What is the Difference Between an Applicant and a Candidate?

by Stacy Pursell, CPC, CERS

The VET Recruiter®

In a previous article, I answered the question, “Why Are There No Animal Health or Veterinary Applicants for My Job?” In that article, I discussed the low unemployment rate in this country, especially within the Veterinary profession. In this particular blog post, I’d like to elaborate on another point I made in that newsletter article: the difference between an applicant for a job and a candidate for a position.

I want to elaborate because there appears to be a certain degree of confusion regarding this point. I’ve touched upon the topic before with an article for employers: “Just Because They’re a Candidate Does NOT Mean They’re Job Hunting.” I believe that for Animal Health and Veterinary employers to hire successfully in this market, they must have a firm grasp not only of the current conditions that exist in the marketplace, but also what those conditions mean for them.

An applicant can be another word for an active job seeker. That’s because active job seekers actively apply for positions, and the main way they do this is through online advertisements. A candidate for the position, however, could be a passive candidate. Passive candidates do not necessarily apply for positions, and they especially do not typically do so through online job advertisements. The reason they do not do this is because they’re not looking at online job ads. They’re not actively looking for a new job. That’s what makes them passive candidates.

Another important note about passive candidates is that they typically represent the top 5% to 10% of the candidates in the marketplace at any given time. The logic behind this is simple. If an Animal Health or Veterinary professional is in the top 5% or 10% in their field, then they more than likely provide a tremendous amount of value to their current employer. Since that’s the case, their employer wants to retain them as an employee. That means the employer is probably making sure the employee is adequately compensated for the value they provide.

In fact, the employer is probably doing everything it can to retain this person, and since the employer is doing everything it can to retain them, this person is not conducting an active job search and they’re not applying for jobs online. That makes sense.

The problem that employers encounter is when they make the mistake of treating active job seekers and job applicants the same as passive candidates for the organization’s open positions. Specifically, the fatal mistake that employers make is when they treat passive candidates like active job seekers and applicants. When employers make this mistake, they inadvertently push the passive candidates away, ultimately convincing them to no longer purse the opportunity.

The irony involved with this situation is that the hiring manager is usually not aware of what they’re doing. But more than being ironic, it’s tragic in terms of the employer’s chances of hiring top talent. So that’s why, as an Animal Health or Veterinary employer, you should know this during a phone screen or face-to-face interview:

You need to know whether the person you’re interviewing is a job applicant or if they’re a passive candidate for your organization’s open position.

If you don’t know this, then you’ve just reduced the chances that you’ll conduct a successful interview. That’s because an active job seeker and job applicant has a different mindset than a passive candidate. In order to ask the right questions and brand your organization in the right way, you must know the mindset with which you’re dealing. The difference between the two mindsets can be summed up as follows:

  • An active job seeker or applicant did not have to be convinced (or recruited) to pursue your organization’s employment opportunity. They actively sought out the opportunity and completed the application.
  • A passive candidate did have to be convinced (or recruited) to pursue your organization’s employment opportunity. They did not actively seek out the opportunity and they did not complete an application.

The reason this difference is important is because you, as the employer, must use the correct approach when conducting a phone screen or face-to-face interview. Most critically, if you know that you’re interviewing a passive candidate, then your approach should be different than if you’re interviewing an active job seeker or applicant. In such a situation, your focus should be on convincing (or recruiting) them to continue pursuing your employment opportunity.

With all of this in mind, Animal Health and Veterinary employers should adopt a three-step plan for tackling this issue. Hiring managers should do the following:

  1. Know the difference in mindset between an active job seeker (or applicant) and a passive candidate.
  2. Know which professionals in the hiring process are active job seekers (or applicants) and which are passive candidates.
  3. Use the correct approach with each candidate, depending upon whether they’re an active job seeker (or applicant) or passive candidate.

Yes, I understand this requires greater amounts of time, energy, and effort on the part of the employer. However, in this current candidate-driven market, there’s no avoiding the reality of the situation. The reality is that it simply requires more time, energy, and effort to hire the professionals you want to hire for your open positions.

A “one size fits all” approach does NOT work. Instead, it will only serve to sabotage your efforts to attract and hire the best candidates in the marketplace, specifically those candidates who are not looking for a new job and not applying through online job advertisements. There is definitely a difference between job applicants and candidates for your open position, and that’s why it’s important to know what that difference is and incorporate that knowledge into your organization’s hiring process.

We help support careers in one of two ways: 1. By helping Animal Health and Veterinary professionals to find the right opportunity when the time is right, and 2. By helping to recruit top talent for the critical needs of Animal Health and Veterinary organizations. If this is something that you would like to explore further, please send an email to stacy@thevetrecruiter.com.

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