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The Truth on What Candidates Want to Know

When a hiring manager conducts an interview, he or she is usually most concerned about what to ask the candidate, and how to evaluate the candidate’s answers qualitatively.  Most interviewers think about having the right questions, not the right answers.

Recruited candidates (vs. job applicants), have higher expectations for information.  The candidate who already has a good job expects to find out key things about the job, the company, its culture, etc. that will justify making a change from their current job.  When we ask candidates whether they feel more favorable or less favorable about the position after they interview with one of our clients, their replies are revealing.  When employers are unprepared and/or can’t make a “case” for the job opportunity, the candidate feels less favorable after the meeting.  When the employer does have good answers, the candidate usually feels more favorable.  Especially when you are trying to recruit an employed person, it is worth being well prepared.  Be ready for some of these key questions:

Why is the position open?  Did someone resign, did you terminate the incumbent, or is the position newly created?  The candidate will want to know why in each case.  You must be credible and positive in your response.

What is the company culture like?  Perhaps you have a great, happy environment.  If so, feel free to extol the virtues.  But, not all companies are like Google.  Sometimes there are factions, resistant people, lack of motivation, all of which will become quickly apparent after the new person starts work.  You can be selective in what you say, but if the new hire must do a turnaround of a bad situation, sometimes it can be a plus to say so.  Many executives like turnaround challenges.

What are the opportunities for growth?  Surprisingly, many companies don’t articulate a good answer to this, either because they don’t have a plan beyond their current needs, or they don’t want to commit to future promotions.  It is fair for a new hire to get reasonable expectations for their growth.

What do you need this person to accomplish?  So many companies still work off old-style job descriptions based on boring duties and responsibilities. They fail to describe objectives, because they haven’t thought them through.  Create performance-based job descriptions that define the objectives for the position, and you will attract the top people, who want to know the challenges of the job.

How is the company doing financially?  Would you turn over the next few years of your life to an organization that wasn’t doing well, or wouldn’t even tell you how they are doing?  You must find a way to give a truthful and confident picture of your finances.

What are the company’s long term goals?  “Putting out fires” is the wrong answer, but that’s what a lot of companies are doing today, and may be doing for a while.  Find a way to share your inspiring long term plan in a simple, succinct manner that doesn’t divulge too many secrets.

What is the company’s exit strategy?  That’s right – they want to know if you are going to sell!  Most employers see key hires as an asset that will attract a potential buyer, but you have to realize that many key employees bail out after a company is sold.  If an exit is looming (1-3 years), you may have to think about sharing the wealth (and the information) as a retention strategy.

How strong are the people that I will be managing?  How about my peers?  If you have “A” players in all important slots, proudly say so.  If you are tolerating “B” or “C” players, ask yourself how you can candidly describe the organization’s shortcomings and still be a desirable employer.  If you have hidden flaws or gaps in talent, you will lose credibility once the new hire starts.

Does the company support and promote personal and professional growth?  If a candidate was completing a degree, would you tell him/her that your 12-14 hour days and intense environment make no room for continued education?  Can a person have Work / Life balance at your company?

What would my bonus be based on?  Candidates like bonuses based on their personal performance, because it is within their control.  “Subjective” or “Discretionary” are not good answers, and candidates discount that part of the compensation when they consider your offer.

Have you had any layoffs or RIFs in the recession?  Candidates may ask probing questions due to the economic issues we’ve faced.  It is best to be candid  – they will find out from peers anyway.

Do you feel I’m a fit for this position?  Some candidates are “closers”.  But most leave interviews either thinking they did great, or not being able to tell.  It is better to candidly tell the candidate if you have concerns, because it might surface additional useful information that can shape your decision.

This is just a brief sampling of the dozens of questions candidates might bring to an interview.  To incorporate “recruitment” (attracting as well as evaluating the candidate) into the screening process requires an employer to be well prepared with good responses.