Why Passive Candidates Require Special Handling. A True Story.

I asked a candidate after an interview, “How did the meeting go with the CEO?”

The candidate sarcastically replied, “Remind me again, why would I want to leave my current position and go to work there?”

Not exactly the sort of answer I was searching for.

He was what we refer to as a, “passive candidate.”  Meaning, he wasn’t actively on the job market. He wasn’t in any hurry to make a job change. He was open to exploring opportunities and seriously evaluating them, but would only make a change if all aspects of the position were beneficial to him and his career. He had to have good chemistry with the CEO, understand the company’s vision, and his role in helping achieve the vision. Basically, he wasn’t going to just make a move.

In the same way, the stars have to align for the company to want him. They also had to align for him to want them. A new concept for many companies to really comprehend at a deep level.

Yes, the hiring process is a two way street.

Needless to say, I wanted to understand what happened. As the candidate explained it, “I have now been out to the company three times and spent approximately 4 to 5 hours interviewing. I first met for an hour and  a half with HR going over my background. I then met with the person leaving the position. Once again we spent roughly an hour plus going over my background. Both gave me an overview of the position and about 10 minutes to ask questions. Then comes the CEO. Both previous interviewers spent time explaining how the company was reinventing itself and how this role was critical to helping in that process. I expected when I met with the CEO that we would discuss some of those issues, his plan for the reinventing, how my background would add value, and that I would finally have time to ask some of my questions.”

Sounded right and reasonable so far. As he continued to explain the problem, “After taking the morning off work for the 9 AM interview, I waited in the lobby for 25 minutes for the CEO. I was ready to leave when the assistant came to get me. The CEO explained he has to leave for a plane by 10:30, so I’m thinking why are doing this? There isn’t enough time to discuss any of the issues in any depth. Instead of discussing any of the issues, he proceeded to go through my background now for the third time. Don’t these people communicate? By the time he finished it was about 10:20 and he asked if I had any questions. I indicated that I did, but there wasn’t enough time to discuss them, and would it be possible to schedule another meeting, which we did.”

My conversation ended with the candidate asking me to cancel the meeting they scheduled, as he wasn’t really that interested, so why waste the time.  Is it any wonder?

The company was surprised the candidate wasn’t interested. Even after I relayed the above story to them. This had never happened before.

  • A candidate turning them down?
  • A candidate canceling a meeting with the CEO?
  • A candidate that doesn’t want our job?
  • A candidate that doesn’t understand waiting 25 minutes in the lobby for an interview?
  • A candidate that isn’t desperate for our position?

They didn’t respect the candidate, his time, his position, and didn’t take any time to build rapport. They didn’t give him any time to address what was on his mind.

Why would a passive candidate be interested?

So I recommended the following changes:

  1. All candidates must be met in the lobby at the designated time, the same way a customer would be met.
  2. Spend some time marketing the position.
  3. Learn about the candidate’s motivations and interests.
  4. The candidates meet the CEO on the first interview. This demonstrates the importance of the position to the candidate and starts the rapport building process which is critical to passive candidates.
  5. It is an interview, not an interrogation. Make it a discussion.
  6. Every candidate is given ample time to ask questions and interact. The interviewer will learn more from the candidate’s questions than from the answers they give.
  7. More time to explain the position, the importance this role will play, the impact on the organization and time to build rapport with the candidate.

These simple changes would have made all the difference with the candidate. Instead, they lost a great candidate for not treating the person as an executive and a person.

Every interview is a PR event. It is doubtful this candidate will have much good to say about the company should he encounter another candidate considering employment at the company.

Which is a shame as it really is a good company with good people.

Our “Cost Of A Bad Hire” calculator is available to help you get a handle on your total cost of hiring. Download for free worksheet. http://www.impacthiringsolutions.com/index.php/cost-of-hire

Culture is one of the biggest reasons a good hire goes bad. Find out what your culture is, and how people in your organization define it.  Click here to downloand your Culture Assessment.


About the Author

Brad Remillard is a founding Partner of IMPACT Hiring Solutions, co-author of "You're NOT the Person I Hired", and "This is NOT the Position I Accepted". Brad is an award-winning international speaker, retained executive recruiter, and expert on hiring and retaining top talent, and executive job search.


  1. This is a GREAT article, but what you have said applies to ALL candidates, not just passive ones. Hiring managers MUST learn that they have to “sell” irrespective of the unemployment rate. If you don’t, you are staffed with “galley slaves” who are there to collect a check, nothing more.

