Ask, Ask, and Ask Again

As recruiters, we face the need to ask questions of candidates that may warrant undesirable answers. It’s also crucial that we surface the difficult conversations again and again to avoid being surprised in the end by something we should have known much earlier in the process.


Here are some common areas where recruiters may miss the opportunity to ask questions that are pertinent to closing a candidate:


1) Other Opportunities
It’s okay to ask what other opportunities your candidates are considering. In fact, it’s quite important to know. You need to understand why they are interested in these opportunities; what they like, and what they don’t like about them. This will help you to weigh your job opening against others they are considering. If both jobs offered the same pay and benefits, which would your candidate prefer? Be straight forward and make sure to state that their honesty is important during this stage.


2) Why Do You Want To Leave Your Current Role?
Most candidates will not give you an honest reason why they want to leave as they are afraid to put their employer in a negative light. It’s important to dig in and probe around their stated motive for leaving to understand the truth. Ask questions like:


  • “Are there other people in your situation feeling the same?”
  • “Have you ever had any issues with your manager?”
  • “How was your last review?”
  • “Would your manager agree with your reason for moving on?”
  • “Do you enjoy the people you work with?”
  • “If you were to receive a $10,000 increase would you want to stay where you are?”
  • “If you were able to get the title that you asked for would you stay?”

You need to know if you can overcome that reason with your opportunity. If a candidate is seeking a new position to avoid their previous hour-commute and your offer requires a 50 minute drive, it’s likely they won’t take your opportunity or will leave pretty fast. Probe, probe and probe again.


3) What Is Your Compensation Package?
It’s most efficient to find out in the beginning all the components of a candidate’s compensation to be able to move into the process. Notice I didn’t say “through” but “into” the process. You need to understand the full picture to be able to do your job and help candidates find the right opportunity. Candidates who aren’t willing to share their compensation with you are not seriously considering the opportunity and lack commitment. Withdraw the position, explaining that this information is a crucial part of the process. They might just come back. (“Compensation” includes base salary, bonus, commission, profit share, time off, health benefits, 401(k) and any other opportunities they have that would be part of their total compensation.)


4) Will You Consider A Counter Offer?
Make sure you ask about a counter offer. After questioning candidates on other opportunities, weigh their answer against a counter offer. Their response will be very telling. Simply posing the question, “Would you accept a counter offer?” may not get you the information you need. Try putting them in a scenario and gage their response. It’s important that you hear them think it through. Doing this in person during interviews is key.


5) Will You Accept An Offer?
Every time you debrief them from another stage in the process ask if they would still accept an offer if you were able to give them the base salary and whatever compensation pieces they felt were important. If they hesitate, they aren’t committed yet and you still have some work to do to make sure this is a good match.


6) What’s New With You?
Asking them each time you talk if anything’s new is a good way to learn about any other opportunities or new priorities that have started or developed since you first spoke. They may forget to bring it to your attention, they may not want to bring it to your attention, or they may not even think it’s relevant. But it’s extremely important to keep abreast of any changes happening with the candidates.


There are quite a few other questions that should be asked each and every time you speak with candidates, but these are the areas that are often overlooked. Hearing an answer you might not like will end up saving everyone time in the long run – especially your client. Most importantly, it will also prevent making a wrong match.


Remember, in the end, the objective is to do the right thing for your clients. That means asking tough questions, over and over again.


About the Author

For more than 15 years, Kelly Robinson Jensen has provided recruiting services in a broad range of sectors. As Xelerate LLC’s Chief Operating Officer and Chief Customer Officer, she oversees operations and sales, with specific responsibility for ensuring operational excellence, cultivating a service organization that innovates and delivers results, and for achieving the company’s sales objectives. Xelerate LLC provides businesses with fully-customized recruitment solutions, merging industry expertise with unparalleled proven practices. Using a consultative approach, Xelerate positively transforms a company’s hiring process helping them secure top talent now and for the future.
Kelly is a Board Member of the Greater Philadelphia Foundation for Women Entrepreneurs and the Entrepreneurs’ Forum of Greater Philadelphia (EFGP). She is a 3ci Council Member of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce as well as a member of the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), Greater Valley Forge Human Resources Association (GVFHRA), and Philadelphia Society of People and Strategy (PSPS).
In addition, she actively participates in various local foundations focused on kids, health and economic empowerment. Additionally, Kelly fills the roles of wife, mother and aunt to 14 nieces and nephews.
To learn more about Kelly, connect with her on LinkedIn at