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Interview Confidential: What Do Recruiters Really Want?

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When it comes to finding a new job, most would agree the interview is one of the most stressful parts of the process. Even if it’s just that first phone call with a recruiter, that initial person-to-person contact can get a lot of people flustered.

Often, interview advice you find online casts the interview process as an adversarial one, with interviewer pitted against interviewee. The emphasis is on how candidates should deal with “curveball” questions — such as the seemingly impossible ones Google likes to ask candidates (“How much would you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?”)

But is being able to handle the tough questions that come your way the only thing you need to worry about? What else can you do as a job seeker to prepare yourself? What do the people interviewing you really want out of that first conversation? More importantly, what do interviewers wish you knew?

We asked two of Aerotek’s top recruiters — Mackenzie Szawlowski, senior professional account recruiting manager and recruiter lead manager, and Jóhna Koelzer, manager of recruiting operations and recruiter lead manager — to share with candidates their best advice about how to get the most out of any interview.

What should you try to accomplish in the interview?

While many candidates feel that the most important thing is simply surviving the interview and making a good impression, Koelzer says interviews represent an opportunity for candidates to learn about potential concerns the interviewer might have about them, learn more about the company and get a feel for whether or not they’re going to be a good “fit” with the company’s culture.

“When candidates go into any interview,” advises Koelzer, “they should look to achieve three big things: 1) Make sure the hiring manager has no reservations about you; 2) Let them know your interest in the company; and 3) Find out if the employer is a good fit.”

While recruiters use the interview to discover whether or not the candidate is right for the job, Koelzer believes candidates should use the interview to determine if the company is right for them.

“Whether it is culture, leadership style, work environment, pay or benefits,” Koelzer asks, “does the employer have what is most important to you as a candidate to make you happy long term?”

How do you prepare?

Both Szawlowski and Koelzer feel candidates can also get a lot more out of the interview if they do just a few simple things to prepare. According to Szawlowski, the most important thing candidates can do to prepare is one of the most overlooked: having a good understanding about what you want out of a new job.

“I think it’s important for candidates to truly know what they want in their next position: what job title, what company, what industry, what is important to them,” she says. “It is important to be specific to the type of company, position or environment” the candidate ultimately wants.

But knowing what you want is only part of it. You also need to present your strengths and experience clearly and convincingly. Koelzer recommends that candidates prepare by paying attention to three important things:

“Have an up-to-date resume,” she advises. “Be open about any experience you have. And have references that provide good examples regarding your specific experience to support matching it to the position.”

How will you talk about yourself?

Both recruiters agreed that many candidates need help when it comes to speaking about themselves. Too often, candidates make it difficult for a recruiter to really understand what they bring to the table if hired. The key, our experts advise, is to talk about specifics.

“Candidates often speak in general terms,” notes Szawlowski. “They don’t speak to specific accomplishments or qualifications.”

Feel like this is a tall order? It’s doesn’t have to be, Koelzer says. Just follow a simple, three-part formula.

“What You Did + Skills You Used + Results You Got,” says Koelzer. “Thinking about these ahead of time can help the candidate feel confident and prepare them for articulation.”

What questions should you ask?

Both recruiting pros agree that the interview offers a great opportunity for candidates to decide if they’d even want the job were it offered to them. The “secret” is knowing what questions to ask. Here’s a list of questions Szawlowski and Koelzer suggest candidates ask:

  1. Why would someone want to work at this company?
  2. Why is the position open?
  3. Do you have any hesitations about my qualifications for the position?
  4. What would make me successful in this position?
  5. Why do current employees love working here?

There are no “right” or “wrong” answers to these questions, but they can provide the kind of answers that can help you more intimately understand the company. The key is to see the interview as a conversation — the recruiter is there to provide an insider’s view.

“By working with a recruiter,” says Koelzer, “a candidate will have insight into culture, environment, manager personalities and traits.” And because the recruiter is ultimately working to match the right person to the right job, they understand that providing this information is beneficial to both candidates and employers.

“Because of our deep relationships with the companies we hire for,” says Koelzer, “we dig in deep to understand everything there is to know about the company, the managers and prepare our candidates to win the job.”

What’s the recruiter’s ultimate goal?

Everybody wins when a recruiter can match the right person with the right job. And while recruiters do represent the interests of the company they’re hiring for, they have a stake in advocating for the candidates, too.

“I wish candidates knew that we truly have their best interests at heart,” says Koelzer.

Szawlowski agrees, noting that candidates should see recruiters as advocates.

In the end, says Szawlowski, the process is really about creating a relationship that’s going to last a long, long time; that relationship won’t work unless the candidate and the company work together. “Our goal is to find candidates a position where they will be happy, work hard to contribute to the company’s goals and objectives and ultimately find a long term position with a company.”