    I am assisting a client in hiring a new controller. We have had three unemployed candidates decline a second interview! $475 per week in benefits is preferable to working here. If THAT isn’t valuable feedback for a management team, what is?

  2. I’m not sure why this would come as a surprise. I’ve had several similar experiences as a passive candidate. I’m not sure I know the solution but I do believe it is a recruting process issues that must be addressed in many companies.

  3. This has happened to me with 3 different companies in the past 6 months. Each of the companies involved went to far as to fly me to meet with their CEO’s and yet they were unorganized, unfocused, and did not respect my time or their own company’s expenses.
    Why would I want to work for such a company that shows they have no leadership, vision, or respect.

  4. I do agree on what you have stated. But why only passive candidates, I think all candidates who apply need to be treated like customers.

    Even if the deal isn’t on, the impression created should be a lasting impression!!!

  5. Thank you for highlighting the need for mutual respect, thoughtfulness, and engagement when a candidate and potential employer interview each other. The steps you recommend will help job seekers (active and passive) and employers approach the interview in a way that is more effective and will allow each to better evaluate the cultural and position fit.

    Shahrzad Arasteh, Career Consulting Services

  6. Unknown expert says:

    I had a similar experience but I was actually an active and highly (meaning over) qualified candidate. I flew from the east coast to the west coast with the idea I would move to the west coast for the company when I have only lived and only have roots on the east coast. So, I was excited about the opportunity because I was interested in the business even though I thought the job was less of a challenge than I would want. The guy that I was to interview with kept me waiting in a waiting area in the middle of the offices for 20 minutes or more! The lobby would have been a step up from where I was. I could not believe it – 20 minutes and I was right outside his office! This was followed by him conducting the interview with (yes with!) an HR person who looked to have been working for less than 10 years! His opening comment was “I know people like you” and proceeded to put down a well known and highly intelligent former colleague of mine! And thereby anyone who had done similar work and had similar skills – namely me! Why did they bother to fly me out there?! The recruiting firm wrote it off to the prospective boss trying to see how I would react. Honestly, how do companies allow immaturity like this to be in any management position let alone an officer! Not only did this leave a bad impression in my eyes about the hiring company and the hiring manager but also an otherwise highly respected recruiting firm. Now I am very skeptical of this firm even though I think they are the best in their field. Qualified candidates also assess prospective employers based on the professionals they use to recruit for their jobs. There are some firms I won’t even speak to because they haven’t followed through on their role in past opportunities.

  7. I’ve always felt that any professional job interview merits treatment as a two-way street. Until this article, I thought I was alone thinking this. Even if I am out of work and needing a job, I can’t be desperate enough to work for people who cannot treat me professionally during the interviewing process. If they cannot be professional while they need help, I doubt that they will treat me any better as an employee. So this behavior is a warning sign. I’ve regretted every job or contract I’ve accepted after being treated unprofessionally during interviews.

  8. Michael McGuinness says:

    This is one of the best posts I have seen in a while in this lopsided economy. Just because there are more people than jobs at the moment, it appears that all individuals in the hiring process have the attitude that there is a “pot of gold” at the end of this posted position and the candidate should not only appreciate any time given but be subservient at least. There seems to be an attitudinal disposition that the candidate is a lesser in the dictates surrounding the hiring process. I would beg to differ in that a company gets what they pay for and I do not just mean dollars. What is lost are many more advanced candidates that either see right through the indignation or candidates who are thrown to the curb due to a unreasonable calculation that they are not a 100% fit. If a company wants to hire robots, they need to announce that in the responsibility lines and save everyone time and wasted energy. I have seen this type of nausea from the inside and outside and have spoke out about it in a constructive way. Problem is, most left to their own devices go back to what they are at the core. What is seen are psuedo parlo pinko intellectuals who have a know it all self that is loathing. Could be on the right as well as pinko just used as an example. I vote for the talent that is not picked up by a check list. Thanks again for the post and it should be sent to as many HR departments, CEOs, and hiring managers as possible. These type of candidates are far from passibe. Sincerely, Michael McGuinness

  9. I think this happens because most people are still following old ways where you have to keep people hanging on to look important. They feel that this way the company looks important. They have no clear idea why they want to hire somebody and usually base their decisions either on the number of degrees/awards the candidate has or if they like one or two sentences that the candidate spoke when he was asked to go over his background or his answer to questions like, Why should we hire you?

