Employer Branding Talent Acquisition

How to Rule Passive Candidates In or Out

A client of mine is currently ramping up their direct hire efforts on a global basis, using LinkedIn and other online tools to identify and approach suitable candidates. Some of these will be actively looking for a job, but most will be what we refer to as passive talent.

There is nothing wrong with networking with passive talent but as a recruiter you have stiff targets on your head and you have to work out who is actually interested in a job and who is a tyre kicker.

This isn’t about suitability, we assume these candidates can do the job, this is a matter of seeing who will actually go through with shifting jobs.

I was asked what questions to ask candidates to rule them in or out for jobs and had to rack my old recruiter brain. I came up with a few questions we used to ask candidates, here are some of them. If you can think of more, let me know in the comments below!

Current job

  • What made you move to your current position?
  • Are you happy with your choice?
  • How is the company doing?
  • Have you achieved the goals that you set out in this job?
  • Is there any further room for growth in this role?
  • What would you like to do less/more of? (Candidate might mention more people management or money, less travel and programming for instance)

Internal progression

  • Are there internal promotion opportunities? (Try to map out the hierarchy)
  • Have others around you moved up in the organisation? (Or are they stuck/have they left)
  • Have you spoken to your manager or applied for internal roles?
  • Do they know you are not happy with your current role?
  • Why would you look at a job at another company when you haven’t explored internal opportunities first? (Counter offer risk here!)

New jobs at other companies

  • Have you had a look at new positions?
  • Did you apply for any new positions?
  • Have you had any feedback / interview / offers?
  • What did you learn from these? (Candidate typically learns what they don’t want to do from speaking to other candidates)
  • People that leave your company typically go to…?


  • When would you ideally start a new role?
  • Do you have any performance reviews coming up?
  • Are you waiting on a salary review or bonus payments?
  • What is your notice period?
  • When will you hear from other companies / recruiters?


  • How did you find you current role? (job board, search firm, online etc)
  • How would you look for the next position?
  • Do you know people at other companies? (if they know people at your company that can be very useful)

How we proceed from here

  • ‘We have a couple of roles that you may be right for, but before I discuss these with you can I ask you to send me your resume/CV?’ (to get commitment from the candidate and making it real)
  • Can I ask you to have a look at our vacancies and tell me which ones are of interest to you? (if you really want to test them)
  • Your profile looks very interesting and I know that the hiring manager would like to have an initial phone chat with you, how does Tuesday sound?

Related: How To Recruit Passive Candidates Online.

By Jörgen Sundberg

Founder of Undercover Recruiter & CEO of Link Humans, home of The Employer Brand Index.