Your conversation with a recruiter—no matter how quick it may seem—can be arguably more valuable than an actual job interview.
Why? They act as a connection between the employer and the job seeker, so it’s your chance to give a great first impression.
It’s also an opportunity to ask any questions you might have about the role you’re applying for, prepare for the one-on-one interview, and seek additional information to ensure it is the right position for you.
Here are great questions to ask recruiters before an interview, as advised by experts.
Director of Career Services, Husson University’s Center for Student Success
Here are several questions I recommend to my clients to ask recruiters before an interview. I will also include why these are good questions you may want to ask.
“Do you work for the hiring company?”
It’s important to know whether this recruiter is an employee of the company or of a search firm. If they are an employee, they will have a better understanding of the company for the questions that follow. If they are part of a hired search firm, their loyalties are to the company because they are getting paid to fill the position.
“What attributes/skills are ideal for this role?”
This will give you information on what kinds of examples you want to share in the interview. You should focus on examples and stories for the attributes that are the most important.
“How quickly is the position to be filled?”
This will give you a sense of the process and how proactive to be in the process after the interview.
“I have researched the company, but how would you describe the company culture?”
This will give you more information on how you should be answering questions, and ideas for situations to talk about. Knowing the company culture will give you a sense of how they work on and respond to issues in the company.
“Do you know who will be interviewing me?”
It’s very helpful to know if you will be with one person or several in the interview. Also, you can research the people on LinkedIn if you know who they are. It can be very helpful to do that kind of research on the people you are interviewing with because you might be able to use that knowledge in answering particular questions.
“How long has the position been advertised?”
This will give you a sense of how desperate they are to fill the role. It could also be a red flag. If the position has been advertised for a long period of time, try to find out more about why when you are in the interview.
“What would you recommend as appropriate interview attire?”
Most likely, you will dress in a professional suit in almost all cases. But, it is good to know if the company has a casual dress code so that you can match it during your interview.
“What types of interview questions should I prepare for?”
Again, this is your chance to learn what you should prepare for. Knowing that they ask particular types of questions allows you to prepare effective stories for the interview.
“Is this a newly created position?”
If this is a newly created position, the company is most likely looking for someone to be very creative and strategic-minded. This is an opportunity for you to talk about your leadership capabilities and past successes. Talk about how you can bring positive results to the company.
“What are the next steps after this interview?”
Is this the only interview you will be doing, or is there another step you will have to go through? Knowing the process makes it easier to prepare for the next steps.
Anne Corley Baum
Founder and President, Vision Accomplished
“What are the key skill sets that are important to the company/role?”
Asking this question helps you prepare yourself to showcase how your skills match the skills that they are seeking for the role.
“What is the office dress code?”
This question helps you best prepare your clothing for the interview and to dress in a manner that fits with the company culture.
“What are the results the company is trying to accomplish with this role?”
This question provides you with guidance to prepare your answers In a way that demonstrates how your skills will help the company achieve these results.
“What is the company culture?”
The answer to this question gives you insight into the style and environment of the company. It not only helps you prepare for the interview but also helps you determine how the culture of the company fits with your own personal style.
“Any special circumstances that impact the company or role?”
This question helps you to understand any special challenges or opportunities that the company or its industry is facing. Showing knowledge in this area will help you stand out as knowledgeable about both the industry and the company.
“Why are they looking to fill this role?”
Understanding why the role is important to the company helps you understand where the role fits into the company’s strategic plan and the road to corporate success. When you understand why they need the role, you can better position yourself to show how your skillset matches their needs.
“Where is the office located, and where is parking?”
Knowing this information helps you plan well for the day of the interview. Some locations and parking situations can be complicated, so knowing this upfront helps you to plan accordingly and helps you make a practice run!
“What questions should I expect from the person who is interviewing me?”
By asking this question, you can practice how you would respond to potential questions. Remember that you’ll still need to be prepared for the unexpected, but having some basic idea will help you prepare yourself.
Megan Blanco, MBA, CTS, PRC
Talent Acquisition Manager, Loyal Source Government Services
“What kind of candidate is this company looking for?”
This question is great to ask a recruiter ahead of the interview because it lays out expectations before the interview has even begun. This will prepare you for what the company is looking for in a candidate and how you can position yourself in the best light. You can always start out with a broader question like this one and then move into specifics based on the information the recruiter provides.
“What qualifications and qualities are essential to this role?”
While most job descriptions are generally in line with what hiring managers are looking for in a candidate, recruiters can often give you additional information on which qualifications (or lack thereof) are deal-breakers for this position. If anything, this is an opportunity for you to understand the priorities for this role and use that to guide your response strategy during your interview.
“What soft skills is the hiring manager looking for in this role?”
Many employers stress that they can train employees on tactical skills, but there are some natural qualities they view as essential. Remember that recruiters are on your side and want to see a successful candidate-company match as much as you do.
Use their insight here to determine if your soft skills (e.g., ability to work under pressure or handle tough interactions) fit the situations you may encounter on the job, and again, use it to guide your interview.
