6 Critical Differences between Interviewing Passive and Active Candidates


It is a well-known fact that being able to recruit talented and experienced professionals for your organization is an absolute necessity if you wish to see your business grow and prosper.

In today’s job market with historically low unemployment rates, attracting and landing top talent for your critical fill roles is more challenging than ever.

In fact, a recent report shows that 48.8% of hiring managers  report having trouble sourcing talent for their open positions.

As professional recruiters, we know that anything that we can do to expand the pool of viable candidates that you are considering, the better the chances of being able to land the perfect person for your needs.

The best way to expand a potential candidate pool is to consider both Passive as well as Active Candidates. In this blog post, ISC’s team of experienced Executive Recruiters will offer some insights into the important ways that you need to handle passive candidates that are different from active candidates.

For starters, let’s define the two different types of job applicants.

The Difference between Active and Passive Candidates

Here’s how these two types of candidates are defined and understood;

Active Candidates

These job seekers are actively searching for new employment opportunities by reaching out to organizations themselves. These candidates send in their resumes to hiring managers, answer job ads and navigate their professional networks for an open position, and they are also typically available on an immediate basis. The majority of active candidates are either currently unemployed, or at the very least unhappy in their current role. It is rare to see a high performing, successful candidate spending his days perusing job boards as opposed to …working.

Passive Candidates

Passive candidates are the exact opposite of active ones. They’re professionals who aren’t actively looking for job opportunities and are currently employed. They don’t spend their days looking at ads, and they rarely, if ever, approach competitors directly. There is typically a longer transition period required for passive candidates to leave their current role and report to work in their new position as opposed to active candidates.



What are the Important Differences in Interviewing Passive as Opposed to Active Candidates?

Because of the inherent difference between actively searching candidates that are eagerly looking for their next role, and passive candidates that were happily working away and are only in front of the hiring manager because a recruiter reached out to them regarding a potential vertical move, there are critical differences in how to handle a passive candidates.

When both the candidate and the hiring manager go into a meeting expecting to be ‘sold’, the outcome is typically bleak.

It is therefore essential for the interviewer to understand that for the passive candidate, he needs to initially be in the role of actively listening to the candidate and selling the opportunity. Reeling in a passive candidate requires a soft touch, and skilled interviewers have learned that there are 6 key components to courting a high performing passive candidate.

The 6 key differences in courting a passive candidate starts at the application stage and extends all the way to the offer;

  • The first meeting should be staged as a ‘ get to know’ each other informal meeting, framed as a casual meeting between professionals. It is important to stage this initial meeting at neutral territory so that the candidate does not risk being seen going into a direct competitors office. Suggesting meeting off site for coffee, or lunch is ideal.
  • For passive candidates, it is important to be flexible on the standard interview process, forgoing standard applications until genuine interest has been established between both parties.
  • Working with an experienced Executive Recruiter, the hiring manager should be given a list of motivators that she has been able to identify from the candidate, listing scenarios that would encourage them to make a move. By investing the time to learn about the candidate’s unique situation, a skilled recruiter can typically identify pain points in their current role, or objectives that would entice them to make a move.
  • Common pain points include a desire for less travel, stronger career path and growth, enhanced client support, better company culture, higher compensation, more work/life balance, etc. By identifying these hot buttons and sharing them with the hiring manager, he can then spend time on highlighting those areas for the candidate.
  • After interest is established by both parties, it is then ideally left to the Recruiter to take the temperature of the candidate, letting the hiring manager know of any points of concern, additional areas that need clarification, or if the candidate is primed and ready to review an offer. In the best-case scenario, the Recruiter will be able to learn specifics in what it will take to entice the candidate to make a move, getting an assurance from him that if the client generates a formal offer, he is in a position to accept. Skilled Recruiters pride themselves at bringing two parties together and negotiating a package that both are happy about.
  • Changing jobs is an extremely important decision in someone’s life, and for the passive candidate, that was not already looking, it is important to be sensitive to this and allow them time to digest everything. While in normal scenarios the quicker the interview process the better, for the purposes of courting passive candidates, adding an extra week to the interview process often proves to be extremely beneficial. The goal is to let them feel courted, but not rushed.


International Search Consultants has been a leader in executive search since 1999.  Our team of highly experienced Recruiters excels at identifying both active as well as passive candidates and delivering those candidates to our clients interview table.

Please feel free to contact ISC today for any critical fill hiring needs. You will be paired with a senior Recruiter that specializes in your particular hiring needs, and together you will create a recruiting strategy.

Ann Zaslow-Rethaber is President of ISC and can be reached via e-mail at or direct dial at 888-866-7276.

Anna Souers is Director of ISCs team of Financial Services Recruiters, and she also leads ISCs team of Executive Assistant headhunters. Anna can be reached via e-mail at  or direct dial at 800-450-3808.