Hire Better (Psst- The Questions You Need To Ask Early)

I was speaking with a client yesterday about a position they are trying to fill. I was baffled by what I was being told; it made no sense to me. It was a story of wasting time and money and of sloppy, disjointed interview process. It was all completely preventable (and should have been).

The gist of what I’m about to talk about is how to dramatically reduce wasting time and money in the recruiting, interview and hiring process.

The story:

This client is a company that I have been working with for about six months. They made it very clear when we first came together that that they would call me only when they had exhausted all their other options. Something I appreciated.

Well, they called about four weeks ago. They had two immediate needs for a highly-specialized profile. The candidates they needed are hard to find and are rarely unemployed. Lucky for this client, I have worked in their space for 15 years and knew several people who fit the described profile. I expected that I would have candidates quickly, maybe not a lot but some. I did. Within three days, I had talked with five strong candidates; three were not available or not interested, two were. I was excited to call the client to let them know. 

When I called my client just a few days after the initial call to kick off the search, I was informed that they already had four “great” candidates. In three days. I was blown away- and impressed- with that profile? Four great candidates in three days? Wow!  They asked me to call back in a few weeks to see what happened. If they couldn’t land any of their candidates, they would “definitely want to talk to my candidates.”  

Fast forward to yesterday when I called to get that update. They had conducted multiple phone interviews with all four candidates and had flown in not one, not two, not three but all four to meet with the sales and marketing leaders. Two were quickly eliminated from consideration. The other two were both going to be made offers. However, the client told me that they didn’t expect either to accept the offer because there are circumstances with their current employers and neither could leave. They were also not certain either candidate would actually accept the offer terms even if those circumstances didn’t exist.


  • First, two should have never been flown in. The candidates who were quickly eliminated in the face-to-face interviews should have been eliminated at the phone interview phase.
  • Second, the other two should have never been flown in without knowing about their ability and willingness to leave their current, respective employers immediately. 
  • Third, assuming they would leave, the money should have been qualified in advance of the face-to-face interview ever being arranged or taking place.
  • Last and perhaps most importantly, someone (maybe several someones) are not competent to do their job, are afraid to do it well or value not hurting someone's feelings over wasting loads of time and resources. Either the hiring manager can't evaluate the skills of the people he is there to hire and manage or the recruiter doesn't understand his job OR the job he is evaluating to determine qualified or not, perhaps both.
  • QUESTION ON THAT LAST POINT- Should I bring that to the attention to senior leadership at my client? If you were/are the CEO or VP of HR, would you want your recruiting partner to point that out to you? There are risks and rewards both ways. Let me know what you think.

This client engaged candidates who were not really candidates at all. In the process, they wasted the hours of time and thousands of dollars on travel, hotel and other interview related expenses. 

Further, the opportunity cost to the interview team has been significant. All the time they invested in this interview goat rodeo could have been focused on clients, closing new business, developing existing team members or doing their regular job. Instead, they get to start this whole process all over again. It’s a total joke and it was all completely avoidable.

The problem is that most candidates are only "qualified" on a single dimension, 'what looks like the ability to do the job' dimension. Things like: has the person worked with the right companies, had the right titles, had the right responsibilities and/or done the right kind of work. Those are the things that get the candidate into the process and for most companies, it is unfortunately where the qualifying stops.

Candidates need to be continually qualified not just on their seeming ability to do the job but on multiple other dimensions as well. Arm your recruiters with these questions and strategies to avoid the same mistake my client just made (and you'll save yourself some heartache along the way as well):

  1. After every interview, even the initial phone interview, the candidate needs to be asked this question, “Based on what you have learned in this conversation, are you interested in this job?" and the all important follow-up question, "Why?"
  2. Before the first interview, money should be discussed. This is not a negotiation but someone needs to know if the candidate is in the compensation range. If the candidate is reluctant to discuss specifics, then the recruiter should reveal the range to the candidate. “We have a salary range of $140k-$160k for this position. If this continues to go well, would you accept a salary in that range?” Then shut up and listen. 
  3. Ask: “How many companies are you interviewing with?” You want to know what your competition looks like and if you really want to do yourself a favor, ask where you rank in that interview stack (and explore what would improve your position in that stack). If the odds are against you, put your ego in your hip pocket and go after the candidate that will love you back!
  4. Ask what really matters to the candidate. This is critically important, especially for the candidate that has been recruited and has not come to you because he/she is unemployed or miserable. People want to join companies where it is a reciprocal relationship- where they give their time and expertise to a company and in return get paid, yes, but also get to learn, grow or expand their skills or experience and ultimately their career. People want to matter and they want to work where they feel like they will. Simply asking them what is important to them at the beginning of an interview process is a simple, subtle and profoundly powerful way to demonstrate to a candidate that they do matter. Do not underestimate the power of this question.
  5. Ask, “Why is this opportunity better than what you have today?” They better have a great answer. If they don’t, move on. Or you’d get better at thrilling with your opportunity.

Those are all questions that need to be asked early and often in the interview process (don’t make the mistake of only asking once- you need to ask after every interview- I can’t tell you how many times candidates will get a raise or promotion in the middle of my interview processes-ugh).

The ability to do the job is easy to qualify. Your ability to actually acquire the talents of your top candidates who can do the job is something entirely different. Qualifying on multiple dimensions will help.

Good luck. Feel free to reach out to me if you have questions or comments (and please answer to the question I posed if you have a second- I'm interested in your two cents).