Interviewing - It's a Two-Way Street

Interviewing - It's a Two-Way Street.  I've used this phrase with clients on many occasions and usually it draws the proverbial "duh" response.  But recently a hiring manager who had done a couple of phone interviews with a "passive" candidate (who by the way is a top performer at another company) said, "It was like the candidate was interviewing us!" 

I could hardly contain myself when I responded "he WAS interviewing you!!!"  Too often companies think the candidate is the only one who is supposed to be "selling" during the interview process.  This attitude can be very costly if you are trying to hire top performers - which in many cases are "passive" candidates. 

These candidates are not actively looking for a job or career change when the opportunity is presented.  They have no strong motivation to make a  change unless you give them the motivation through a compelling interview process.  In these instances the company is doing at least half of the selling.  And if you are not doing an effective job selling your company and opportunity, these high potential, passive candidates are not likely to make a change.

Sounds simple, right?  Then why do so many companies make the same mistake with "passive" candidates?  Let's start with some basics.  What does the "ideal candidate" for the position look like?  Currently employed or unemployed?  Successful in their current position or not doing so well?  Looking to make a logical step in their career or desperate to simply make a change?  Generally satisfied with their current job/company or disgruntled and unhappy?  You see where we are going with this, right?  The best candidates are often (not always, of course) "passive" vs. "active."

There are many ways to identify passive candidates, and a recruiter with expertise in your business is a great way to go.  For the sake of this article let's assume you successfully identified a top performing, passive candidate with the right mix of experience for your position.  Now what?  Do you treat this candidate the same as you would the plethora of other candidates who applied online?  Of course not.  The best way to attract this passive candidate is ask yourself a simple question, "If I was not actively looking to make a job change and was approached by another employer, what would I expect/want the interview process to be like?" 

  • Would you want the interview process to be timely and efficient?  Or would it be OK if it dragged on and on and on?
  • Would you like to be treated like you were  a well qualified candidate who would be a welcome addition to the organization?  Or would you prefer to be grilled like you were lucky the company was even giving you the time for an interview?
  • Would you like timely feedback after interviews have taken place?  Or would you like to be left hanging indefinitely with no idea how things are progressing?
  •  Would you prefer to speak with and/or meet a representative of the company?  Or would it be OK to do video interviews via your laptop to be reviewed by someone with the company at a later date?
  • Would it be OK if they ask you to drive 3 hours each way to meet the manager so it is more convenient for the company?  Or would you prefer the manager travel to the location of the position to interview you to maximize your time?

 While many of the answers seem obvious, you would be surprised how many companies and hiring managers fall into the "one-way" interview trap and lose interest of passive candidates.  As a result companies often have no choice but to hire the active candidate who will eagerly jump through all of the hoops only to become disgruntled or not perform within months of joining the organization.  And they become disgruntled or don't perform because they were not the right person to hire.  And they were not the right person to hire because the interview process was not designed to attract passive candidates.  Chicken or egg?

Here are a few rules of thumb for creating an interview process that ATTRACTS passive candidates:

  • It has to be timely!  There is an old saying in recruiting - "time kills all deals."  This is especially true with passive candidates.  Remember, they were not looking to make a change in the first place.  Unexplained delays create ambivalence.  Ambivalence does not motivate someone to make an important change.  So you have to ask yourself the question: "Does the pace of our interview process inspire a great candidate to make a change?"
  • It has to make the passive candidate feel important and wanted.  If you are happy in your job and generally feel important and valued by your current employer, would you want to go to work for someone who did not seem to really want you to join their organization?  And I mean REALLY want you to join their organization!  So if your interview process is more of an inquisition than mutually selling, how do you think that is likely to turn out?  You are still evaluating and assessing the candidate.  You still have the ability to not offer them the job in the end if they do not turn out to be the best candidate.  But if you are not selling along the way you won't have the option to hire or decline them, because they will decline you first.  That is the beauty of the "Two-Way Street" interview process - you ultimately make the choice on the BEST candidate because all candidates (especially passive candidates) remained engaged and interested all the way through.
  • It has to keep the passive candidate engaged.   You have to provide them with TIMELY FEEDBACK.  No matter how great your company is - no matter how good the culture - no matter how exciting the job - without timely feedback you will lose interest of the passive candidate.  Guessing games cause people to speculate.  They speculate that the interview didn't go well.  They speculate the manager is not a good communicator.  They speculate that making a change with uncertainty will only lead to bad things.  And they were not actively looking to make a change.  So they stay in their current job because it is a pretty good job in the first place.  And you go back to your pool of active candidates.  They accept the fact that you didn't provide timely feedback - because they REALLY need the job!  Rinse and repeat.  And be prepared to refill the job in 6-12 months. 
  • It needs a personal touch.   I hate to state the obvious, but people work for people.  Don't get me wrong, technology is great and definitely has its place in recruiting, interviewing and hiring.  But if technology is so great why don't we date on Skype?  Are Facebook friends the same as real life friends?  Do you try to sell your company's products/services solely on Facetime?  Remember, you are trying to sell someone who was not looking to change jobs to come to work for your company - and you cannot rely on a video interview to do that.  Sure it can be a small part of the process if/when it makes sense.  But the key word in the last sentence is "small."  Once again the active candidates who desperately need a job will welcome the video interview because they REALLY need the job.  People work with and for people.  They need to shake your hand and look you in the eye (without a webcam) to be convinced it is a good decision.  And in hiring aren't we all trying to make good decisions?
  • It needs to be easy!  While travel is frequently required in the interview process, you have to make it as easy as possible for the passive candidate.  Sure they may need to fly to corporate HQ for final interviews - which can be sold as a positive to the passive candidate.  They get to meet senior managers, see the home office, get a taste of the culture and work environment.  Hopefully those are all positives for your company and help sway the passive candidate to join the team.  But don't ask the candidate to drive 3 hours each way for an initial interview!  They are still in the early stages of determining if they should make a change in the first place.  When you put those kind of demands on a passive candidate early in the process you are helping them make the decision - and the decision is to stay put.   This all gets back to making the passive candidate feel they are important and wanted.  Respecting their time is paramount in doing that!

