The Best Questions for Recruiters to Ask in a Kickoff Meeting
As a recruiter, you know that when you’re out of sync with your HM, you ultimately create more work for the both of you. Candidate experience suffers, which impacts the company’s brand, outreach efforts, and overall hiring success. Surveys have shown that poor communication, miscommunication, and misunderstanding each others’ roles are among the top factors complicating the recruiter/HM relationship. One of the most common miscommunications occurs at the very beginning of a req—during the kickoff meeting—because HMs don’t always know exactly how to communicate their talent needs. It wasn’t so long ago that 51% of recruiters said hiring managers need to do a better job of communicating what they look for in a candidate. And while 80% of recruiters claim to have a strong understanding of the roles for which they recruit, 61% of hiring managers think otherwise.
That’s why a thorough kickoff meeting is crucial to any good hire. When hiring managers aren’t asked to articulate in detail what they’re looking for, they won’t be satisfied with the quality of candidates sent their way—which sends you, recruiter, back to the drawing board. So insist on a face-to-face conversation rather than an email or a req hand-off. A well-run kickoff meeting allows you to cover the bases. It demands that your HM think the role through and get clarity on what they need. Ultimately, knowing your HM’s vision from the beginning makes you 3x more likely to reduce time-to-hire and 2x more likely to improve quality-of-hire.
You and your hiring manager share the same goal. To help you get on the same page about that goal, you’ve got to ask the right questions. Doing so not only ensures the two of you have a shared vision; it also ensures your HM’s engagement in the process.
You may already know the answers to some of the questions we offer below (though some are worth asking anyway—you may learn something new and surprising from your HM’s perspective); and you may not have time to get through all of them in a single meeting. We tried to be as comprehensive as possible here, which in some cases meant asking the same question a few different ways. You know your hiring managers best; so take the questions that feel most valuable to you into the kickoff meeting. If it feels like it’ll help, consider forwarding a few questions to your HM ahead of time… but don’t overload them! Send on the ones that may require some time to sit with. Over time, they’ll know what kinds of questions to prepare for—and you may have to ask fewer of them, because you’ll know the manager, the team, its moving parts, and its culture so well.
*Why is this role open? Is it a new position, or a backfill? If it’s a new role, what provoked the need for it? (Why now?) If it’s a backfill, why did the employee leave? In what ways will the new hire ideally be similar to the last person who held the role? In what ways will they ideally be different?
[Dig into the details if the role is a backfill. Does the HM want to replicate a terrific employee they’re sorry to lose; or did the last employee clarify for them what doesn’t work? What did the person who occupied the role most recently teach them about the kind of person who thrives—or who doesn’t—in this role?]
Where is the position located? Are we open to it being a remote position over the long-term? Would we be willing to pay for relocation for a stellar candidate?
What’s the role’s title? What synonyms might talent be using in their profiles that would help me search for them?
Why is this such an important role to have filled? What pain points will the hire solve? What opportunities will it capitalize on?
[Focusing on the pain points the role will solve and the opportunities it will take advantage of will help clarify purpose and impact, which is great information for your elevator pitch.]
In a sentence or two, what will this hire be responsible for? In a sentence or two, describe the role to me in layman’s terms. What are the top 3-4 day-to-day responsibilities of the role? What primary tasks does it entail?
[“In-a-sentence-or-two” questions require that the HM pare down the role to its most important elements and arm you with succinct information to relay to candidates. They might sound silly or unsophisticated; but you’ll likely learn something new each time you ask them.]
What qualifications, skill sets, and tool proficiencies must the new hire come with, and why?
[Other ways of asking this to ensure the HM understands what “required” means: What skills immediately disqualify someone if they’re not on a resume—no matter what else the resume says? What skills are absolutely indispensable to the candidate’s being able to do the job?]
Which skills and qualifications are strongly preferred (and why)?
[Don’t underestimate the power of “why” for clarification.]
Which skills and qualifications are nice-to-haves (and why)? Which skills can be learned on the job, and which can’t?
