10 Questions to ask a Recruiter Before You Interview
Recruiters can be great assets during the interview process. They often have strong relationships with the hiring team and/or client (i.e. Manager with a specific job opening the recruiter is supporting staffing for), and may be able to provide you with insider information around culture, technology landscape, team, environment, the types of traits they value in candidates, and so much more! Often, candidates in the job market don't know what types of questions to ask the recruiter to best set them up for success during an interview.
Here are our top 10 recommendations for topics and questions to pose to recruiters as you are learning about the opportunity and then when you are preparing for any interviews.
- Why is this position open?
We like this question because it provides insight into other aspects of the role. Is it a brand new opening because the team is growing, there was a recent acquisition, large project underway, etc.? Or is it a backfill of an existing resource? If so, any idea why that person left? If your recruiting partner is unable to answer this, you can always bring this up during the Q&A portion on an interview!
- Was the job description written for this particular role or is it a blanket/standard
job description? Who wrote it?
This is an important question that is often overlooked. The reason we encourage candidates to ask this is because a job description may say one thing (or it may have been recycled from a previous posting), but the hiring manager is really looking for something else. Most hiring managers do not receive training in writing effective job descriptions and often they are required to pick one that "closely matches" what they're looking for. We've had multiple conversations with hiring managers over the years where they say "ignore the job description that came through, this is what I'm really looking for". We have found that many candidates rule themselves out because they are lacking requirement/s outlined within a job description, when you shouldn't be! So be sure to find out where the description came from and if it's even an accurate representation of the role!
- Did you have a conversation with the hiring manager about this particular
This is another important question, because there is a big difference between a recruiter receiving a new opening via email or via HR vs. having an actual conversation with the hiring manager about the project details, day-to-day responsibilities, and requirements. If they or someone else from their company had a conversation with the Manager, it's also more likely that they have a relationship with them, and therefore more likely that your resume will be viewed when the company submits your resume in consideration for the role. If they have had a conversation, you can then ask "Are there are any details missing from the job description that the hiring manager may have mentioned in their one-on-one conversation?" This will provide great insight to have going into an interview!
- What is your relationship with this manager, team and client?
How long have you been a partner, if applicable? In a perfect world, your recruiter will have existing, lasting relationships with the clients they are representing you at. Either way, you want to know their history with the client you're interviewing with, the manager, and the team. Have they worked exclusively with this team for the last 5 years and the culture is out of this world? Is it an existing client, but the hiring manager is brand new? Relationships are important, so take the time to find out what theirs is with this client company and specific hiring manager!
- How many people have you placed at this client and with this manager?
This feeds off of #4, but the more information you know, the better. Have they placed over 60 Data/BI professionals at this company over the last 10 years, and the majority with the hiring manager for the role you're interviewing for? Is it a brand new client but a hiring manager that they had an existing, strong relationship with at a previous client? Or is a brand new client and a brand new manager? This, coupled with #4, can help set your expectations for the type of relationship that exists and what you are walking into for an interview! Some of our best hiring manager relationships, where we've been partnering for years, will often have an interview as more of a formality. As a candidate in the job market, wouldn't it be nice to know that going into an interview to alleviate some of the stress of interviewing?
The next 5 areas and line of questioning would be more appropriate to ask the recruiter once you have an interview lined up.
- What can you tell me about the culture and overall office environment?
I don't know anyone that would start a new job without knowing anything about the culture, office vibe, or overall environment. We spend most of our lives at work, and for a lot of people, a positive work culture is one of the top things they look for when changing roles. Do co-workers seem to trust and respect each other? What is the dress code, core working hours, and general flexibility with hours? Is the office space open, or are there cubicles? What are the common areas, like lunch space and any patios, like? Are there any onsite amenities like a gym or café? Questions like these will give you good insight into the culture of the office, but ideally you'll get a chance to experience this first-hand during an onsite interview. Not available to go onsite or the client is hiring off a phone/Skype interview? Ask your recruiter if there is another contractor of theirs working at the company that you could chat with about culture and the overall environment if you have any concerns or want to learn more!
- What traits does this manager value from a soft skill perspective?
I've had so many managers over the years tell me that personality and soft skills are more important than anything. They'll say "I can teach a technology or software, but I cannot teach strong communication skills and problem solving." I've had some managers say that their environments are really tough and they need strong individuals who can handle high-pressure situations and difficult end clients. That's not ideal for a lot of candidates, but some folks love a challenge like this. It's nice to know these traits ahead of time so you not only know what you're getting into, but also so you can effectively prepare prior to an interview!
- What is the manager's interview style? Do they focus on behavioral
We have managers that do a rapid fire of technical questions from the beginning of an interview right through the end, and others that ask situational-based questions throughout, and everything in between. Any insight into their interview style, and what you could potentially expect, can help you mentally prepared for what is about to come.
- Do you anticipate any white board exercise, coding challenges, or other
activities, exercise or homework assignments?
Especially if you're a developer, chances are you've likely white boarded during an interview at some point throughout your career. If you know this is coming, you can practice at home or with a mentor/friend/co-worker to get you in the right mindset. Additionally, we have managers that give mini projects/activities during an interview and the candidate has to work their way through it. Wouldn't this be nice to know ahead of time?
- Do you have any additional information or resources you can provide me to
prepare for a technical interview? What other information/intel do you have
to prepare me for an interview?
Options here include sample interview questions, code tests, mock interview support, interview preparation material like company blogs or webcasts, etc. What other documentation or information can your recruiter provide you with so you knock the interview out of the park? It's in your recruiter's best interest to effectively prepare you for an interview, so don't be shy in asking them for anything else you can think of that would be helpful for you!
- Identify the key questions above that you will use in your conversations with recruiters going forward. In an effort not to overwhelm, maybe choose your preferred 2-3 questions to pose when talking through the opportunity with the recruiter and learning about their relationship with this client, and then your top 2-3 questions when preparing for an interview.
- Here is a great bonus question around manager preferences. Are there any stand-out reasons candidates have been previously ruled out by this manager? Do they have any interview pet peeves?
- If you're looking to expand your network with a trusted recruiter, and you aren't sure how to identify, you can check out our previous Tips on Evaluating SQL Server Recruiters and Evaluating SQL Server Staffing Companies.
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