When it comes to finding a job, candidates too often turn to applying through online job boards, LinkedIn, or company job portals. While online applications are typically straight forward and easily accessible, they also result in huge candidate pools that makes it hard to stand out.
Another effective channel to find your next role is through job recruiters (aka headhunters) working with companies to fill open positions. Because the strength of a recruiter’s relationship with a client is directly tied to his or her ability to find the right candidate for a role, good recruiters invest time in vetting prospective candidates by asking screening questions to get a sense of their qualifications and interviewing skills.
Therefore, if you want to stand out as a promising candidate, you’ll want to be ready to answer some common questions so you can come across as polished and professional. Here are 10 of the most common questions recruiters ask candidates as they assess whether you may be right candidate to pitch to their clients.
1. Can you tell me about yourself?
A popular interview question among hiring managers, recruiters use to this question to assess your communication skills, get your perspectives on your career trajectory, and gauge whether your skills align with the role they’re trying to fill. “I look for an elevator pitch that not only tells me who the individual is at a high level but also what drives them and where they see themselves in their company or career long term,” says Megan Blanco, a talent acquisition manager focused on healthcare and corporate recruiting at Loyal Source.
Carrie Magee, client partner at Marlin Hawk who recruits in North America for human resources and operations roles, says you should convey you’ve approached your career with intentionality and discipline. She’s looking for candidates who can “pull out examples relevant to the job we’re discussing, which tells me they know how to manage a message to their audience.”
Tip: Prepare and rehearse a two to three minute verbal summary of your career including roles, goals, key accomplishments, and transitions.
2. What are your current responsibilities?
“I ask this because I want to get a better understanding of what the candidate is currently doing and how that might compare to the job opportunity I have in mind for them,” says Rob Paone who focuses on recruitment in the blockchain and cryptocurrency industries as Founder & CEO of Proof of Talent. “I’m visualizing the job description’s must-haves and performing a side-by-side comparison as the candidate speaks to mentally check the boxes.”
While the “tell me about yourself” question is about the birds-eye view of your professional history, this question drills down into your current role. Rebecca Siciliano, Managing Director of Tiger Recruitment in the UK says this question also allows recruiters to probe deeper into what candidates enjoy doing most. “This gives us a good idea of the tasks they’re comfortable with and the areas in which they’re likely to perform best.”
Tip: Prepare a verbal summary of your exact responsibilities in your current role that highlight specific skills most relevant to your target role.
3. What’s your biggest accomplishment?
Recruiters want to get a sense of how effective you’ve been in your recent roles before pitching you as a candidate to their clients. Your work should ideally have had a direct impact on your broader organization’s priorities and ambitions, which is an indication of your future impact.
“When we ask this question, we want to probe the candidate’s track record for adding value and creating a positive impact,” says Sarah Doughty, Director of Recruitment of Talentlab who recruits within the high tech sector. “Asking candidates to explain how they supported the business further validates their understanding of the true goals of the work they’re doing.”
Tip: Prepare examples of key accomplishments including the context, actions, and results, ideally those that illustrate skills relevant to your target role.
4. Why are you interested in moving on?
Recruiters want to understand your current situation — whether you’re content in your role or not. “If a job seeker can call out examples of what they like or dislike doing, I can try to customize the search based on their feedback,” says Brandi Britton, district president at Robert Half in Los Angeles.
Scott McGowan IT and Digital Manager at Zenith People encourages candidates to be specific and transparent. “Everyone has different reasons for wanting to leave a business, but the more detail they can give, the more I can get a flavour of their motivations and that makes them more marketable.” Honesty goes a long way according to Sara Ferraioli, Partner & Managing Director at WinterWyman who focuses on HR recruitment in the New England region. “Regardless of whether it was a simple reason like a relocation or a more complicated one like financial instability, candidates should be able to respond to this question honestly and efficiently.”
Recruiters also emphasize that your motivations for moving on are critical. “If a candidate is leaving a job due to ill-feeling towards their current line manager, you may be faced with a toxic candidate who will end up getting into the same type of feud with their next boss,” says Andrew Fennell, a former recruiter in London and founder of Standout CV. “Ideally you want candidates leaving because they no longer find the role challenging, and they’re looking to take the next step in their career.”
Tip: Be clear in your mind about which of these three categories you fall into: 1) completely content, 2) open to opportunities, or 3) actively searching. Additionally, be ready to share your underlying motivations.
5. What’s your ideal next role?
Knowing exactly what you’re looking for helps recruiters understand whether your ambitions align with available opportunities. The clearer you are about what you want, the more likely you’ll come to mind for relevant opportunities.
Savvy recruiters want to understand your goals before they disclose the specific role they’re trying to fill so they don’t influence your response. “We look for people to tell us their career plans match the position we have available beforetelling them about our career opportunity,” says Kathleen Steffey, CEO of Naviga Recruiting & Executive Search. “We never fit a round peg in a square hole. It just doesn’t work long term.”
Kristina McDougall, Founder and Principal at Artemis Canada agrees. “Before we describe the role we’re recruiting for, we want to understand how the individual defines the company and role where they’ll be happiest and most successful.”
Tip: Be clear about what you’re looking for in your next job, including your location, industry, function, company, and role preference. The more specific you can be, the better.
