Headhunters seeking passive candidates fighting war-for-talent in hidden job market with permanent positions

a few terms and practices that I wish disappear from the employment world


Yes indeed that is a WAY too long title, but it serves a purpose to illustrate the absurdity of the current job market.


Here are a few terms and practices that I wish disappear from the employment world:


headhunter… passive candidate… war for talent… hidden job market… permanent position… multi-generational workforce




For some reason I cringe every time I hear or read the word “headhunter.” I’m not exactly sure why, but I just find it distasteful and passé. Perhaps it is due to the visual of game hunters displaying their hunted prize – stuffed and mounted above the fireplace – which I find off-putting. Never-the-less, job seekers are always begging for introductions to headhunters. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the hunt? Little do they know, headhunters have minimal interest in available candidates who are actively looking to be part of the matchmaking process.


That brings me to the so-called “passive” candidate… Now this is the one that really gets interesting. Many in the staffing industry discount anyone who is actively looking for a new position as if they are less valuable than those that are merely plugging away in their current gigs. Some go as far as labeling the active job seeker “damaged goods” if they happen to have experienced a job loss. Ironically, these very same candidates could very easily switch places in an instant and the labels would be reversed. Yet, nothing at all about their qualifications has changed. Brilliant sourcing strategy, huh?



So, the important message this sends is that in order to be viewed as attractive by certain recruiters, one must remain employed, and never appear to look for a new job. It makes no difference to these recruiters if those passive candidates might be completely incompetent or too lazy or complacent to pursue new challenges. The only thing that matters is that they have a job now – therefore they are the best of the best, right? Meanwhile, the “active” job seeker who through no fault of their own winds up in transition gets ignored and overlooked.


In the HR and staffing arena, there are countless mentions of this phenomenon called the “war for talent.” Apparently, how it works is that each employer is at war with all other employers – probably for the same “passive” candidates previously mentioned. What happens is they put on their fatigues and go to battle with all of their ammunition and strategies to win this war. Success is when all of the passive candidates are hired away from the opponents’ firms by the headhunters who know about the hidden job market – stay tuned for more on that… From what I can tell, it seems to be working out pretty well, just like the war against terror and the war on drugs. The only thing slowing down progress is those pesky active job seekers who clearly have no talent and have no one fighting for them.


There are all sorts of tips, seminars and books on about how to break into the “hidden” job market. Such a fascinating concept! Too bad this is a myth… Why on earth would employers who are trying to attract key talent – thus the war – “hide” anything from anyone? Does anyone really envision groups of executives sitting around their conference rooms plotting to keep it a secret that their company is interested in hiring? There they gather to ensure that no one EVER finds out about their plan… Sure there are times when such information remains confidential – that’s where the headhunter of the passive candidate comes in. For the vast majority of job seekers, those few and far between confidential searches aren’t the positions they would be vying for anyway, so this quest is rather pointless.



Next, a major pet peeve is the use of the term “permanent” when describing a position’s status. First of all, it is practically, if not completely, impossible for such a thing to exist. No job that I have heard of has ever or will ever be permanent. The other issue with this is that most employers either operate with “employment-at-will” policies or they are subject to collective bargaining agreements, which by their nature do not provide permanent anything! The reason this one gets me so riled up is that the people who are expected to be familiar with such employment related issues are the same ones who repeatedly and inappropriately continue labeling their positions this way… And, we wonder why the profession of HR-Staffing has earned minimal credibility in the business environment.


Finally, could someone please call a moratorium on all of this hype about the first time we’ve had four generations in the workplace? Enough already!!! Only people who obsess over stereotyping and generalizations about others care about this silliness. How many studies do we need to define how GEN-Y has grown up using technology or that the boomers have strong work ethic? Coverage of this topic is the equivalent of the media’s incessant reporting about every possible nuance to Michael Jackson’s life, death and anything ever remotely connected with him. It’s time to move on to something newsworthy on both accounts.


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