In a skills-short market, it’s all too easy for recruiters to get excited about promising candidates. The danger lies when this enthusiasm to place candidates makes you less discerning and thorough during the screening process than you normally would be.
Although it’s difficult, you should be holding your candidates to the same standards as you would have done during the GFC when candidates were competing heavily for jobs. Only when they’ve passed your firm but fair requirements should they be put forward to the client.
Without the sufficient groundwork in place, you risk recommending a candidate who either shows their inadequacies or cultural misalignment during the interview or fails to perform once in the role. Both outcomes reflect extremely badly on you as a recruiter, diminishing your professional reputation in the client’s eyes.
Here are 8 questions that will help you determine the candidate’s suitability for the role and company, and figure out if they should progress to the client’s interview shortlist.
1. This role will be paying between x and Y. Are you still interested in the role?
When clients don’t divulge the salary range in the job spec, it’s best to make compensation clear to the candidate during the interview process to avoid disappointment down the line. Have the money conversation upfront to painlessly weed out candidates who will never accept the salary on offer.
2. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? How would you like your career to grow?
This is an important question for a long-term fit. If your candidate answers that they see themselves as sitting several rungs up the career ladder in 5 years, you’ll know they’re ambitious and expect opportunities for rapid promotion. Is the advertised role at the company likely to provide that?
3. What kind of workplace do you thrive in? What’s the best place you ever worked in, and why?
These are great questions to predict cultural alignment. Candidates aren’t going to be privy to the culture of the organisation they’re applying for, so they’ll find it difficult to lie to impress you. You’ll notice their eyes will light up when they talk about past companies and managers they’ve loved working with, and you’ll get a nice insight into what kinds of culture they fit well into.
4. What’s your natural working style? How do you like to be managed and motivated?
Again, because the candidate doesn’t know the company from an insider’s point of view, you have an opportunity to glean a tremendous amount of useful information here. Do they like regular feedback, or prefer a significant amount of autonomy? Are they responsive to bonuses and targets, do they enjoy teamwork, do they like busy workplace environments or prefer to work in peace and solitude?
5. Tell me about a time when you’ve overcome a challenge at work/or a time when you failed.
This behavioural question requires that the candidate looks back to a time of difficulty and explains, step by step, how they dealt with it. You should get a sense of how they respond to conflict or difficulty, and there’s also room to figure out if they tend to shift blame or accept it.
This line of questioning can, of course, be nicely tailored to the job at hand, such as if you’re hiring for a high-intensity role you might ask ‘Tell us about a time when you were under extreme pressure and how you coped.’
6. Why are you leaving your current role?
Watch their faces carefully, because this question can put many candidates on the back foot. Any cagey responses or looks of panic should definitely prompt you to ask further questions, as well as decide to do a particularly thorough series of reference checks.
Of course, lots of very good candidates don’t like answering this question either as it requires them to diplomatically walk that very fine line between complaining about their last company or boss or glossing over any problems completely, so simply use this question as a guide to whether you need to investigate the circumstances of their leaving any further.
7. What skill or trait do you feel will be of most benefit to this company? What skill or trait do you most need to improve?
This two-part question allows the candidate to both showcase their biggest strength while also admitting their biggest weakness. Pay close attention not only to their answers, gauging just how critical these skills or lacks are to the job on offer, but also to how they react to each part of the question.
How much air time they give to each part can be quite telling on their level of self-awareness as well as their self-confidence and ability to admit weakness.
Do they talk in detail about what they’ll bring to the company, but almost skim over the weaknesses? You may have an ego on your hands, or simply someone who doesn’t like to admit weaknesses. Or perhaps you have someone who criticises themselves a lot but struggles to promote themselves. Either way, this question provides much food for thought for the savvy recruiter.
8. What are you most excited about with this role?
Genuine excitement is hard to fake, so again, watch carefully. The best placements you’ll ever make are the ones where the candidate really, really wants the job, while being highly informed about what the job really is.
Here’s an opportunity not only to spot their level of enthusiasm but also find out if they have realistic expectations about what the role comprises of. For example, if they’re wildly enthusiastic about a task that only makes up a tiny fraction of their responsibilities, then the job may not actually be the right fit for them.
Final steps: proceed with caution.
Once you’ve gathered all this information, look back on your (copious) notes about the role, the team, and the company, and make a mature, considered decision about whether this candidate truly deserves to be put forward.
Remember, your reputation as a recruiter depends on it. Don’t risk damaging your reputation in the long-term, just to put someone forward for an interview on the off chance they’ll be hired. Even if they are hired, they may not work out, risking your placement fee as well as your good name!
And don’t forget you can have a discussion with the hiring manager about any niggling doubts you have, allowing them to make up their own minds whether to interview the candidate.
This makes you look very professional, as you’re showing the client clearly that you’re more interested in making the right match than securing your placement fee. On borderline candidates with high potential but a warning sign such as patchy work history, this can be a clever approach.
Until next time,