  10. Ron Pachmann says:

    I am in early stages of job hunting, enjoyed reading this and would like to add my findings: I sense there huge lack of respect from many companies from the time you click ‘send’ to submit your resume. I do not enjoy online applications but actually appreciate the automated response stating thank you we received your application because most of the others you NEVER hear from. It seems to be expected of you to keep showing interest, set up the interview, wait in line, prove yourself… There appears to be a lane reversal on the “two way street” mentioned!

    • Ron you are correct. It is not a two way street and should be. Companies expect you to stay excited for weeks and months while they interview others and yet they don’t always communicate their interest to keep you excited.

  11. Larry Johnson says:

    Great write up Brad. I enjoy reading your contributions and your efforts are indeed helping me as a candidate. After giving this subject a few moments of thought I have to say “I appreciate it when a company shows respect for me as a candidate by being punctual, courteous, and by affording enough time for a reasonable interview… but I do not expect it”. After reading a few of the comments above I thought to myself “perhaps the plight of the candidate (getting the offer letter) is being undervalued here.

    I believe it is my responsibility to get along with my boss (even if he is a jackass) and that if I am treated disrespectfully or discourteously in the interview process then I should weigh those factors into the equation when I do eventually get the offer letter. For the most part, if I do not get the offer letter then I do not get the opportunity to say “what would it take for me to accept this offer?” (meaning… I do not get the opportunity to respond with a counter offer). Why give away your power as a candidate? Go the full mile. Consider the interviews as good practice on someone else’s tab and go through the motions. Worst case, you will get an offer and you say no thank you. Be that the case, there is a pretty good chance you will be asked to explain why you did not accept the offer… and, the impact of that response will be that much greater after they have let you know they value your opinions and potential contributions via: The Offer Letter.

    Sometimes you just have to look at everything as a test and an opportunity to prove your value/worth. Maybe they are an awesome company and they are just trying to weed out the quitters. Or maybe they are trying to see how you handle obstacles. Or who knows, maybe they are just jackasses. But in the end, you as a candidate will never know unless you finish the race.

    That’s my 2 cents worth!

    • Larry good point, however, I think this candidate made even a stronger point by not even waiting to get an offer. He was so disgusted he signaled no matter what you offer me I won’t take you position. The company some message loud and clear.
      Thanks for the nice comments on our blog.

  12. Karen Lippman says:

    As an Executive Recruiter, I received similar complaints from our candidates from time to time. It is truly disheartening. Especially when the Recruiter and others involved in the job search process (including HR pros and others at the client level) have worked so hard to find someone that they feel could be a tremendous fit based on experience/skills, the company’s unique culture and the candidate’s individual career goals..

  13. I might also add: don’t use the interview to get free consulting unless you are serious about hiring. Getting off-topic questions from the start throws me off (I should manage this better), and I wonder if they are serious or just trolling.

  14. Brad, perhaps you might want to explore writing about, “You’re not the manager I wanted to work for.”
    Off topic to a degree, but you’ve covered other similar topics – my experience on a few occasions has been that I’ve been hired into a corporate role by one manager that clearly liked me and saw the quality I could bring to the role.
    Then, after I start, the manager leaves and the replacement manager is a complete &$)#*@&!! and I find I am then subject to what pretty much e

  15. Brad, perhaps you might want to explore writing about, “You’re not the manager I wanted to work for.”
    Off topic to a degree, but you’ve covered other similar topics – my experience on a few occasions has been that I’ve been hired into a corporate role by one manager that clearly liked me and saw the quality I could bring to the role.
    Then, after I start, the manager leaves and the replacement manager is a complete &$)#*@&!! and I find I am then subject to what pretty much equates to bullying by the new manager.

    I’m the same employee, doing the same high quality role and doing it well… then along comes a new manager with a bad attitude and I find myself on the receiving end. I have moved on from 4 career paths that I can recall because of this exact same scenario playing out. I lose a great manager who moves on and the replacement manager is a sh*t, and so I move on. Talk about horrid company culture… now I am unemployed because of this same scenario, forced from my career this time.

    Might be a good topic for you to address 🙂

  16. Spot On! This article is fantastic, it’s incredible that this type of behavior still goes on today in the executive level suite. This is where as Talent Acquisition Professionals we must gain the credibility with our Business leaders and coach them how to properly conduct Passive Candidate interviews (every type of interviews for that matter).

  17. Just want to say your article is as amazing. The clarity to your publish is just nice and that i can think you’re an expert in this subject. Fine with your permission let me to take hold of your RSS feed to keep up to date with impending post. Thanks one million and please continue the rewarding work.

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