Good Candidates Ask Good Questions

— May 27, 2017

If you’ve ever done any interviewing or hiring, then you know how difficult it can be to identify the truly good candidates. In a recent post, I talk about creating a candidate assignment in order to see your candidate “in action” and get a feel for their work quality. There are so many ways to identify the top talent in your search; some ways are much more complex than others. But I’d like to let you in on a little recruiting secret of mine, that will help you to shuffle the best of the best to the top of your pile.

Good Candidates Ask Good Questions

I have found this rule to be true nearly 100% of the time. Maybe it’s because their experience has provided them with insight and wisdom to thoroughly think through the position. Maybe it’s because they’re just as invested in finding the right opportunity as I am in finding the right candidate. Maybe it’s simply that smart people usually ask good questions.

Whatever the reason, good candidates ask good questions so it’s important to pay close attention to what kinds of questions your candidates are asking and to consider why those questions are important and will help the process along.

Make Candidate Questions a Part of Your Process

If it isn’t already, make this part of your process. In my introductory conversation with candidates, I present the role and the company and then quickly follow up by sending a job description.

Sidenote: A lot of recruiters are probably shaking their heads right about now, because sending a job description straight out of the gate is not always recommended. But honestly, what are we hiding, folks? Don’t we want to find the candidate that is best matched to the role? Let’s save our candidates and ourselves a lot of time and stop being so mysterious.

Once the candidate has the job description, they can thoroughly review the details of the role and process the information. I place specific emphasis on the “processing” part of this whole thing because I am most often dealing with passive candidates. I’ve approached them out of the blue and asked them to consider making a big change. Giving them time to fully consider the position is important for them, for you and for your hiring manager.

Allowing them to fully consider the job description also allows them to formulate their questions, and this is really what we want. I have some candidates that reply via email with their questions and some candidates ask for another call. People “process” information in different ways, so it’s important to give them the option of how they prefer to follow up.

What Are “Good Questions?”

You may be wondering what constitutes a good question, and to be honest, I don’t have a definitive answer for you. It really depends on the role. But, here are a few guidelines:

  • The questions should be focused on the work. If a candidate immediately comes back with a bunch of questions about compensation and benefits, then they haven’t passed the test. Of course, these are important details but these types of questions do not convey any excitement about the actual work, and that’s a key indicator that it’s not a great fit.
  • Are the questions strategic or execution-based? Again, this will depend on the role. If it’s a leadership, strategy-focused position, then you want someone that thinks in those terms. If it’s a support role that deals with the everyday details and execution, then you’ll want their questions to be consistent with operating at that level. Either way, an inconsistency here can signal a bad fit.
  • Have they done their research? You’ll know pretty quickly if a candidate has read the job description or researched the company; they usually reveal themselves in the questions they ask. So, pay careful attention to if they’re asking questions that can be answered in the job description or through the information found online about the organization. This may not bother you, but for me it’s a dealbreaker. You have to do your homework in order for me to consider you a strong candidate.
  • Do their questions make you think? This one is sort of obvious, but if they ask a question that causes you to stop and think, “What a great question!” then you’re on the right track. We want to hire thoughtful, talented, insightful candidates so let’s make sure they’re proving themselves before you pass them on to the hiring manager. And just a hint: If they do ask a “great question” you may want to have them hold on to that question for their conversation with the hiring manager. It will spark good conversation and hopefully impress the hiring manager as well!

Have Your Answers Ready

And finally, what good is a good question without a good answer? This means that you have to really know the role; the work, the day-to-day, the team, the company operations and culture… If you’re internal, this probably won’t be a problem. For external recruiters, this will involve anticipating what candidates will need to, and want to, know and asking those good questions as you prep for your search.

So, what’s your next search? Are you ready to find the best person for the job? How will they reveal themselves? It may just be through the questions they ask…

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