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Let me be clear: there are a lot of ways that someone can be a bad interviewer. But once we remove the most obvious (and egregious) ones—berating the candidate, being a complete jerk, being late, and being distracted on your phone, etc.—there is one interviewing fail mode that has a huge negative impact: passivity.

There are several ways that passivity can show up in your interview process and none of them are good. (There is one fun exception I will discuss at the end.)

1. The Passive Mindset

The default form of interviewing that most of us grew up with was a very passive one: the interviewer asks a question and then sits back while the candidate attempts to dazzle them. It’s a performance and it’s one of the main reasons why there is such a low correlation between interview ratings and on-the-job results.

Instead, we train people how to become excavators of archeological “dig sites” (i.e. proactively collect stories from the candidate’s episodic memory). Notice how much more active that style is than the default that most of us are used to?

2. The “Too Polite” Interviewer

Another form of passivity is being too polite. This usually results in overly formal questions or in being afraid to jump in and interrupt the candidate. The formality is usually unnecessary and slows down the rapport you could otherwise build, while the inability to “reign in” a candidate means that your interview time will not be spent as effectively as it could be. Both result in worse data and worse hiring decisions.

3. The Passive Kickoff

Many people struggle to interview candidates effectively because the candidate has not explicitly agreed to enter the interview process. That is a form of passivity at the process level. Other times interviewers struggle with candidates who start asking them questions and turn the conversation into a reverse interview. That is a form of passivity at the agenda-setting level. (Once the small talk dies down, the interviewer should set the frame for the rest of the interaction.)

4. The Passive Opening Question

Similar to the Passive Kickoff, here the interviewer asks the candidate “So, tell me about yourself” or “I’d love for you to walk me through your resume.” This is a passive approach: you expect the candidate the package the valuable information you need and deliver it to you in a neat narrative summary. It’s not hard to see that you’re optimizing for presentation rather than verifiable past results.

5. The Passive Listener

People think they are being polite when they remain totally silent while the candidate speaks, but they are missing a valuable opportunity to build rapport and earn the right to quickly jump in with follow-up questions. No one enjoys talking to a blank wall. It’s awkward, you don’t know what is landing for the other person, and you tend to ramble. It’s a bad experience.

6. The Passive “Give Up”

Many interviewers will give up on a candidate when they make their first mistake. It could be a bad answer to the first question in the interview, or it could be failing to provide a real weakness or mistake on the first attempt. If you do this, you will undoubtedly increase your false negative rate (i.e. fail to hire great candidates). The candidate could be nervous, they could have stumbled, they might need a moment to recall their memory. It is passive and lazy to “give up” on a candidate just because you didn’t get the answer after one attempt. I follow the “rule of 3” — I will try 3 different ways to get the answer I’m looking for and if the candidate still won’t cooperate then and only then can I be confident that the candidate was the root cause of the failure, rather than me as the interviewer.

7. The Passive Status Update

One of the biggest complaints you hear from candidates online? Companies that do not proactively stay in touch with the candidate to let them know where they are in the process. Passive. Silent. Terrible candidate experience.

8. Bonus: Exception

Ok, so you get the idea. Passivity in all its forms is bad. But here is one area where the average interviewer is ironically TOO active: judging the candidate in real time. Here we actually want to “quiet” the part of our mind that wants to judge or evaluate the candidate in real-time and instead just ask the same background question to ourselves: “are we getting relevant information” (alternatively, “are we spending our time well here?”).

Dial down your (real-time) judgment, dial up your proactivity in all other stages of the interview process, and watch your hiring results improve.

IN 2 DAYS: We’ve got a free webinar on March 7th: “What Interview Questions Should I Ask?” and you can register here. Please feel free to share this invite with anyone who you feel might benefit from our approach to interviewing and hiring.

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