Interviewing Hiring Managers Right the First Time

As recruiting and staffing professionals, we all need to be detailed and diligent when interviewing our hiring managers to ensure we are prepared for both effective advertising and sourcing strategies. But what things do we really need to ask a hiring manager?

It all depends on what we currently know and don’t know about the position we are recruiting. List the things we do know about the position to make filling in the gaps much easier when discussing them with the hiring manager.

Let’s take a look at some topics that we may to discuss depending upon the current relationship we have with the hiring manager.

If we have not worked with a hiring manager in the past, then we will need to discuss all of the following with them.

List of Competitors or Target Companies

Have a list of 3-5 competitors ready for the meeting, even if we aren’t sure those should be on the list or not. Sometimes a target company may just be a company that is local and not necessarily in the same industry.

  • Discuss the competitor list with the hiring manager.
  • Are any companies he/she has hired from in the past?
  • Which, if any, companies listed would be most preferred for their next hire?
  • Do they have any additional companies they would like to add to the list that are also highly desired for the target list?
  • Also, very important, are there any companies on the list that he/she would not want to see candidates from?

*Note, oftentimes if a particular company has lower hiring standards and a hiring manager knows that already, it can save us from wasting time trying to present those candidates upfront.

Take 3-5 Profiles to the Meeting With You

Make sure the profiles you take offer a slight variety, to give you a hint of what the manager will bite on. Ask the hiring manager if they have 2-3 example profiles either from current employee resumes or someone who has left the company who had the right resume profile for you to compare your sourcing with.

  • How flexible are they on the educational background?
  • How flexible are they on the years of experience?
  • Which skills are most important to them?

Required Skills & Educational Background

Ask questions around the skill/educational requirements to identify where this hiring manager is flexible.

  • For example, if a requirement says MBA in Accounting, would they also consider someone with a master’s degree in Accounting?
  • Or if the experience level says bachelor’s degree with 5-7 years of experience, would they consider someone with a master’s who has 3-4 years of experience?
  • What are the absolute skill requirements you need in this person — e.g. software knowledge or industry knowledge?
  • What is the minimum educational requirement?

Ask for Names of People

Oftentimes, a hiring manager has the name of at least one person in mind who they have either previously worked with, or know through others, or even know them as they are an internal candidate working in another group.

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  • Do you have any names from your past or current staff who you would like to be contacted about your opening?
  • If so, do you know the name of at least one company they have worked for?
  • Do you have any contact information or even a resume for any of these people?
  • How do you know them or know of them? (This is key information you can use for your cold-call).

Inquire About Past Hires

Recycle what is known and then add to it. If a hiring manager has had success with particular resources in the past, then don’t discount them as a “repeat resource.”

  • Where have your best hires come from in the past?
  • Existing employee referral? Who?
  • Did they come from networking or advertising from any organization or association?

Associations & Organizations

As staffing professionals, we need to ask the hiring manager for names of organizations and associations. We can definitely conduct our own research; however, there may be a particular group the hiring manager already knows. You need to get that information from them.

  • Are you personally members of any professional organizations or associations? Which ones?
  • Is there anyone from within those organizations who you would be interested in considering for your opening?
  • Which company do you know they have worked for in the past?

Describe a Day in the Role of This Person

This will give you some understanding of the departmental culture to gauge the type of person who will “fit in” to this team.

  • What are the day-to-activities this person will be involved in?
  • What other areas of the company will this role interface with?
  • Will this role require traveling? How much on average?

As a recap, below is a list of things you should know after an initial hiring manager intake meeting:

  1. List of target companies
  2. 2-3 example profiles
  3. List of names to contact immediately
  4. Resources for both advertising & sourcing
  5. Blurb about the day-to-day of this role for both evaluating and selling to passive talent

As recruiters, we do not have the luxury of time to have gaps in our initial intake meeting with a hiring manager. Be organized and ready for both our advertising and sourcing efforts after the first meeting with the hiring manager. If we have an organized list of what we need ready for our meeting, we will save time in the long run being able to identify the right slate of candidates the first time around and fill the requisition more efficiently.

Ryan Phillips is a technical writer & sourcing researcher at AIRS. She lives in Helena, Montana. Joining AIRS in 2010, she transitioned to the role from the internal recruiting team at The RightThing. Phillips began her recruiting career working for a technical recruitment staffing firm in the Silicon Valley, where she recruited for IT, Engineering, Marketing, and Accounting. She later moved into the RPO field, where she did mainly niche engineering recruitment for Microsoft. She works on curriculum development for all AIRS courses, including the industry-leading AIRS Certification classes. She also continues to consult with RPO clients on their social media branding strategies, as well as support the internal RightThing sourcing team to develop client specific sourcing strategies.


10 Comments on “Interviewing Hiring Managers Right the First Time

  1. Great list. I think the other thing that you need to walk away knowing is what is the value proposition for candidates. I always ask “Why would a top tier candidate want this role?” It provides an awesome gauge with a new hiring manager of how well they understand hiring, and more importantly what CVP they will echo during the interview process. We and the hiring manager have to be selling the same thing.

