Hiring the hirer: Interview questions for recruiter roles

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7 mins, 55 secs read time

When your company is growing, at some point you’ll need to hire a recruiter or other talent acquisition professional. So how should you approach this process, and what are the best interview questions to ask recruiters? We caught up with Greenhouse Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition Ariana Moon to investigate.

Structured hiring: A quick overview

Any conversation about interviewing at Greenhouse involves structured hiring. When you take a structured approach to hiring, you define the attributes someone needs to perform in a given job and then design the interview process to assess for those attributes.

Which attributes should you look for in a recruiter?

There are many ways to categorize attributes. Ariana tends to think of them in four main buckets:

  1. Qualifications – prior work experience and/or a set of accomplishments necessary to qualify for the job
  2. Technical skills – the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to perform the functions of the job
  3. Interpersonal skills – the personality traits and emotional intelligence required to be effective in the job
  4. Cultural values – the values of your organization that you’d like this person to embody

The qualifications you look for when hiring a recruiter will vary depending on what recruiting specialization or experience level you’re looking for. In general, Ariana suggests not having too many requirements in this category so you can exercise open-mindedness when considering candidates. Nonetheless, here are some qualifications you might consider:

  • Experience with full-cycle recruiting and a track record of successfully making hires
  • Experience executing on sourcing strategies to diversify the top of the recruiting funnel
  • Experience with recruiting for a specific business function

For the technical skills bucket, here are few things you might be on the lookout for:

  • The ability to source prospects for requisitions
  • The ability to manage high-volume interviewing
  • The ability to build interview processes
  • The ability to run kickoff meetings and roundups
  • The ability to navigate offer negotiation and delivery
  • The ability to be a strong partner to hiring managers

For interpersonal skills, qualities to look for in recruiters might include:

  • Being proactive and flexible in response to changing business priorities
  • The ability to communicate with various internal and external audiences
  • The ability to juggle multiple deadlines and prioritize effectively
  • The ability to exercise discretion, due to access to private candidate data
  • The ability to exercise empathy and open-mindedness to uphold an inclusive hiring process

Many organizations have a culture-add interview to help them assess how candidates will contribute to their company culture. Be sure to incorporate these questions into your interviews for recruiters. If you don’t already have this type of interview in place, consider which company values would be critical for recruiters as the people responsible for finding and attracting talent.

How to design the interview process to assess these attributes

Once you’ve defined the attributes a recruiter needs to excel in the role, the next part of the structured hiring process is deciding how to assess them. You’ll probably end up with a combination of questions and practical exercises (often in the form of take-home assessments) to help you get a holistic understanding of a candidate’s abilities.

We’ll look at some sample interview questions in a moment, but what might a take-home assessment cover? This will vary depending on the role and the attributes you’re trying to assess. Here are a few ideas for tasks you could assign:

  • Outline how to conduct a productive kickoff meeting
  • Present your approach to partnering with your hiring manager
  • Find profiles that would be a great fit (and add!) for a sample job description
  • Craft an initial outreach email to a sample prospect
  • Define the components of an effective sourcing strategy

When you’re creating a take-home assessment, be sure to outline which attributes you’re looking to evaluate, which will likely be a set of technical skills.

Once you receive the assignment back from the candidate, consider how well they performed the task at hand:

  • Was the assignment submitted in a timely fashion?
  • Did the candidate follow the instructions?
  • Did their work product meet or exceed your expectations?
  • If there are gaps in the work product, are they coachable?

Sample interview questions for recruiters

Now that we’ve considered the tasks you might cover in a take-home assessment, let’s look at some of the questions you can ask candidates and why they’re important.

Note that these questions are suggestions rather than prescriptions – you can make changes and provide more context in your interview process.

Can you share your past recruiting experience with me?

For a more mid-level or senior recruiter role, Ariana looks for candidates who have full-cycle recruiting experience. For a more entry-level role, such as a recruiting coordinator, she says, “We welcome candidates from all backgrounds as long as they demonstrate the skills that are necessary for the role through our interview process.”

Tell me about a time you deliberately took a proactive approach on a project.

