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How to Interview a Rock Star Recruiter

How to Interview a Rock Star Recruiter

Here at Emerge Talent Cloud, we have over the years developed and refined a successful and repeatable process for screening and interviewing corporate-side, contract recruiters that has served us well.  I thought I’d share it with my readers so that you too can think about adopting it for your own organization.

I use the term “Emerge Talent Cloud” throughout this article because our company is comprised solely of contract recruiters.  However, everything applies equally to any corporate-side recruiter, employee or contractor.  And in regard to agency-side recruiters, much of what ensues will be also be relevant to you as well, so keep reading!

Let’s start with the obvious problem, and what I’m sure drew you here, which is the unhappy reality that only a very small percentage of recruiters, whether contract recruiters or otherwise, are truly exceptional. And because most recruiters, especially contract recruiters, know the tricks of the trade, they are adept at turning the tables and selling us on their prowess.


Step 1:  Boolean Syntax

We believe that recruiters and sourcers must be proficient with basic Boolean search syntax in order to create effective search strings.  We administer an online test to every Emerge Talent Cloud and sourcer so they can demonstrate their knowledge of basic Boolean syntax.  This is not advanced Boolean web search, but rather knowledge of the basic syntax used to populate a search bar in, for example, LinkedIn or Monster.  We need to know that candidates understand the three basic Boolean operations (AND, OR, NOT), and the proper placement of parentheses “  “ and brackets ( ).

If you are unsure about how to construct questions to test knowledge of basic Boolean syntax, feel free to contact me and I will give you a hand creating questions (and of course answers!).


Step 2:  Resume Review Skills

We administer a resume review test that involves analyzing a group of supplied resumes against job descriptions.  We are looking for an understanding of subject matter content (IT, Sales, Finance, etc), as well as general screening skills in regard to things like job gaps, career progression, job hopping, etc.

We have altered the resumes so that they have predictable land mines that any recruiter worth their salt should catch. For instance, a resume may have considerable job gaps; or have a college graduation date of 1915, or have job titles or descriptions that don’t fit the job description, etc.


Step 3:  Req Intake / Recruiting Plan

We ask the recruiter to walk us through a recent req that they worked on, starting at Req Intake.  What exactly did they do and ask at the req intake meeting?  Do they have a standard template that they use?  If so, did they create it themselves?  After sharing with us the template and/or questions that they ask at intake, we then have them share with us the recruiting plan that they subsequently put together.  What was their approach?  What tools, resources, and strategies did they plan to use?  What was their timeline?  What metrics did they address, such as time-to-fill and/or cost-per-hire?


Step 4:  Sourcing Skills

We assign a mock job description and ask contract recruiters to identify LinkedIn profiles that align with the job description.  We then ask them to create a write-up for that candidate.  Although they are creating the conversation and write-up fictitiously, it allows us to gauge their ability to ask the right questions, to comprehensively and meticulously gather and present information, and to demonstrate that they know how to stand out by writing highly personalized, creative, and engaging inmails/emails.

We also ask contract recruiters to tell us which sourcing tools they have used, or have at least researched, other than LinkedIn, job boards, and the company ATS (applicant tracking software).  A Emerge Talent Cloud who is truly passionate about their craft will research and use other tools.  For instance, if you ask this question to any recruiter or sourcer on my team, you will hear a litany of tools such as Recruitment Edge, SwoopTalent, Source Hub, PropelIQ, Slideshare, Google+, Twitter, GitHub, Stack Overflow, Meetup, Facebook, Lusha, Email Hunter, Connectifier Social, Prophet, Capture, Infogist, etc.  Yet, amazingly, when we ask candidates to tell us which tools they have used, or have even just researched, other than LinkedIn and job boards, 90% of the time they have not a single answer.


