Going through a recruiter can make your job search easier, quicker, and more effective. With as many as two-thirds of open positions not openly advertised, recruiters can provide the inside scoop and make you well-positioned to find the right role for you. So how do you make the most of that? By asking the right questions, of course!
What using a recruiter is like
The vast majority of recruiters use LinkedIn, so if you’re looking to reach out to one, that’s where to look. If you’re well-established in your career, you may also have recruiters reaching out to you. If that’s the case, it’ll shift the balance of power in your favor and may allow you to be a little more frank with your questions, but either way, you’ll still want to put your best foot forward from the start.
Recruiters could be internal or external. Internal recruiters work directly for a company, often as part of the human resources department. External recruiters, on the other hand, work for recruiting firms or as independent contractors. Talking to an external recruiter may mean you can be a little more candid with your questions, but you should still assume that anything you say may get back to the company and be used in hiring decisions.
When you might talk to a recruiter
There isn’t a separate “recruitment” stage of the job search process. Depending on your relationship, you may even work with the same recruiter to discuss different positions at multiple companies. But you’re most likely to talk to a recruiter:
Before an interview
This is when you’ll learn more about the specific role and prepare for an interview with the hiring manager.
During a phone interview
Some companies hire recruiters to do initial phone screenings — quick chats to work out if a candidate is a good fit and worth moving forward with. These conversations are likely to be more similar to a regular interview.
This could be if you’ve reached out to a recruiter or if they’ve contacted you directly. These are more likely to be informal and focused on figuring out what you’re looking for.
Talking to a recruiter isn’t the same as talking to the hiring managers or to an interviewer. There may be questions that a recruiter can’t answer, especially if they’re external. There are also some questions it’s better to ask a recruiter than a hiring manager, especially if you’re still in the early stages of trying to figure out whether a certain position is a good fit.
Why it’s important to prepare before speaking to a recruiter
It’s easy to forget what you meant to say in the heat of the moment, so preparing questions in advance can help the conversation stay on track. A handful of thoughtful questions can help you learn more about the role, what you can expect from the hiring process, and even verify the recruiter’s credentials.
Get the inside scoop
Internal recruiters in particular are well-placed to be able to tell you more about the position, the company, and the hiring manager. It’s always worthwhile to do your due diligence before accepting a job, so why not use the relationship to your advantage?
You can also use a recruiter to help you prepare for an interview and be ready to put your best foot forward. Recruiters can help you know what to expect before an interview, and may even be able to give you a few tips about what’s most likely to impress the hiring manager. Even if you’ve already done some prep on your own — which you should — asking the right questions can emphasize your enthusiasm and interest in the role.
Make your own decisions
No matter how perfect the position sounds, don’t just take the recruiter’s word for it. Think of this time as an opportunity to make sure the role is a good fit and to discover any potential red flags early in the process.
Examples of questions to ask recruiters
Questions to find out more about the role
If you’ve been approached by a recruiter, use these questions to make sure it’s the right opportunity before you invest too much time.
What does the day to day for this position look like?
Who is the ideal candidate for the role?
Often, it’s difficult to know from a job description alone what your role might look like in practice. Recruiters, particularly if they’re internal, may be able to give you more insight into what the job is actually like. Maybe it’s more customer-facing than it appears, or includes a lot of travel that wasn’t mentioned. It can also give you some insight into the wider company culture.
And asking about the ideal candidate can be a lot more revealing than simply asking what skills or qualifications the company is looking for. The latter is likely to give you a canned response, while the former allows you to pay attention to what the recruiter highlights about the perfect candidate and decide if you’re a good fit.
Questions about the context of the position
If this seems like it could be the right opportunity, it’s time to delve a little deeper and see if there are any hidden red flags.
How did this position become available?
How long has the position been open?
What are the details of the role?
By asking how the position became available, you’re aiming to find out if it’s a newly created position or backfill. If it’s the latter, it’s worth following up by asking what happened to the person who previously held the role. If they’ve moved on to a new or better position, that’s ideal. If they quit or were fired, it might be worth doing a bit more digging to make sure this is a position you’re likely to succeed in.
Likewise, if the position has been open for a long time, that might be a sign that the hiring manager is extremely picky, or that something about the role is turning off other candidates.
You also want to make sure this job is what you’re looking for— if you’re searching for a permanent, full-time job, you want to make sure this isn’t just a contract or term-to-perm position trying to hide that fact.
Pre-interview questions to recruiters
You’ve decided to move forward and been offered an interview. Brilliant! Now it’s time to prepare, so don’t let your biggest advantage go to waste.
What does the typical interview process and timeframe look like?
What can you tell me about the hiring manager?
What types of interview questions should I expect?
What are some reasons other candidates have been unsuccessful?
Asking about the process won’t give you an advantage, but it will let you know what to expect. Asking about the hiring manager and interview questions, on the other hand, may give you a sense of where you need to focus your preparations.
And asking about previous unsuccessful candidates can give you the benefit of their experience by knowing in advance what potential pitfalls need to be avoided.
Questions about remote work opportunities
If you’re looking for a position that allows you to work remotely, or at least gives you some flexibility about when and how you go into the office, you’re not alone. The best way to find out if it this is possible is to ask directly.
Is it possible to work remotely, and is this likely to change?
A lot of companies are currently allowing remote work, so there’s a decent chance employers may be willing to consider work from home or flexible work arrangements. If this is a dealbreaker for you, make sure you’re confident that this isn’t likely to change once things to back to normal, and get it in writing (once you have a firm offer) if you can.
Questions about salary expectations
Asking about salary shouldn’t be taboo, but it’s still an awkward subject to bring up. It’s better not to ask about salary straight away — wait until you’re a little further in the process to avoid the appearance that you’re overly invested in the money. (Yes, this is silly. And yes, a lot of employers still think this way.)
Do you have a general salary range in mind for the position?
A recruiter may not be able to give you an exact salary — and keep in mind that it’s still subject to change until you get an offer — but they should at least be able to give you a general ballpark so you know you’re not wasting anyone’s time. They may counter by asking for your expected range or what your current salary is, but avoid giving this information if possible (especially if you’re seeking a much higher salary than you currently earn.) If the recruiter is evasive or flat out refuses to answer the question, consider it a sign that you’ll need to be prepared with information about the market standard and a willingness to negotiate if you’re low-balled at the offer stage.
Closing thoughts, and following up
If you’ve considered what you really want to know about the position and armed yourself with a few targeted questions, you should have no problem getting the information you need to make an informed decision, leave a good impression, and nail this whole recruiting business. So what’s next? Don’t forget to follow up, of course!