Being a recruiter often involves being action- and solutions-oriented in order to move pipelines forward. “When partnering with hiring managers, recruiters need to be the ones project-managing a search to make sure the right milestones are being hit. If they’re not, they need to proactively communicate why and what needs to be done,” says Ariana.

Tell me about a time you had to adapt to changing priorities. What did you do?

“Recruiters and hiring managers are partners who need to work together for a search to be successful,” explains Ariana, “especially in the face of ever-changing business priorities.” She looks for recruiters who can communicate effectively and manage expectations with hiring managers and the greater hiring team involved. For more tenured recruiters, Ariana looks for candidates who demonstrate the ability to manage up and push back when hiring managers have unrealistic expectations or requests.

Can you tell me about a time you had to work with a challenging hiring manager and how you managed the relationship?

“The hiring manager partnership is critical to successful hiring,” says Ariana. She uses this question to get a sense of how candidates learn to work with stakeholders – especially how they address or handle challenges that arise in a relationship.

Can you tell me about how you’ve used data to inform your work?

“We often want to get a sense of how metrics-driven a recruiter candidate is,” says Ariana. “What is their familiarity with leveraging data to inform their recruiting strategy and uphold key performance indicators (KPIs)? Do they have experience using pipeline data to communicate an analysis back to hiring managers on how a search is running?”

Tell me about a time when you were juggling multiple roles. What was your approach to managing this load?

“A common pain point for recruiters is managing multiple roles for multiple hiring managers all at once,” shares Ariana. That’s why it’s important to ask about how candidates prioritize roles, what method they use to manage their workload and how they communicate with others about the status of a role.

What is your experience in running interviewing processes in a virtual world?

With so many people working from home due to the pandemic, Ariana says, “It’s more important than ever to be able to work autonomously and asynchronously.” The Greenhouse talent acquisition team operates across several time zones, and she looks for candidates who can adapt to this challenge through consistent communication and time management. “It’s also important to be mindful that candidates who are interviewing from home might not have the space they need to have a virtual conversation that’s completely uninterrupted. Because of this, we’ve been leaning into being more empathetic and always starting off interviews with ‘How are you?’ and ‘Does this time still work for you?’”

Key considerations when interviewing recruiters

When evaluating how candidates answer these questions, Ariana looks for a few points:

  • Specificity: Ariana says it’s important to listen for specifics (and ask follow-up questions when necessary) to understand how the candidate was involved in any situation they describe. Were they the driver, or were they more a passive participant or observer?
  • Outcomes: When asking about specific initiatives or challenges, Ariana not only looks for how the candidate managed the situation, but also what the outcomes or results of the candidate’s efforts were.
  • Audience awareness: Especially for a people-oriented role, it’s key to assess a candidate’s ability to be mindful of who their audience is. “For example, recruiting is full of acronyms,” says Ariana, “and each company has their own unique set of them. It’s important that candidates don’t overly rely on jargon or make assumptions about what other people know so that we can create a more inclusive experience for the candidates they’d be interacting with.”
  • Discretion: Because a key part of a recruiter’s role is to handle compensation data and other private candidate information, Ariana looks for candidates who are able to describe their work and experiences in a discreet, responsible and respectful manner.

Finally, Ariana believes that it’s critical to think about how your current (and future) recruiting team reflects the demographics of the company you’re trying to build. “Recruiters and coordinators are the first touchpoint for many candidates, so they’re essentially the face of your organization. The more diversity you have reflected on your recruiting team, the more you’ll be able to build the connections you need to diversify your employee base.”

The way your team attracts, recruits and hires a diverse candidate set can boost your competitive advantage and solidify your identity as a great employer. Download our inclusive hiring guide for actionable strategies and approaches to improve inclusivity and fairness in your hiring process.

Melissa Suzuno

Melissa Suzuno

is a freelance writer and former Content Marketing Manager at Greenhouse. Melissa previously built out the content marketing programs at Parklet (an onboarding and employee experience solution) and AfterCollege (a job search resource for recent grads), so she's made it a bit of a habit to help people get excited about and invested in their work. Find Melissa on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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