Candidate Passive

Hi Danny,

I want to have you walk me through something here. On the last couple of deals I have been working on, I have been finding I am not getting sufficient candidate commitment. Of course, in my defense, I am working with strictly passive candidates. Now I have another situation where I am not sensing I have good control on the situation. Working with a client - Great company, great benefits (401K + Pension matching at 11% fully vested in 2 years) then there's the job... WOW - this is an amazing job! It's all new technical development in the latest technology. A very well funded project - great political capital to boot! Dream job! Except- Location, Location, Location. This client is located in the middle of nowhere. The Chief Technology Leader knows this. He's done a good job getting a very well planned out project and he's seeking my help to find him talent.

I have found a candidate who is an excellent match and is in a degree of career pain. He's also very interested in the benefits package and he's frankly very interested in the work that he's interviewing with my client for - he also confided in me that after 13 years of working as a consultant - he'd really like to take ownership in his work - so the appeal of working for the end -user employer is appealing. He is holding back on compensation right now though - based on my last few experiences, I guess I am not really worried just yet because we haven't started the interview process yet. So, now that I have told you this - I would like to ask for direction from this point forward. Since he's never changed jobs before in his technical career, I am worried that he will not be able to go through with a resignation. He doesn't have to relocate for this job - but this job is going to require that he be on site at least 50% of the time and he'd be able to work that in as they are flexible. So - now, I admit to not feeling like I am as good at getting passive candidates closed. So - where do I go from here? This candidate goes on vacation for a week, so I have some time to get my game plan in order.

Danny's response:

I’m glad you have another week while your candidate is on vacation. Not so that you can strategize a brilliant close, but so that you can find another candidate. This deal is unlikely to happen.

Okay, swallow hard, I know that’s not what you want to hear, but you pay me to be dead honest with you, if there is anything more painful than having someone quash your dreams, it is the pain of a turndown you could have seen coming.

You say your candidate is in “a degree of pain.” And he is. An associate’s degree of pain and you’re hoping for a graduate degree. Think about it this way. Most people make moves when they are passionate about how bad things are, NOT because of how good things might be at the new job. Your guy has been where he is 13 years. When he last made a move Monica Lewinsky was keeping Jay Leno in business, people were worried about Y2K bringing down all the world’s computers, the Twin Towers did biz as usual, people had cell phones the size of Coach bags. It was a lifetime ago. No matter how wonderful the new technology and the new company is, the fear of change coming this guy’s way is going to be paralyzing. Not that he will tell you that. When someone is leaving not because of how bad things are but because of how great the new job is, they will turn down the job with logic and deny the emotion that is really driving their decision. He may not even be conscious he’s doing it. It’s a defense mechanism, or as Jeff Goldblum says in the Big Chill, “How could we get through life without rationalizations?”

So now we look at his pain. He’d like “more ownership.” Vague. Soft, hard to define and therefore easy to redefine when he takes a counteroffer. And the benefits are great?! Please, that is a pen stroke and a minor budget shift by his current boss and voila, better benefits. People don’t take jobs for benefits. (They seldom take jobs just for a slight comp increase, for that matter.) Now factor in the inconvenience of having to go “to the middle of nowhere” (so what he doesn’t have to relocate, as someone who lives in hotels, cabs and airports, I can tell you this is probably worse) and this guy’s chances of overcoming all of these human elements for the potential of shiny new technological toys to play with are very small.

And he won’t tell you his compensation? That might be the biggest and most basic red flag. He is flirting with change, he is happy to hook up, but he is not really open to risk, so he protects his personal information to keep from getting in too deep. In my office, no candidate goes on an interview without having given us all their compensation information. Period. The end. You don’t parse closing up over a period of time. You get agreement in the beginning that “This is going to be scary ride, and at the end of it you may have a better job and by extension, a better life. Are you up for it? No, fine, I won’t present you.”

You need to stop coddling candidates who are “passive” and make it your job to make them “passionate” candidates. What is wrong with his current situation is what you have to establish with this type of candidate. Because no job’s potential stands a chance when up against the inevitable fear of change.

Am I wrong? I hope so. So prove it. Do a take it away close WHILE he’s on vacation. “George, I’ve talked to the client and my colleagues here and I’ve decided to allow you to enjoy your vacation and withdraw your candidacy. (PAUSE. SHUT THE HELL UP.) If he asks why, summarize what is in this response and tell him, inevitably, this is a turn down. He should want the job, benefits aside, comp aside, hassles of inconvenience aside. There’s a price to pay for ownership of work and a new gig at state of the art technology but you’ re sensing the 13 years represents too long a time for him to see that. He’s looking for reasons not to take the job as opposed to fighting for it. (The way active candidates do.) So you’ve decided to cut to the chase and save everyone the hassle. Peace out. And get off the phone. And wait. But for crying out loud don’t sit around hoping. Find another candidate, and if they’re passive do less selling and more digging into their motivations. (Watch my webcast on this subject: Leave or Stay? Help Your Candidate Decide, Save Yourself Heartache) And if he comes back to you and fights for the job, give him a shot, but don’t be surprised if he thanks you for bringing him some relief. He was flattered, but we don’t place the flattered, we place the shattered.

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We have hundreds of great questions and answer blogs from Danny and the recruiters he has trained. Look for emails highlighting these questions.