  2. I would add two very critical components to your list.
    1. ST/LT Objectives (Short Term and Long Term objectives)
    In other words, what would this candidate need to accomplish or be a rock star on in order to accomplish the objectives of the position or project? Most of the time, our clients are strong at defining the needs or skill sets but the lack the ability to define how those skill will be used to complete company objectives.
    2. Selling Points of Interest
    What are the critical selling points of interest of the company, job or location that may attract top talent? Top candidates in today’s market are not looking for new jobs; they are looking for new jobs that can elevate their career. Enhance their knowledge level, expose them to new technology or cutting edge process that may be value in the future. Candidate’s needs are define by CLAMS; Challenges, Location, Advancement, Money and Security.

    As project managers, it’s very important that the key elements of the job or project (ST/LT Objectives) but we also need to know who to sale the opportunity to the candidate.

  3. May I add to your solid list. I have often found that the question about “Knock-Out Factors”, brings the hiring authority to a point of reality. Question: What have you seen, either professionally or personally, in your current office environment, that would exclude an otherwise great candidate from being successful? Are there “ghosts” in the office from employees past, things that just don’t work around the current office environment.

  4. This is a great article for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it contains real world material recruiters can use on a daily basis.

    Great stuff.

  5. @Ryan: Very thorough and thoughtful.

    An additional point of discussion is to ask the hiring manager which of the following three characteristics of the hire are you prepared to sacrifice to obtain the other two:
    1) Quality of hire?
    2) Speed of hire?
    3) Cost of hire?
    If the hiring manager isn’t prepared to give up any of these, you may have a problem on your hands….

    An additional question (or more of an elaboration on “quality of hire”) would be to determine what percentile- level of candidate the hiring manager wants to hire, and then openly discuss what percentile-level the position pays, offers as benefits, opportunity, security, QoL, etc. Your goal should be to establish sensible expectations of what the company can afford and then to get candidates equal or somewhat better than that. For example: a company may be in the 70th percentile in the things mentioned, so it’s realistic for you to find people in the 70-75th (possibly 80th) percentile for the position. It is not realistic for you to get the “Fabulous 5%”. Again, if the HM insists on “the best,” but can barely afford “the rest,” you may have a problem on your hands…


    Keith “Deal With It Up Front” Halperin

  6. The combination of a great article plus the comments have made this a ‘home run’.
    Another factor to keep in mind is that recruiting is iterative and you need to stay in touch with the hiring manager as the search unfolds to learn about changes to the requirement or overall landscape.
    This is where Agile recruiting comes in with daily/regular scrums.
    Interaction with the manager is NOT a one and done. it is an on-going and vital piece of a succesful outcome.

  7. @ Jim: You mention Agile recruiting.
    Are you familiar with the Agile Recruiting Manifesto?

    Manifesto for Agile Recruiting
    (This was “sampled” from the Agile SW Development Manifesto. -kh)

    We are uncovering better ways of hiring people by doing it and helping others do it.
    Through this work we have come to value:
    • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
    • Quick, quality hires over comprehensive documentation
    • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
    • Responding to change over following a plan
    That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

    Principles behind the Agile Recruiting Manifesto

    We follow these principles:
    • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of quality hires.
    • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
    • Deliver quality hires frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
    • Internal customers and recruiters must work together daily throughout the project.
    • Build projects around motivated individuals.
    • Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
    • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a recruiting team is face-to-face conversation.
    • A quality hire which is on-time and within budget is the primary measure of progress.
    • Agile processes promote sustainable employee development.
    • The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
    • Continuous attention to professional excellence and first-class service enhances agility.
    • Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work NOT done–is essential.
    • The best requirements, processes, and hires emerge from self-organizing teams.
    • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.


    I challenge staffing organizations to adopt, implement, and maintain these policies and principles. Don’t know how? I’ll be happy to show you.


    Keith Halperin

  8. Excellent article! As was stated above, it is full of real world applications that recruiters like myself can take and apply right away. The overall theme I take away from this is to be proactive- be prepared, think ahead, be specific with questions and examples. There is nothing more frustrating for me and candidates than having to return to a hiring manager for clarification; or in the worst cases, finding out that a candidate isn’t right for a position after investing the time and that the situation could have been avoided by obtaining clearer information about a position.

    As a recruiter and owner of my own firm, I have learned over the years that being proactive rather than reactive (or scrambling to solve problems) is always the way to go. Thank you for these excellent techniques.
    Ken C. Schmitt

  9. Refreshing read. Good points and comments. It is great to hear from professional recruiters who are informed, proactive, and thorough. My search assignment form reflects this information; it has led to the best candidates, preventing missing critical information. I was trained to ask the questions, all the questions, even the ones you may not want to hear the answer to, from both client and candidate. “Better to know now than 5 minutes from now.” It has served me well for 16 years as a recruiter.

    Dottie Bowling

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