How to Attract Job Seekers Who Are Still ‘Just Looking’

Bryan Zaslow

Oct 19, 2021


Something unexpected happened last month. A record number of American workers — an eye-popping 4.3 million — quit their jobs. To put that in perspective, it’s almost three percent of the entire workforce across the country. What’s even more astounding is that this trend got named the “Great Resignation” when the number of people leaving their jobs broke records this past April. That record was broken again in July, to only be topped in August and again in September.  

Over a third of these workers are in three industries: retail, food service, and hospitality. But this trend is affecting industries across the board, from technology to manufacturing. According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, many of these workers left their current job without having another one lined up. They’re confident they can find something better down the line. They’re also empowered by pandemic-era relief checks still available to them, rent moratoriums, and even student-loan forgiveness. These empower many to take risks not possible before the pandemic.

What does this mean for employers? With the country still encountering millions more job openings than job applicants, the scale is tipped toward workers. And many of them are not in a hurry to land their next job. More than ever, many job applicants are “just looking.” Some have left jobs that they didn’t find satisfying, others are still with an employer who hasn’t shown them much appreciation or opportunity to grow. They are often well educated, highly qualified professionals, but they are waiting for the right job to come along or are comfortable taking time to themselves before re-entering the workforce.

So-called “passive job seekers” — the 73% of candidates who report that they are not actively looking but are open to hearing about opportunities — are notoriously difficult to find and can be the most sought after. Companies spend millions seeking them out by leveraging specialists like my colleagues here at JBC and Janou Pakter. If that’s not in your budget, there are other ways to find them.

Here’s what you should do to attract those passive applicants who would be a good fit at your company:

Make it easy — but not too easy — to apply. The more hoops you make prospective employees jump through, the more likely they’ll drop out at some point along the way. If you force applicants on a job board to click through to your own website, you’re going to lose people. Same thing if you require a detailed cover letter or other documents. But making the application process too simple — like the Easy Apply button on LinkedIn — means you’ll get a higher percentage of people who haven’t read the job description or noticed that they’re unqualified.

Give the people what they want. Many companies desperate for workers think salary will be the big differentiator. But money isn’t everything, according to several recent studies. One found that 9 out of 10 people would take a lower salary to do work that they find more meaningful. Nearly as many said they were looking for opportunities to expand their skill set. Career advancement is also a big consideration. High on the list for many workers are benefits, including more flexible workweeks. And more and more are looking for positions where they can maintain a good work/life balance. Understand what people in your industry are looking for and put that front and center in your job announcements.

Loop in your current employees. Your best source for new hires is right under your nose. A survey by LinkedIn showed that nearly half of talent acquisition leaders believe the best referrals come from a company’s own employees. Your team members have friends who are conducting a below-the-radar job search and know who would be a great fit at your company. Offering your employees bonuses for successful hires doesn’t just help you find qualified candidates, it also raises morale.

Put more emphasis on hiring from within. About 50 years ago, companies filled 90% of vacancies by promoting lower-level staffers. That number has dropped precipitously as organizations try to poach top talent from their competitors. Today only 28% of hiring managers say internal searches are an important part of their hiring strategy. They are missing out on a massive pool of people. Hiring from within is cheaper, and it slows down the revolving door that many companies are experiencing – there’s a good chance that many of your own employees are “just looking” for a job with a higher position.

Focus on your reputation. As I’ve written about before, an increasingly competitive talent market means you’ve got to stand out from your competition. If you’ve made a commitment to hiring a diverse and inclusive workforce, or if you’ve taken steps to reduce your carbon footprint, let applicants know about it. Getting the word out about your company’s values and your benefits is a long-term project, one that requires an ongoing effort from every employee from the CEO on down. The benefit is that many of those passive job seekers will come to you when they hear about a company that aligns with their morals.

Work with a recruiting agency. Not to toot our own horn, but JBC has the know-how to connect your company with the top passive talent that’s out there. We’ve worked with them directly over the years, getting to know them personally beyond just reading their resume. These are achievers in their fields who are passionate about what they do, and we can vouch for the fact that they would be a good fit for your team.

Filling out your team is tough right now, but it’s not impossible. This is an employee-driven market, so to attract top talent you need to focus on what potential applicants are looking for. The good news is that the changes you make will also benefit your company in the long run.