work history information and dates
  • Educational history information and dates
  • Vacancy numbers of specific position(s) for which you are applying
  • Cover letter – in MS Word or PDF format

This will reduce the likelihood of lost data and/or being automatically logged out after 60 minutes of inactivity.

Worst website greeting:

It’s become very common for job ads to link potential candidates to an institution’s employment web page. In theory, this should be a marvelous opportunity to sell your college as an employer. In practice, it’s yet another chance to be rude. Remember – at this stage of the process you don’t have applicants, you have prospects. Your job is to turn the BEST prospects into applicants. Here’s how not to do that:

Attention applicants: Please be aware (University) conducts criminal background checks and drug tests. In addition, the (University) regulates smoking on campus. Please refer to our General Information for Prospective Employee for anything further about working at (University) including campus security and the drug testing policy.

And here’s how to do it right.

Candidate focused. Persuasive. Friendly. This is a letter to the person you want to hire:

Student Finance Advisor

The energetic, detail-oriented person who would find satisfaction solving problems and helping our students persevere toward their goals will find a wonderful opportunity with This University. Two aspects of this job will hold great appeal for many:

  • Your work will allow you to directly impact the lives of students by supporting them toward securing the means to finance their education.
  • Your role will allow you to create meaningful relationships with students who you’ll feel proud to support as they work toward graduation.

Moreover, we believe you’ll appreciate the commitment to work-life balance plus the motivating and teamwork-oriented environment that we enjoy every day. Your college-age dependents can enjoy it as well, since their education, like yours, is free while you’re employed with us…..

And to make sure your ads reach the people you want to hire, not just active job hunters, be sure to post them with Inside Higher Ed. 

Post today at

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