“Who will be interviewing me, and what is the format?”
Knowing with whom you will be interviewing and what type of interview it is can also be an extremely valuable tool for preparation. Use this information to research the interviewers and find commonalities, such as where they went to school or where they used to work, which can come in handy when trying to establish a personal connection that may help you stand out among a group.
This also gives you an opportunity to find out if you need to prepare to meet with multiple people at once vs. a one-on-one interview.
Tara Goodfellow, MBA, CTACC
Career Consultant | Resume Writer | Owner, Athena Consultants
As a candidate, I think gathering as much information about the interview experience is essential. Recruiters (external agencies) can become very familiar with their clients, so they might forget to mention details that have just become so common for them, such as:
- Confirm proper dress code
- the number of people with whom you’ll be interviewing
- name and title of each person (so you can get a bit of information on them via LinkedIn)
- what the protocol is after the interview (will the recruiter reach out to you? Should you call right after you’re done?)
Also, gather as much information on the position, hiring manager, department, and company as you can. The client may have shared they have a big initiative for digital learning, revenues were down, turnover, etc.
Any insight they’re willing to share can help you best highlight your skills and strengths and ask targeted questions during the interview. Salary typically is handled between you and the recruiter, so make sure you’re both on the same page regarding benefits and compensation as well.
Founder and Managing Director, The Recruitment Lab
In a sense, when you cross the threshold and step into the office of a potential new employer for an interview – you are on your own.
A recruiter can no longer help you, but a good recruiter would have worked with you in advance to educate and inform you of what to expect in that interview.
In effect, you should be using your recruiter before the interview to ensure there are no surprises during the interview. They should be telling you the basics of:
- where to park
- who you are meeting
- what types of questions you can expect
- what behaviors and skills they are seeking evidence of
Whatever uncertainty you have before an interview, discuss it with your recruiter because you both have a mutual interest in this process. I have frequently dealt with candidates who don’t want to talk before an interview or who feel they are great at interviews and need no advice.
In some cases, they do interview well, but for the sake of a thirty-second conversation, they leave less to chance, and they understand the agenda that their interviewer will be working to. It really is a case that knowledge is power.
Colin T. McLetchie
President, Five Ways Forward
Here are a couple of questions I have found to be incredibly helpful when working with a recruiter.
“Every hiring manager has a picture in their mind of the perfect candidate. How has this hiring manager described this to you?”
“What is your sense of the absolute must-haves for this role, and what is nicer to have?”
“Beyond what needs to get done in the role, what are they looking for in terms of cultural contribution from whoever gets hired?”
These questions allow you to try to get inside the head of the hiring manager a bit and allow you to begin to tailor your responses and preparation to what matters most and to talk about how you’d fill any gaps in what the ideal candidate would have.
Before an interview, there are a few hard-hitting questions you can ask the recruiter to give yourself a huge advantage over other candidates.
The first would be to ask what the ideal candidate for the position would look like. This is a way for you to learn what your recruiter wants and expects in a perfect candidate, so you can try to replicate it in the interview process.
You should also ask for the information and history of the company. While this will probably be given to you during the interview, it shows the recruiter you’re interested and excited about the position and the company and that you’re eager to learn more.
Sometimes, showing this extra interest and excitement during an interview is enough to put you above other candidates. After all, recruiters are always looking for future employees that would be proud and excited to work at their company.
Finally, ask the recruiter how you can excel and exceed expectations at the position. This not only shows the recruiter you are a leader that’s ready to go above and beyond, but it also gives you a clear-cut path to more opportunity and success at the company.
CEO & Founder, Robben Media
I’m always most impressed when the candidate flips the script and starts to interview me. Questions like:
“Why did you start this company?”
“What do you love most about this company?”
“What do you love most about this job?”
“What skills would you want every employee to walk in the building with?”
“What makes this company unique, and what value does it add to society?”
These questions set candidates apart from the pack by simply thinking outside the box. Not only does that show intelligence and curiosity, but it also helps them be memorable. I’ve only hired people I remember. And I remembered them not by their answers, but by the questions they asked me.
Below are unique questions that candidates asked me when I was a recruiter.
“So I have checked out your LinkedIn profile, and I’ve seen you’ve worked at the company for X amount of years. How has this company enhanced your skill set, and why do you choose to stay?”
“Per the answers that I provided you, has anything I said made you hesitant to move me forward in the interview process?”
“Do you know who I will be interviewing with in the future? What qualities or skill sets will they appreciate that I highlight?”
“Is this a new position that you are hiring for or a back fill (either the person left the position or was promoted?”
Founder & CEO, Bluetuskr
We’ve been told some great stories about questions that the staffing agencies we work with get sometimes. Of course, many are comical, but a couple of the best we’ve heard are:
“Does this client know you’re contacting me about this role?”
“How long have you been trying to fill this role?”
These questions allow you to figure out if the recruiter is just job board scraping or if the role is what they refer to as a “purple squirrel” where the client is asking for someone to fill the role that is going to be very unlikely to find.