Interviewing Active Vs Passive Candidates

Interviewing: Active vs Passive Candidates

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Interviewing: Active vs Passive Candidates

I know what you’re thinking; you’re an experienced hiring manager, right?

You know the killer question to seek out the candidate that is good for your team, that has the right attitude and will make you money. You have the right intuition to pick up on body language, on those subtle tells that the candidate themselves, don’t even know they’re giving off.

But what about their side of the story? Have they got enough information from you? The right vibe? Do they see your vision?

Interviewing should always be a 2-way street, but never more so than when interviewing a passive candidate. A candidate that, until last week, was not even considering a new job, let alone being sat in front of you, in this very interview. The differences between an active and a passive candidate can be vast and to get the best outcome, it’s vital this is acknowledged.

3 key differences:

  1. They have decided to leave. An active candidate has made the decision, for their own reasons, that their current job or company isn’t for them. They know what they don’t like. They know what they want to change. A passive candidate does not. They are content with their current situation.

  2. They have invested the time.We all know job searching can be a time-consuming activity. An active candidate will know this and will have invested time preparing a CV, marketing themselves online, searching for opportunities and preparing for interviews. A passive candidate won’t have, and this will need to be considered and adapted to accordingly.

  3. Unsurety. The stakes are high. A passive candidate that is not ‘open’ to the market, may be more risk-averse. They are concerned about bumping into an acquaintance whilst going for an interview, upsetting their current employer with time off, or changing jobs for the unknown or the same. These become significant factors for a candidate that is not actively looking.

So, with these in mind, what do you do differently?

How to adapt your style:

  1. “Why are you interested in us?” DON’T. I REPEAT. DO NOT ASK THIS QUESTION. The truth is they probably aren’t, at this stage. They have likely received a call from a savvy recruiter, who pitched your role, and thought ‘okay, let’s have a chat’. Don’t assume that because they are in this interview, they are entirely bought into your company. This is your job! Which leads me nicely onto number 2…

  2. Sell. Sell. Sell.A candidate that is settled and happy in their job needs to be tempted. They need to see what you can offer that their current employer can’t, how you will improve their working life, where you can take their career. Whether this be more interesting projects, a promotion or a better work life balance. Try to understand the things that could prick the ears of your interviewee. Also, the likelihood of a candidate receiving a counteroffer is high, and if you haven’t differentiated or given solid reasons for them to leave their current role, chances are they won’t.

  3. Flexibility. This can help to alleviate both the time constraints and apprehension of a passive candidate. The ability to flex your hiring process, perhaps accommodating a telephone interview to establish some initial interest or propose an off-site meeting to minimise an unwanted encounter, are all ways to ease a passive candidate into the hiring process.


In a candidate driven market, showing these awareness’s and making these adaptations can be the difference between introducing a passive candidate as the newest member of your team, or not.

Be aware though, once a passive candidate starts to look at your opportunity, you may not be the only one…