If you’ve ever walked away from an interview with a programmer wondering if you could have structured it differently, you’re not alone. Recruiters are always looking for new ways to engage candidates, especially when it comes to handling conversations with those who are actively searching, and especially with programmers who aren’t quite as keen on leaving their current posts.
We spoke to a few recruiters here at Stack Overflow for their thoughts on how to interview active vs. passive candidates. Here’s what they had to say.
Life would be much easier if you could simply build two different lists of good interview questions to ask active and passive candidates. However, our People Team agrees that it’s more important to focus on how you pose questions to each type of candidate, rather than getting too caught up in the details of exactly what you ask them.
Tom Harvey, a recruiter here at Stack Overflow, says that when he speaks with active candidates for the first time, he tries to determine if they have a legitimate interest in the company, or if they’re simply sending out their resume to anyone who happens to be hiring. “You want to sift out candidates who don’t care about your purpose,” Harvey says. “The best candidates are the ones that can tell me what we do, and not just grasp at straws.”
While job seekers who are more active in their search should be doing research on your company, Joe Humphries—our Director of People Operations—tells us that recruiters should be researching passive candidates before they pick up the phone to schedule an interview. Harvey also adds that because they’re not as eager to switch roles, they have the upper hand in early stage conversations, making it important for recruiters to employ a style of questioning that is less probing and more respectful of those circumstances.
Not surprisingly, active candidates often come off as strong interviewers. Because they’ve made a concerted effort to find their next gig, they also tend to have a well-manicured elevator pitch ready to retell whenever they’re asked for it. However, you’ll end up learning much more about active candidates if you make an effort to get them off their scripts.
Recruiters all have their own ways of throwing active candidates for a loop, but Harvey tells us that he likes to focus his initial conversations with them by focusing on just one piece of their background. While their responses might not sound as impressive, you will learn more about the candidate, which will ultimately help you decide whether or not you’d like to hire them down the road.
Not only do passive tech candidates have leverage in early conversations with recruiters, they’re often too busy to spend a lot of time on the phone with you. Even when you have an exciting opportunity to discuss, questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” aren’t engaging enough to make a programmer who’s not looking for a job want to continue the conversation.
In the spirit of being respectful of their time, Harvey tells us that he leans more on open-ended questions with passive candidates, which allows them to go into as much detail as they’d like to. Start by asking them about the projects they’re currently on, and once you’ve built a level of trust with the candidate, consider asking them about the pain points they’re experiencing in their current role. Although they might not be looking for a new job, Harvey finds that even passive candidates are often willing to open up about their current benefits and team dynamics. This makes for a great transition into a more specific conversation about your company and the role you’re looking to fill.