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Recruiters Need to Be Ready to Answer These Candidate Questions

A woman sitting on a couch with a man in a suit.

​Recruiters know that the interview process is best conducted as a two-way exchange—not just to grill candidates on their skills and experience, but to engage in a dialogue so both parties can find the right fit and identify any potential problems early on.

Some candidates will be prepared with their own list of questions about the company or the role, ranging from basic logistics and process questions to penetrating inquiries requiring thoughtful responses. Recruiters and hiring managers should be prepared to answer all of these questions and to make a compelling impression on the best candidates.

"Recruiters and hiring managers need to look at the interview, not just from the employer's perspective but also from the job seekers', " said John VanderSande, a recruiter and supervisor for staffing and executive search firm WinterWyman's software technology group based in Boston. "In softer labor markets, people may wait until closer to the end of the process to ask some of these questions, or not ask them at all, but in today's candidate-driven environment, these questions are being asked up front, during the screening call, after the call, before the first interview or during the interview itself."

Inquisitive candidates are a good sign. "There should be real concerns if candidates are not asking questions and aren't doing enough due diligence to make sure the organization and the job is the right one," said J.T. O'Donnell, the founder and CEO of career management site Work It Daily, based in Hampton, N.H.

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Interviewers should be prepared to answer the following candidate questions:

Why are you hiring for this position? Candidates may ask about the reasons behind the vacant role or about the previous occupant of the job. "It's good to be transparent with candidates, but you don't want to reveal too many details about what may have happened with previous employees," said Josh Tolan, the founder and CEO of Spark Hire, a Chicago-based video-interviewing platform. "Instead, focus on shifting the conversation to the expectations for the new person you're bringing on board. If the role is open because it didn't work out with a previous employee, it's OK to embrace that and recognize that you've been able to learn and reassess what's important in the position."

What is the career path for this role? Tolan recommends that interviewers gather this information, validate it against historical records, and get feedback from employees previously in the role. "Document all of this and be prepared to explain the different roles that the position you're recruiting for can lead into," he said. "It's important that you manage expectations. Don't oversell the room for growth or it'll just create problems down the road."

How will performance be measured? What are the traits that lead to success—and failure? Recruiters should work ahead of time with hiring managers to outline the expectations and short-term and long-term goals related to the open role, Tolan said. In addition, it's a good idea to get feedback from employees who are or were in the role at the company. "The exercise of completing a worksheet with the hiring manager for every job opening will make sure you're prepared to answer questions like this."

What are some of the challenges related to the role? Answering this question with confidence requires researching the job before you start recruiting for it. "If you have existing employees in this position, ask them for the top three challenges they face," Tolan said. "Ask their manager the same question—what do people struggle with the most? Then find out how employees overcome these challenges."

What's positive and negative about the workplace culture? What do you like about working here? What do you dislike? Interviewers should be ready with employee feedback about the workplace culture and efforts to improve it, as well as areas that still need improvement, Tolan said. "This message gives candidates the positives along with the areas for improvement, but most importantly, you should be able to show progress and a dedication toward continuous improvement."

Make sure responses for questions like these are genuine without being negative. "There's a difference between being honest and being brutally honest," VanderSande said. "On the other hand, clamming up in response to candidates' questions about company culture or challenges of the job brings its own risk."

Have a Glassdoor Strategy

Candidates may show up with copies of reviews from sites like Glassdoor, or ask about the company's administrative policies relating to potentially sensitive issues such as sexual harassment or pay equity.

An unsatisfactory response to employer reviews could turn off quality candidates, VanderSande said. "You may have to explain layoffs or other business-related hiccups. Interviewers should be aware of the reviews and train on how to respond with nuance when possible."

But avoid being overly salesy, something many recruiters struggle with. "Candidates don't want to be BS'ed," VanderSande said. "They don't want to be fed the company line or generic talking points."

Tolan added that it's best to address negative reviews head on and focus on what you're doing to create a better workplace. "Point candidates to positive reviews, create a lot of employee-generated content, and even build a list of employees who are willing to have brief conversations with candidates about what it's like to work there."

VanderSande recommended interview training for everyone taking part in the interview process, and placing employee ambassadors "who can speak well and authentically to the company's mission and culture and truly feel positive about it" in interviewer roles.

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