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The Most Powerful Questions That Recruiting…Never Asks

Posted By Dr. John Sullivan On March 30, 2009 @ 6:45 am In Featured | 15 Comments

[1]More often than not, it is the simplest things in life and in business that produce the biggest impacts. Having spent more than 30 years analyzing corporate recruiting practices and strategy, I have noticed there are some rather basic questions that, if only posed, would have a profound impact on the effectiveness of most recruiting endeavors.

Unfortunately, the questions are rarely asked, resulting in inefficient, ineffective practices.

Do not pose these questions periodically; incorporate them into your approach to build an engaging candidate experience, a more compelling offer presentation, and ultimately, a more productive hire.

Questions for Candidates (Aimed at Improving Offer Acceptance)

  • What criteria will you use to evaluate and rank offers you receive? When you’re targeting currently employed individuals or talent likely to receive multiple offers (I would argue that is the only talent you should be targeting), it’s important to focus your recruiting process not only on assessing the candidates skills, but also on determining the factors that will weigh heavily in their decision-making when the process is complete. By identifying the decision criteria early on, you can improve how you position the opportunity you are recruiting for by maximizing the talking points around factors you can realistically deliver and readjust expectations around those you cannot. Too many organizations push through the process only to make a generic offer according to a template that doesn’t address the candidate’s expectations.
  • What three things would make this job superior to your current one? If you are truly targeting top talent, chances are a good percentage of the candidates who make it to the offer stage in your process are going to get a counteroffer from their current employer. Failing to identify what factors would make the new opportunity better than their existing opportunity is setting the stage to focus solely on money should an offer [2] battle ensue.
  • Who will you consult prior to making a final decision about an offer? Research shows that individuals generally don’t make important life decisions without consulting close friends, colleagues, or relatives. Not knowing who will have your candidate’s ear makes it nearly impossible to predict what issues the candidate’s advisors may bring up. This makes it even more difficult to provide relevant information throughout the process that arms the candidate with positive information to remedy any possible negative issues that could arise.

Questions to Ask During Onboarding and Orientation (Aimed at Improving the Recruiting Process)

  • Can you list the most compelling factors that led you to accept our offer? Once the deal has been signed, candidates, now new hires, have less motivation to couch their responses to questions in an effort to improve their chances of getting what they want, in essence, they are more honest. One of the best questions you can ask during this phase of the relationship deals with identifying what about the company, the job, or the benefits was so compelling that the candidate accepted the offer. Identifying what is and is not compelling (the next question) can help you refocus how to communicate about opportunities moving forward. You can talk up the good stuff, while minimizing focus on the not so good stuff.
  • Can you list your concerns and any reasons that almost led you to say no? Again, this reversal of the previous question helps you identify what elements need to be either addressed or dropped altogether from your sales approach.
  • What part of the process worked the best? What part was frustrating? If you want to improve the candidate experience, identify the aspects of the recruiting process that both engaged and frustrated candidates. Use this information along with statistics about candidates dropping out of the process voluntarily to determine what steps in your process need to be refined in order to convert more talent.
  • What caused you to apply for the position? If you want to identify how best to allocate your sourcing spend, you need robust metrics [3] to tell you what messages are driving people to apply and where they came into contact with the message (i.e., the source of hire and branding points that led to interest). Many organizations attempt to collect this information via their recruiters, but the data is often corrupted by lack of adherence to source coding policies.
  • What other firms did you seriously consider or receive an offer from? This question is important for two reasons. First, it helps you identify your talent competitors, which often includes organizations that do not compete directly with you on the product or service front. Second, it helps you identify offer elements from other organizations that talent of interest to you find compelling.
  • Who else should we recruit from your previous employer? Truly great talent loves working alongside other great talent and generally leverages some influence over colleagues they respect and value at their previous employer. Asking this question not only helps you target future recruiting efforts, it subliminally prods the new hire to actively position the organization as a great next step when they talk to former colleagues. If they’re enthusiastic, you might also ask for their help in recruiting the top individuals via the referral [4] program.

Questions to Ask During Onboarding (Aimed at improving the Management of New Hires)

  • Why did you quit your last few jobs? If you want to reduce future turnover, learn what was frustrating enough to cause your new hire to start looking for a new job and eventually quit their previous job. Once you identify these reasons, it’s wise to make sure their current manager knows what they are and develops a plan to prevent similar issues.
  • Help me understand what motivates you and what your manager could do to help you be as productive as you can be? Asking new hires early on what motivates and frustrates them can provide you with an arsenal of information a manager can use to manage workforce productivity 1:1. While it would be great if managers would accept ownership for doing this naturally, numerous studies show they don’t!
  • Where would you like to be career-wise in three years? This question helps you understand early on what expectations and future job aspirations may influence on-the-job behavior and likely tenure. By identifying what timeline a candidate/new hire has in mind, you can work to make sure you deliver career advancement opportunities in line with their expectations (i.e., before they start looking for someone else to deliver them). Also, ask what they would like to learn, which can be used to structure development and retention efforts.

Questions to Ask Candidates Who Dropped Out of the Process Pre- or Post-Offer

Delaying asking these questions for a period of three months significantly increases the likelihood of hearing an honest answer. If necessary, use a third-party vendor to capture this information as former candidates will have even less motivation to lie.

  • Why did you drop out of the process? For those who dropped out of your hiring process early, ask them to list the reasons why they dropped out. Frequently, you will find that your recruiting processes are too slow or too frustrating to engage top talent.
  • Why did you reject our offer? Most candidates will provide an answer to this question when they turn down the offer. More often than not, that answer has to do with money. Saying it is the money is an easy out — it doesn’t require as much courage as saying the hiring manager was a jerk, the job sucks, or the company doesn’t provide the right resources to enable employees to do the job they were hired to do. Several studies that have compared offers ultimately accepted by talent who turned down other offers reveal that rarely is the money difference significant. Other studies reveal that if you delay asking the question for several months, you are more likely to get an answer that doesn’t focus on the money.

Final Thoughts

The single-most important activity recruiters can do to improve recruiting effectiveness is to gather information that helps explain why the process is working when it is, and why it is not when it isn’t. By embedding these questions in your recruiting process, you can gain the information needed to radically improve the effectiveness of your efforts.


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[1] Image: http://www.ere.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/istock_000003286671xsmall.jpg

[2] offer: http://www.ere.net/tags/offers

[3] metrics: http://www.ere.net/tags/metrics

[4] referral: http://www.ere.net/tags/employeereferrals

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