What Top Recruiters Ask Their Candidates (And What To Look For In Their Answers)

When top recruiters consider job candidates, they ask open-ended questions intended to bring the best people to the front of the line. Here are the kinds of answers they’re seeking so you can apply them in your hiring decisions.

Top Recruiters

Style Quiz

"What kind of managerial style do you thrive under?"

Ideally, the candidate has done his or her homework about your company culture. The ideal candidate is flexible and can thrive under different types of managers. If you own an accounting firm where everyone keeps their head down and does their work, the best candidates say they work independently and need minimal guidance. If your company or the job you’re hiring for is in sales and is big on metrics, quotas and achieving goals, good candidates will tell you they thrive in a setting that tracks achievement and holds you accountable.

“Managers want to know their style is acceptable,” says Trey Barnette, regional manager for Robert Half and Accountemps. “Candidates need to be doing research on the company, what the culture is of the company. They should give specific answers that match the goals for the company. It shows they’re going to be able to fit in.”

Situation Quiz

"Describe a challenging work situation."

Again, your ideal candidates have done their homework. Their responses should showcase how their strengths will meet your company’s goals. If your company puts a premium on teamwork, the candidate could tell you about a situation where he pulled his team together to meet a tough deadline. For example here’s a good answer you might appreciate: “There was this huge project that popped up on my team’s desk, and I wasn’t actually supposed to be a part of it,” Barnette says. “I ended up staying with my team members helping out. We were able to secure X and Y and the team did not have to work until midnight.”

Competing Priorities

"You’re in charge of two managers and each has a pressing project. How did you juggle two projects with competing deadlines?"

The ideal candidates tell you about specific times when they prioritized both projects and worked effectively with each manager, says Josh Howarth, district president for Robert Half and Accountemps in D.C. As in: “I had a short period to get them both done, and here’s exactly how I prioritized,” Howarth says.

Or the question might involve how a candidate handled competing deadlines and projects within one team. The ideal candidate can tell you how she managed team members to meet the deadlines and achieve the goals— ideally without burning anybody out.

Personality Conflict

"Describe a situation when you didn’t get along with a coworker and the reasons why." 

The bad candidates will start venting to you about their coworkers. The ideal candidates will describe briefly the issues he had with a coworker. Then he will move quickly to explain to you how he rose above a personality conflict, worked together with that person and accomplished company goals.

Passion And Motivation

"Tell me about a project you felt passionate about."

The leading candidates identify for you a project from a previous job that will be relevant to the job they are seeking. For example if your company typically has rush projects for demanding clients, an ideal candidate might describe how she was brought into a stalled project late and then worked nights and weekends to complete the project to everyone’s satisfaction.

Your Standards

"Talk about an assignment that demonstrates the standards you’ve set for yourself and your work."

The best applicants can tell you about projects where they pushed to do an excellent job regardless of whether they’d be recognized or not. For example, a candidate might tell you about a time when she worked late on a Friday night to ensure all the details were accurate on her portion of a project spearheaded by her boss or another team member.

Working With Others

"How did you respond in a situation when others around did not pull their weight?"

Excellent candidates tread carefully in their response. Instead of venting, they tell you about meeting goals. They outline to you how they communicated to team members what needed to be done and when without blaming or bad-mouthing. If they ended up doing extra work to make up the difference, they present that fact to you calmly and professionally.

Play To Their Strengths And Your Company’s Needs

To hire the best applicants, you should look for those who meet the three-way intersection between the question, your company’s needs and their strengths. 

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