[This is another way of asking what trade-offs the HM would ultimately be willing to make. It’s important to know whether your HM would prefer to take a chance on someone with great potential to grow into the role and risk having to let them go, or only hire someone with out-of-the-box experience and risk losing out on potentially great talent and faster time-to-hire. Note: have the HM look at current top performers on their team. They likely weren’t all purple squirrels. What core skills did they arrive with and what skills do they possess now only through experience at your org?]
What should the ideal candidate already have built / scaled / delivered / achieved / proven?
Is industry experience critical for this role? Is startup experience? Why or why not?
What soft skills does the current team have that are worth replicating? What additional skill sets (hard and soft) could the team benefit from?
How does/will this role fit into your team’s structure? Whom will they report to, and who will report to them? What’s the role’s relationship with other team members? What’s the role’s relationship with other lines of business within the org?
How does/will this role contribute to the strategic goals of the organization and support the overall business? How does/will it contribute to our mission and vision? What impact will it have on our product/service?
[Questions about how the position will support the organization’s mission, vision, and strategic goals will help you get a better sense of the role’s “greater purpose,” which you can also work into your elevator pitch.]
How will you measure the new hires’s success? What is/are the first big project/s they’ll be assigned to? What will the ideal candidate achieve or solve in their first 30 / 90 / 360 days on the job? What top three contributions will they have made by those dates; and what additional things might they have done by those dates that would make you say they’re “crushing it”?
Who’s the best person you know who has worked in this role? What qualities made them so stellar? Who are your best or highest-performing employees currently? What makes them so great?
[Consider jumping on a chat with the top-performing employees your HM mentions to see if you can gather what skills, traits, and characteristics make them so successful. Is it curiosity? Grit? Rigor? Ability to take ownership? Orientation toward teamwork? They probably know what makes them so good in their roles. Don’t be afraid to openly ask them.]
What are your deal-breakers (and why)?What challenges have you typically had—or what challenges do you foresee—in hiring for this role? How can we evade or surmount them?
What companies on a prospective candidate’s resume would most impress you? What companies did your best employees come from? Are there any target companies we should source from?
What are the best sources for finding talent for this role?What’s your departmental goal for diversity?
[Note that you may have to adjust your time-to-hire to meet team or departmental diversity goals. From both a business perspective and a values perspective, it’ll be well worth the adjustment.]
What’s the culture on the team like? Describe the personalities of the teammates the new hire would be working with most closely. What makes each of them unique?
[Asking about what makes employees unique will remind both you and your HM of the importance of thinking about “culture add” rather than “culture fit” (which can often end up looking like homogeneity). Think of personalities and attributes that will compliment what’s already on the team, not replicate it.]
What’s the career path for this role? What’s the overall compensation for this role (salary range, equity, bonuses, benefits)? From a candidate perspective, what makes this role so exciting? Why would talent want to come work here? Why did you choose to come work here... and what about the team or the org has kept you here?
[This is essentially where you ask the HM to sell you the role. You probably already know your org’s employee value proposition; but here you get to hear a particular experience of what it means and looks like.]
What’s your ideal start date?
Whom do you know?
[This question is a reminder that your HM probably has their own very robust network of talent they know but haven’t thought to approach. Offer to reach out to those leads and initiate a conversation if they’d prefer you do so.]
Here are some candidate profiles… what do you think?
[Of course, introduce these profiles at any point in the conversation. (If you haven’t brought any with you and there’s time, you and your HM could run a quick sourcing session on LinkedIn together, discussing the talent that surfaces.) Going through profiles “live” with your HM is an invaluable practice. It shows them what top-of-funnel sourcing looks like; and it gives you instant feedback based on body language and facial expressions—even if you’re doing this exercise virtually.]
Collectively, these questions will give you and your hiring manager a holistic view of their ideal candidate persona. If you’re looking to learn more about how to run a strong kickoff meeting—including how to prepare for the session and the additional questions you shouldn't’ leave the meeting without getting answers to—take a look at Gem’s Recruiter/Hiring Manager Calibration Guide.
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