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Headhunter Interview Tip: Know within 10 minutes of an intro conversation whether to continue the call

I spend a lot of time in exploratory conversations with prospective candidates. Often the person is not actively looking, but we are on the call because I asked if we could have a very exploratory initial call.

It is not unusual for me to speak with dozens of prospects for a particular opening before focusing in on a select group of candidates. So I want to know as early as possible on each call the likelihood that the person on the other end will become a viable candidate. I also want to gauge the direction the call should move and the amount of time I should invest.

One of the first questions I ask is “What made you think it was a good idea for us to talk?” The response to this question sets the tone and can be directional. From there, I will use the first 10 – 15 minutes of the call to learn three pieces of information: (1) What will motivate the person to make a career move, (2) what criteria will be used to evaluate a job opportunity, and (3) can my client afford them?

The third item is controversial among those who advise people on what information to disclose in an interview. I think it is foolish not to establish early on whether compensation is going to be an issue. There have been only a very few times that a prospective candidate refused to discuss this.

The question that most surprises candidates and frequently receives the response, “that’s a good question” is this:

If things progressed with [client company name] to the point of receiving a job offer, what will be the top three make-or-break criteria that you will use to decide?

The response to this question tells me a lot about what the person values and whether there is a fit with what my client company values and has to offer. As a result, I now have some idea of whether my client will provide a compelling career proposition to this person. As I share more about the job opportunity, I am able to present information more relevantly.

This first blush response may be modified as the person has more time to think and we move further into the exploration process, but this still gives a peek into motivations and thinking, and is an early indicator of whether it is worth continuing the conversation.

If you are a busy hiring manager, this question will help you determine the candidates in which to invest your time. The cumulative answers to this question will help you to evaluate the attractiveness of what your company has to offer and may signal some needed changes.

Donna White

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