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Recruitment interview. What does the consultant actually ask?

Ewa Jankowska

A recruitment interview raises adrenaline level – our professional future depends on how the interview goes. High stakes mean stress and great motivation. The candidate prepares for an interview as if it was a contest, forgetting that the aim is a mutual success, a win-win situation. – A consultant is a partner, not an opponent. Their task is to meet the expectations of both sides of the recruitment process – the client and the candidate. That is why it is worth cooperating with a recruiter and approaching the conversation in a thoughtful and conscious manner.

“The higher quality of the dialogue, the greater chance of getting an offer we are happy with. It is possible to answer the same question poorly, moderately or brilliantly - it is worth remembering this and preparing as well as we can” explains Ewa Jankowska, Associate Manager at Goldman Recruitment, one of the leading HR consultancy companies on the Polish market.

What questions should I ask myself when creating my interview strategy? Firstly – why am I going to this meeting, what change do I want and why do I need it. Secondly – what certain idea do I have for myself, what direction do I want to head career-wise and what are my professional and personal goals. Answers such as: ‘I don’t know’, ‘it depends’, ‘I don’t have it specified’ or ‘I’m not convinced’ mean that we are not prepared for the interview. The rest of the questions will be taken care of by the recruiter. What to expect? How to read his or her intentions?

The consultant asks questions and digs into the subject. What does it mean?

Contrary to what it may seem, he or she is not trying to push the candidate against the wall and satisfyingly expose their weaknesses or inconsistencies in the CV. The purpose of the follow-up questions is to obtain precise information about the candidate’s career trajectory and competences that are important from the client’s point of view. The consultant thus ascertains what his or her actual role was in the processes in which he or she was involved. When answering such questions, it is useful to show your impact, the results of the actions you took in certain tasks. Not the company’s, not the team’s, but specifically ours, so use “I” instead of “we”. There is no room for exaggeration here – if you hold a junior position and work in a 100 people team and say “my project was a complete success, I generated a seven-figure profit for the company” sounds implausible. You need to stick to the facts, that’s how you build mutual trust. Only then the recruiter can offer you a job that realistically matches your competences and capabilities.

Asking about the qualities you have demonstrated in your projects

By asking this question, the consultant wants to find out how the candidate acts in action, how he or she makes decisions. It is not a question about the result, but about the process – whether a project was successful in the end is not the most important thing. Before the interview, think about what qualities are desirable for the position you are applying for. When answering about how you use them in practice, it is a good idea to recall a situation from the recent past, to talk about a project you have recently been involved in – mentioning a situation from 10 years ago does not reflect well on your current activity. Explain how you normally plan to do the task, your reasoning and the way to get there. Demonstrate how you use your resources. Are there any circumstances in which you feel unwell, which don’t match your dispositions? Tell about it – such a message will increase your credibility. Nobody is perfect – the consultant knows it, and so does the client.

Strengths and weaknesses

This question is often interpreted as a test of acting skills. It doesn’t have to be – a thoughtful answer can add a lot to the recruitment process. Talking about the immensity of your excellence and presenting advantages to make them look like disadvantages makes no sense (“I love working, even late into the evening – that’s why I’m sometimes late”). When talking about strengths, it is worth mentioning two – three that are relevant to the responsibilities of the position you are applying for. It is best to support them with solid examples from your professional environment. Your strength is initiative? Mention a recent idea to improve the company’s customer service system, emphasise that in addition to developing the concept at your request, you were entrusted with its implementation. The more concrete, the better. How do you approach weaknesses? List the qualities that are not essential for the job you are applying for. If you are applying for an expert position, lack of management experience will certainly not disqualify you. When pointing out weaknesses, show what you are doing to make them stop being them. Don’t have business familiarity or are you stressed by conversations with high-level managers? Tell them you are working on the subject and have a lot of new experience in the field that gives you confidence. Show that you are making progress. A combination of sincerity and diplomacy is the best way to give the consultant precise information about yourself. Only then will you get a proposal that meets your expectations. If not this time round, then along with the next opportunity. Sometimes it’s worth waiting and aiming at higher stakes.

Why did we end our relationship with our previous employers? How did we leave?

This question is bound to be asked during the interview, especially if the employers have changed frequently. There is no room for fantasy here – the recruiter expects an honest answer. Don’t avoid it – avoiding the subject means you have something to hide. Don’t use black PR, even if you have reasons – this is always considered unprofessional. Show neutral approach to the situation and say what lesson you learned from it. If the fault was on your side, don’t be afraid to admit it, do it in a diplomatic way. We are humans, we make mistakes. What matters most is what we do with them next, how they affect our future choices. When answering this question, show that you are a mature person who does not react emotionally but analyses the situation, learns and moves forward.

What company and manager do you want to work for?

This is actually a question about your motivations, expectations and priorities. If you value close team relations and a family like atmosphere, say so – otherwise you may end up in an office straight out of a Wall Street image where you won’t fit. If you are picking up a child from nursery or school, say that you cannot work overtime – this will avoid later misunderstandings. Specify what kind of candidate you are not, what you don’t like about your job, what kind of environment you function rather badly in. People who are fine with everything at the interview and have no complaints about anything do not inspire confidence – this attitude is false, may be a cause of future problems. Therefore, during the interview, don’t give up on yourself and speak openly about what you care about. Then the consultant will know what to look for in you and what circumstances to avoid. The more information you provide the consultant with, the better chance the job offered will meet your expectations and give you satisfaction.

Why this particular position?

The consultant is interested in your actual motivation. By asking this question, he or she is checking that you are definitely making an informed choice. Tie your future responsibilities to your ambitions. Explain why these areas are your strengths and give examples. Do this on your own initiative, without waiting for detailed questions from the consultant. Ask about the company’s expectations – you will learn more so you can address them more consciously and precisely. Tell about your professional interests – you may find that they complement the gaps in your CV? Show activity and debunk myths – think about what the consultant might have doubts about, which details of your career to date might put the employer off. Talk about them in a convincing way. From your CV it seems that you don’t know the industry you want to work in? Demonstrate that many of your skills are transferable. Show their usefulness in the context of your client’s needs. Make it clear that you know a lot about their company, checking news, stock market announcements or industry news. You will reassure the consultant that it is not a coincidence that you are talking about this particular position.

Interests, passions, hobbies

Not every consultant will discuss this topic. However, if this question is asked, it is worth showing how and with what commitment you pursue your passions. This shows how you act when it comes to issues that are important to you. Do you have enough determination to take care of them properly? Use the answer to this question to leave a mark in the consultant’s mind – link your interests to important qualities in the context of the recruitment process you are involved in. Sailing in difficult conditions in the Baltic Sea? Show that it requires courage, determination, responsibility and excellent planning. But watch out on how long you speak – if you devote half the interview to your passions, you will leave the recruiter believing that they are more important to you than the job you are applying for.

Ask for feedback!

When ending an interview, it is a good idea to ask for feedback. Such a question is not necessarily perceived as a lack of confidence – the motivation for asking it is the desire to improve and develop. By doing so, you are showing your activity and commitment to the recruitment process.

Consultants are focused on a long-term cooperation, often supporting candidates for many years of their professional career. It is therefore worth building a long-term relationship with them. You can only benefit from it. You never know when the phone rings. You don't know how attractive proposal can be offered - explains Ewa Jankowska from Goldman Recruitment.