Back To Basics – The Tough Questions

Nov 11, 2010

I recently brought someone onto my recruiting team with absolutely NO prior recruiting experience. Proving my long-held belief that it is sometimes better to hire drive and desire over experience, he had his first placement before he even finished his second full week on the job.

Is this because I am an excellent trainer? I’d like to think so… but I believe it’s also because he followed the process exactly as I laid it out for him… to the T. This included asking the tough questions.

Over a casual catch-up lunch, one of my long-time clients mentioned to me that her sister had written the bestselling book The Hard Questions: 100 Questions to Ask Before You Say “I Do”. This got me thinking about one of my first mentors in the business, Brad Violette, who taught me his approach to the tough questions which he called:


The principal is simple: obtaining the authority to accept an offer on a candidate’s behalf will flush out all objections and barriers to acceptance that might be hiding just beneath the surface. We spend so much time screening, referencing, and checking backgrounds that we sometimes forget to ask the tough questions along the way.

As seasoned recruiters, when we debrief candidates, we predictably start with,

“So, how did it go?”

We listen, all the while biting our tongue, because the answer is, again, predictably,

“Great. It lasted about an hour…yada, yada, yada.”

This is almost always followed by,

“Did they ask when you could start or talk about money?” or the equally non-informative, “So, how did they leave it with you?”

By the time the excruciating few minutes of the candidate debrief pass and we’ve learned there will be a second interview or the basic hiring signs were, in fact, put out on the table, we can barely contain ourselves as we immediately call the client and ask the same things and attempt to move towards discussing an offer.

Sounds familiar, right? We’re experienced, successful recruiters….who needs to ask the tough questions anymore? Answer: WE DO!

After hiring my newest protégé, I dusted off some of the training materials in my archived files and we went through the TOUGH QUESTIONS. This was a great refresher for me, too. Take a look at this list of candidate questions and see if having the answers to these before calling your client might give you more ammunition to move your deal to successful completion sooner and more smoothly:

  • How does this job compare to others you have interviewed for?
  • How would you react if an offer was forthcoming?
  • What would you do if your current employer made you a counter offer?
  • When can you start?
  • For what reason, if any, would you turn an offer down?
  • At what dollar amount would you accept?
  • At what dollar amount would you walk away?
  • What would your “thrilled to accept and then take me out to lunch” dollar amount be?
  • So, do I have the authority to accept on your behalf any anything above X$?

These can be married up with insightful client closing questions such as:

  • How did he/she compare with the other candidates you’ve seen thus far?
  • What, if anything, would prevent us from moving forward in the interview process?
  • From a timeline perspective, what can I expect from you with regards to next steps?
  • Should an offer be forthcoming, and what might that package look like?
  • What hurdles might we encounter on the road to acceptance that I should be aware of?

Remember, the root of all conflict is unmet expectations.  If you can manage yourself, your staff, and your candidate’s expectations about the process, you will increase your fill ratios over time and set yourself apart from your competition. In any economy there is always a shortage of excellent candidates, so make sure you are on your game no matter what the unemployment numbers say.

this article is from the October 2010 print Fordyce Letter. To subscribe and receive a monthly print issue, please go to our Subscription Services page.