Step 5:  Candidate Management Skills

While of course it’s critical that a Emerge Talent Cloud understands how to source candidates effectively, it is equally important that they know how to exercise best practices in candidate care. Do they understand the importance of a high-touch candidate experience?  Are they adept at using company messaging and branding to keep candidates interested and engaged?  We like to see that contract recruiters have a consultative, than a transactional, approach to recruiting and working with candidates.


Step 6:  Working With Internal Hiring Managers

The aforementioned consultative, rather than transactional, approach is also imperative in regard to working with internal hiring managers.  So, we ask questions to ensure that contract recruiters know how to establish and maintain healthy communication channels with internal hiring managers.  We want to know the size of the req slates that they have managed, and how they handle the pressure of every hiring manager claiming that all of their reqs are high priority.


Step 7:  Soft Skills / Culture Fit

Leadership IQ conducted a three year study involving over 5,000 hiring managers from 2,400 companies during more than 20,000 hires and found that 81% of new hires fail.  Surprisingly, the reason for the high rate of failure was not due to lack of job skills, but to the following:


Coachability – 26 percent of new hires failed due to their inability to accept feedback from those they work with, including bosses, colleagues, and customers.

Emotional Intelligence – A close second to lack of coachability is lack of emotional intelligence, with 23 percent of new hire failures due to their inability to understand emotions, their own and others.

Motivation – 17 percent of new hires in Leadership IQ’s study failed because of lack of motivation, defined as insufficient drive to succeed and excel in the job.

Temperament – 15 percent of new hires failed due to attitudes and personalities unsuited to the functions and tasks of the job and conditions of the work environment.


We use the following behavioral style interview questions to assess what we feel are the important take-ways from the Leadership IQ survey:



  • What could you have done differently to enhance your working relationship with your manager?
  • What areas for improvement did you manager point out to you?
  • Tell me about accomplishments or improvements that you made or achieved that were a result of feedback that was given to you
  • What aspects of your job did you and your manager seem to be at odds with?
  • If you could step outside of yourself and coach yourself, what suggestions or ideas would you recommend?


Ability to Work Under Pressure

  • Tell me about a time when you had to work under pressure
  • Can you give some examples of situations in which you had problems working under pressure?
  • Can you give me some examples of situations in which you decided to ask for assistance when under pressure?


Ability to Recognize and Learn from Mistakes

  • Tell me about a mistake you made at work. What happened? What did you do about it?
  • What’s the most out-of-the box meaningful or significant thing you’ve ever done to remedy a mistake?


Being a Team Player

  • Tell me about your most favorite team that you have ever worked on
  • Tell me about your least favorite team that you have ever worked on
  • What types of personalities do you work best with?
  • What types of personalities do you prefer not to work with?
  • Tell me about a time at work when you disagreed with someone. What did you do about it?
  • Tell me about a decision that you made that wasn’t popular and how you handled it
  • Think about someone at work that you don’t or didn’t get along with and tell me about that person and the situation



  • Tell me about your hobbies and interests
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What motivates you to come to work every day?
  • Tell me about something that you focused on that took great courage and hard work to overcome
  • What’s a big question in your field you’d like to solve and why?
  • Tell me about a problem or issue at work that you decided to tackle without being asked to do so
  • What was the last career-related book that you read?
  • What magazines or trade journals do you read to stay current in your career?


Step 8:  Check Candidate References

Lastly, don’t be lazy – check those references!  We always ask for references of managers to whom the recruiter directly reported, as opposed to peer references which are far too likely to be biased.  And if a Emerge Talent Cloud is unable to provide direct supervisor references, then we will typically put that into the same category as negative references.  Every top-notch recruiter should be able to provide at least one or two glowing references from a direct supervisor.


Interviewing any type of candidate, recruiter or otherwise, is an ambitious endeavor.  Nothing, unfortunately, is fool-proof, but you can increase the likelihood of hiring a winner by applying a well thought-out methodology.  We have honed our screening process for contract recruiters, but our approach is 100% relevant for any corporate-side recruiter, and is also somewhat relevant for agency recruiters.  Here’s to hiring top talent!


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Natalie Bollinger

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