Creating a process that attracts high quality, passive candidates is kind of like exercise for many of us.  We know how important it is but we don't take the time to do it!  The benefits are extraordinary in building a high performing organization.  You will eventually have to fill fewer positions because high performing, passive candidates who make career changes for the right reasons typically stay with companies longer.  The extra time and work on the front end will pay off for you and your company long term.  


Brian is a VP/Partner at Ideal Steps Healthcare Recruiting, Inc.                                  

Views: 662

Comment by Keith Halperin on June 4, 2014 at 2:41pm

For most positions at most companies, you can treat candidates any way you please (and NOT the way YOU'D like to be treated), and they better like it, because there're many more who WILL like it where they came from.


Comment by Brian Hill on June 4, 2014 at 2:44pm

That may be true Keith - but that does not mean you will hire the best talent.

Comment by Keith Halperin on June 4, 2014 at 4:17pm

Exactly right, Brian.Wannabe,also-ran, has-been companies may feel ENTITLED to the "Fabulous 5%,"  but have nothing to offer thevery best excepttheri own deluded hype. While treating people asthey themselves would like to be treated will help, it still won't let a 55th percentile company hire  95th percentile people. Intypical situations of labor oversupply (as we have now)this55th percentile company MIGHT be able to hire 75th percentile people quite easily, though.

IN SUMMARY: being "nice" may  be necessary but not sufficient to hire the best people IF YOU'RE ONE OF THE BEST COMPANIES, and it isn't necessary  (though desirable for its own sake) to hire the people that can be realistically hired if you're not one of the best companies.


Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on June 4, 2014 at 5:51pm

@Brian - What is this statement based on? 

The best candidates are often (not always, of course) "passive" vs. "active."

Isn't the only difference with the above "status" timing? 

I'm completely on board with your point about interviews being a two-way street and agree that too many people involved treat them as one-sided interrogations. However, where you lost me was the focus on "passive" candidates being somehow entitled to being treated better simply because they weren't previously aware of your position. 

How about this...? Replace all references to active or passive above with "awesome" (or any other term to describe the type of person you'd like to hire) and see if the concept of how interviews should go still makes sense. 

Comment by Keith Halperin on June 4, 2014 at 7:30pm

Well-said, KB.


Comment by Brian Hill on June 5, 2014 at 7:48am

I don't think "timing" is the only differentiator with active vs. passive candidates.  In most cases passive candidates look at opportunities differently than active candidates because they are currently employed and generally happy.  The point can certainly apply to "awesome" candidates as well and in some cases that candidate may very well be active.  If you applied the concept to all candidates you would increase chances of hiring "awesome."

Comment by Noel Cocca on June 5, 2014 at 1:14pm
I think its natural to talk differently to someone you are trying to recruit who wasn't looking than you might to an applicant who comes in looking to interview. You need to put do your best screening and pitch to both but I am sure the tone is different.
Comment by Brian Hill on June 5, 2014 at 1:21pm

Thanks Noel!  To clarify - I am not suggesting "active" candidates be treated poorly and "passive" candidates be treated well exclusively.  My point (and sorry if it was not clear) is the TOTAL interview process should be designed to attract the best talent .  If an interview process is not a "two-way" street you will only be left with candidates who are willing to tolerate a less than stellar interview process.  This does not mean active candidates are bad!

Comment by Peter Clayton on June 10, 2014 at 9:51am

Think you're right on Brian. I interviewed Michael Beygelman recently (CEO at Joberate) he made an interesting observation..

Michael... I'm going to say something sort of stupid simple, so don't laugh. People go, 'I'm really having a hard time finding JAVA developers.' You kind of hear this. Or pick your skill set. I'm having a hard time finding people that understand Hadoop, some esoteric skill set. What they're really saying is they're not having a hard time finding it; go Google them, you're going to find 10,000 of them. What they're basically saying is, I'm having a hard time finding someone with the skill set that wants to take this job. That's a very different thing.

Peter: Yeah, you're right. There are a lot of JAVA developers out there.

Michael: Of course! Don't tell me you're having a hard time finding one. I can find you 3 million, I can tell you where they are, and I can give you their numbers. That doesn't mean they're going to take your job.

Comment by Brian Hill on June 10, 2014 at 10:02am

Spot on Peter!  It's amazing how many people think it is so easy to recruit these days because of tools like LinkedIn, etc.  Finding people is easier than ever.  But with so many people out there the hard part is screening them (figuring out which ones are really good) and then attracting them!  Lose sight of that and you are just spinning your wheels.  Thanks for your comment!


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