Are we asking hiring managers the right questions?

Last week in her TWIT column, Jess Gibson-Jones recounted a conversation about maths homework she had with her daughter where she found herself offering the sage advice that “the dumbest question is the one that goes un-asked.”

As often happens when we counsel others, Jess turned her own advice towards her TA challenges and started thinking about the questions TA managers ask hiring managers. Or rather, the questions that we DON’T ASK hiring managers. Here’s what she had to say:

I relate [this advice] this back to TA and think about how many times we don’t ask any/enough questions of our hiring manager. Is it because we think we don’t have the right to ask? Are we exercising all our opportunities well enough to ask questions, for example in the job brief? Or are we guilty of not humbling ourselves sometimes and asking these sorts of questions in fear of losing our credibility with our hiring managers?

We need to remember that if we ask better questions – we will generally get better quality answers, so if right now you are struggling with a certain role, or hiring manager – embrace your curiosity, and ask better questions…. you then immediately become the smartest person in the room.

So, if we can recognise that we’re not asking hiring managers the right questions to ensure we find the right hire, what questions should we be asking in the briefing stage?


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We reached out to the talent community to harvest some of the best questions to ask hiring managers. Here’s what they said.

Jody Smith, Talent Acquisition Lead @ Level Crossings Removal Project

Jody SmithWe’ve just changed up our pre-recruitment process with hiring managers, which includes a bit of a mini-interview with them before we go out to market so we know what we’re looking for, the team dynamic, the team diversity mix and gaps, the background of the manager, and a plan for where/when/how we’re assessing capabilities throughout the process.

Here are some of my fave questions we’ve started asking:

“If your ideal candidate had been employed in the role last week, what are some of the things they would have worked on?”

A great way to get a real ‘day in the life’ account of the role from the Manager’s POV, and outside of the PD (as the PD is often generic and boring).

“Are there any meaty challenges or projects the successful candidate can sink their teeth into?”

Again, a good selling point – provides the candidate with a realistic job preview and will excite the right person to apply. Will hopefully deter the wrong people from applying as well.

“Where does your team currently sit in terms of career maturity and experience level?”

We ask this to get an idea of the make-up of the team. If you have a bunch of team members that have been there around 2 years and are potentially almost ready for their next step, then you have a bunch of flight risks! The Hiring Manager might want to consider that and look at bringing on someone at the more “junior” end of the spectrum to balance things out. Visa versa – if you have a bunch of newbies, it might be nice to bring in someone with a little more experience to help guide and mentor.

“What can the successful candidate look forward to learning from you as their new manager?”

Again, great selling point from an attraction perspective. Good people love working with good people. Also a great way to build rapport with your hiring manager, get to know them a bit better and charm them a bit (people love to talk about themselves 😉).

Clint Williams, Talent Acquisition Leader @ Lion

As opposed to necessarily asking the right questions, the one thing we don’t do enough of as recruiters is prepare for the hiring brief so you can and use your precious time with the hiring leader to ask the quality questions and get the really rich information. Many times we only get 20-30 minutes if we’re lucky to take a hiring brief, but if we’ve done our due diligence in terms of online talent market research, looked at recruitment history, past successful applicants, etc. then we tend to come to the brief with more relevant questions which means not only are we likely to generate the type of conversation that will best equip us to source the right talent, but we’ll also likely develop more hiring leader confidence.

There are a few less traditional questions I like to ask:

What skills, experience or competencies are you missing in your current team?

This question is meant to make it less about the individual role and more about bringing diverse candidates into the team.

What are the top 3 most critical deliverables of this role over the next 12 months?

This I meant to drive a future thinking brief vs. a like-for-like replacement of the past

What skills are absolutely required vs. those we can build internally?

this is meant to challenge the leader to think more about skills vs. experience which can broaden our talent pool

Sarah Purches, Talent Leader @RMIT Online

Tell me about how you celebrate wins? How do you commiserate as a team?

Candidates want to understand how they will work with people in their team and their expectations.

This is an important question to ask we want candidates to understand that they will be acknowledged for their work – both independently and as a team –  but also that sometimes sh*t happens and it doesn’t go to plan. And that’s ok too! It’s all about creating a safe environment. We need to celebrate all the hard work even if the outcome is not what we desired; the hard work still took place, and it is appreciated immensely.

People want to feel valued. It reminds me of that quote by Maya Angelou — ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

Sarah Blanchard, Talent International

If you could change one thing about the company tomorrow, what would it be?

In today’s market transparency throughout the process is key and will certainly impact retention long term. This question allows the recruiter to delve a bit deeper, builds a more personal connection with the hiring manager and obtain a more realistic view of the organisation from an internal AND personal perspective. Candidates don’t expect perfection, but they do expect an honest viewpoint before making a big decision like accepting an offer!

What the most innovative idea you’ve been able to implement into your team / company since you started?

This question enables the recruiter to better understand just how innovative this leader may be, what innovation looks and feels like the leader, with a solid example to share with candidates.  It allows them to gauge the company’s openness to new ideas, change readiness in general and the candidates opportunity to make tangible impact through driving change initiatives.

What “must-ask” questions do you always ask of your hiring managers? Tell us in the comments below.

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