When Working With Candidates, Avoid This Question At All Costs!

Not all candidates are created equal.

As an interviewer you need to know if your candidate has proactively come to you (responded to a job posting, proactively reached out, is unemployed, etc.) or has been recruited but is actively working.

It is critically important to the successful outcome of the interview for the interviewers to know this from the start as it will affect the way you approach your candidate and interviewing is not a one size fits all sort of business.  As a matter of fact, if you ask a recruited candidate one specific question you will often times sink your opportunity to acquire that particular candidate as your new employee.

The person who has applied proactively or is unemployed is what is known as Active.  The person is on the market, actively seeking a better situation.  Most questions are fair game, such as:

  • Why are you looking?
  • What is wrong with your current situation?
  • What happened at your last company?

Or any number of other probing questions that allows you to understand the current state of affairs and why this person is unemployed, got fired or is actively looking to make a change.

The recruited candidate is known as Passive.  The passive candidate has usually been brought forward by a recruiter and almost always has a job curerntly (you need to read this as: THIS PERSON DOESN’T NEED YOUR JOB!).  Unlike dealing with the active candidate where it is really on the candidate to impress upon you why she is the best person for the job, the passive candidate needs you to show her why she should leave her current company to join you.  You need to be selling as much as you need to be interviewing in this situation.

And there is one question you never ask the passive candidate….

Why are you looking?

That is the cardinal sin to ask a person who has a job.  That person technically “isn’t” looking.  She is open to leaving her current company but only for a better opportunity (and if you’re recruiter is any good you have been made aware of those critical points well before the interview starts so you can sell those things to this candidate in the interview itself) but this person is not actively looking.

What is the danger in asking the question?  You set off a rapid fire of mental question marks in the brain of the candidate which quickly take on a life of their own and can quickly turn your interview into a tire fire.

Things like:

  • What did the recruiter tell these people about me or my status?  (did someone lie or not listen?)
  • Why does the interviewer think I’m looking? (because I’m not- I love my current job)
  • Did someone else tell them I’m looking? (are they calling my references without my permission?)
  • Etc.

That one question has now caused this anxiety to take root in your candidate.  That anxiety grows into trust issues on multiple levels which grows into finding things that are wrong or questionable vs. finding the same things exciting and challenging without that anxiety.  You don’t want those seeds to take root with your candidates and that one question can cause things to go south quickly.  So don’t ask.

However, the motivation behind the question is well placed- you want to know why the person across the desk from you is there and that is very fair.  Position this way instead….

Sue, I understand that you are still working with Company X.  First, I really appreciate you taking a day off to meet with us.  Tell me, what is it that we could provide you here that you don’t have today?

Then listen.  You’ll learn everything you need to know and you’ll be respected by your candidate for your empathy and appreciation not only in recognizing she has made a sacrifice to meet with you but that you are actually interested in her and her career.  (and extra bonus, you’ll probably be perceived as a genius but I’m taking credit for that!).