6. What’s your timeline for moving on?
Aside from your qualifications, recruiters want to understand when you would be available to start in a new role to determine whether you could fill a role within a hiring manager’s desired timeline.
According to Britton, candidates who are clear about their timing allow her to put out feelers for relevant opportunities that match that timing. “It can be challenging if someone’s wishy-washy about dates because many clients have urgent needs, and it may make me question how serious they are about the job search.”
Tip: Be ready to share your ideal timing for a career move including your notice period and earliest potential start date.
7. What are your location preferences?
Location preferences used to be about the city or region where you wanted to work. Now, with the increased acceptance of remote and flexible working arrangements, recruiters want to understand your expectations around where and how you work.
“The location of the position is one of the biggest hot buttons right now,” says Steffey. “If a candidate hears that the position does not offer a standard remote working environment but continues to ask questions related to this, we pass on them because it causes problems down the road.” For traditional office-based roles, Steffey says candidates should live a reasonable, commutable distance to the employers location. Those who don’t should be prepared to explain what arrangements they’re willing to make in order to have a commute that doesn’t create strain down the road.
Tip: Be upfront and honest about your working location preferences. If you don’t, issues often arise for both the employee and employer.
8. What’s your current salary?
In certain locations, asking about current or past salary has been outlawed. However, recruiters outside these locations may still ask your current level of compensation as a reference point for your future salary expectations (more on this next). The topic of salary tends to be one of the more delicate parts of any job recruitment conversation, and candidates may feel tempted to dodge or even mislead the recruiter who’s asking, which is often counterproductive.
Azem Hoti, European Business Manager of VHR Global Technical Recruitment says ideal candidate/recruiter relationships are based on trust and mutual respect. You shouldn’t play games with recruiters because it makes it harder to promote a candidate to client hiring managers. “Speaking with hundreds of candidates every week, recruiters are quickly able to tell if a candidate is exaggerating their current salary. Inaccurate or dishonest conversations [about salary] waste valuable time.”
Tip: Avoid the temptation of inflating or hiding your current salary. You’ll establish a more trustworthy relationship with a recruiter by disclosing your current salary. If you feel you’re underpaid, be ready to reference industry salary benchmarks or data to back up your perceptions.
9. What are your salary expectations?
If asking about your current salary makes candidates uncomfortable, this question about future salary expectations often causes even more anxiety. Most candidates do not want to undershoot or overshoot, so many opt to instead dodge the question entirely, reverting to conventional negotiation wisdom about never being the one to put out a first offer.
However, when it comes to discussing salary expectations with a recruiter, most experts suggest being forthcoming. Laura Davis, President of Ignite HR, says you shouldn’t play games with this question. “If you fit within the salary range our client has available, and you are otherwise a good fit for the position, we will present you as a candidate. If you won’t give me a number, we cannot present you.” She simply can’t risk presenting candidates with salary needs are outside of the client’s hiring range. “[My] clients will not schedule an interview without knowing your salary requirements.”
McDougall acknowledges the question is delicate but says recruiters ask this question to ensure they’re making good use of everyone’s time. “We liken it to test driving a car without knowing the price — then possible falling in love with the Ferrari while you are on a Chevy budget.” For example, candidates who say they’ll take a lower salary than their initial target don’t tend to get recommended to recruiters’ clients. Steffey says this signals desperation and a potential flight risk if another offer comes up in the future that aligns with a candidate’s target salary.
Tip: Be clear and upfront about exactly what compensation level you hope to achieve with a target salary figure or range. This ensures you’re matched with only those roles that meet your requirements and prevents everyone from wasting time.
10. Are you actively working with any other recruiters?
Having strong working relationships with multiple recruiters as a candidate is perfectly acceptable and expected, but there’s a point of diminishing returns. If you’ve been proactively working with a lot of recruiters for quite some time or you’ve put in many applications with minimal progress, you may come across as a less viable candidate.
“I would view candidates in a positive position if they’re dealing with selected agencies rather than making multiple applications where they can’t remember where they’ve applied,” says Steve Preston managing director at Heat Recruitment in the U.K. “You ultimately want to be working exclusively with the candidate and establish a two-way relationship. Whilst this is not always possible, it’s good to be working with someone who understands the benefits of being selective.”
When it comes to disclosing other opportunities you’ve been considering, honesty again goes a long way. Paul Smith Managing Partner of Odgers Interim U.S., says there’s no right or wrong answer to this question per se. However, he appreciates transparency. He wants to understand whether he’s in competition with other recruiters or clients, which indicates the likelihood a candidate will take a job. Candidates who refuse to share this information end up creating a lack of trust with the recruiter. “If you have a choice between a candidate who is trying to play the game and a candidate who’s honest, the honest one is generally going to come out on top.”
Tip: Focus on quality rather than quantity with recruiter relationships so you can come across as a selective, confident candidate who’s looking out for a specific type of opportunity.
Prepare and rehearse your responses
To summarize, when it comes to finding great candidates for job opportunities, recruiters value honesty, clarity, and quality. Reflecting on these ten questions in advance and preparing some thoughtful responses will position you as a polished, professional candidate who’s proactively thinking about the future of your career so you can be the first person a recruiter calls when the perfect role for you becomes available.
I originally posted this article on Forbes.