I’ve been fortunate enough to hire many great recruiters at all levels throughout my career: peer level, for my own team, for my client’s recruitment team, and even my own boss! Ironically, while I enjoy doing it, recruiting recruiters has always been one of the toughest roles to fill!

Just like most skilled professions today, competition is fierce for top recruitment talent. The best internal recruiters are already working happily in their jobs with strong retention packages. On the agency side, the best recruiters come with ‘golden handcuffs’ and a book of profitable business that they don’t want to walk away from.

Therefore, hiring a junior recruiter and training them up is often the best (and sometimes only) option you have if you need to staff up your team urgently. However, hiring a junior recruiter is risky business because you can’t rely on their previous recruitment performance to assess how good they really are. Instead, you are 100% hiring on potential with the hope that they will become your next superstar recruiter. Additionally, the stakes are higher because you will be investing a lot of time and resources into training them, so you’re banking on a strong ROI to make it all worth it.

My top 5:

Over the years I’ve sought advice from fellow recruitment managers, researched recruitment blogs, read recruitment management books, and relied on good’ol trial-and-error to figure out what top 5 candidate attributes make a junior recruiter one that you can ‘bank on’. Luckily for you, I’ve shared them below with examples of questions that you can ask during the interview process:

1) Sales Experience

Recruitment is not HR. Recruitment is a marketing and sales job, and even more of a sales job if you’re hiring on the agency side. This is a fundamental requirement so the first thing I do when reviewing a resume is to scan for previous jobs in the sales industry. Aside from the obvious sales jobs such as a Sales Rep or Account Manager, look for previous work history in roles such as a bartender, server, retail associates, cell phone reps, travel consultants, car rental service agents, customer care agents etc. Basically look for any role where they’ve interacted with customers regularly, have been paid on some form of commission (including tips), had to overcome objections, influence and persuade, and have dealt with a lot of rejection.

Interview questions:

  1. Q) What do you love most about a job in sales?
  2. Q) What motivates you? (hint: if you are hiring a junior agency recruiter and they don’t mention MONEY at the top of their list then they’re probably not the right fit)

2) Competitive Streak

In today’s candidate-driven market companies are fighting to attract and hire scarce top talent and as a result our industry has never been more competitive. Whether agency or internal, the best recruiters are the ones who naturally hustle to compete and innately hate to lose. Look for evidence of a competitive streak in a resume such as playing sports or participating in competitions – these can often be found under the ‘Interests/Passions’ section of a resume.

Interview questions:

  1. Q) Would you describe yourself as competitive? And, if so, give me some examples of when you’ve had to compete.
  2. Q) Tell me about the last time that you needed to be competitive at work.

3)  Self-driven

Continuing along the same themes as points 1 & 2 above, recruiters need to be naturally self-driven (a.k.a self-motivated) to succeed our highly competitive, fast-paced, and often frustrating industry.  Motivating your team through the ‘roller coaster’ of ups and downs of recruitment is one of the most important aspects of your role as a manager, however external motivation has its limits. You want to hire those people who are born with the natural drive to be able to push through the relentless rejection and frustration that is part-and-parcel of being a recruiter.

Interview questions:

  1. Q) Tell me about a time when you’ve encountered adversity, and what motivated you to push through?
  2. Q) Would you describe yourself as self-motivated? If so, where do you think your self-motivation originates from? Then ask for some examples of where they’ve demonstrated it.

4) History of Completion

As commented above, recruitment is a challenging profession and you want to hire people who don’t give up easily and stay committed until the job is done. You want to hire people with a solid history of completion. An easy one to assess in a resume is whether the candidate has completed their educational studies and degrees – if courses and degrees are incomplete then this can be a red flag.

Interview questions:

  • What has been the hardest thing you’ve ever successfully completed? What motivated you to get the (job/task/project/course etc) done?
  • Trick question: What was the hardest thing that you weren’t able to complete? Why were you not able to see it through to completion?

5) Smart

I’m not talking about IQ and I don’t mean ‘book smart’. A candidate with a 4.0 GPA won’t necessarily make a good recruiter. If anything, EQ is far more important in recruitment. You need to hire a smart person who can rapidly assess a candidate’s intentions and motivations, think on their feet, and learn quickly – essentially someone who’s ‘street smart’. New challenges and obstacles are presented to recruiters every day, and you need someone smart enough to figure out how to solve them quickly with the resources available to them at the time.

Interview Questions:

  1. Q) Tell me about a time when you had to learn a job quickly without much supervision or guidance.
  2. Q) If you were asked to recruit a role that you didn’t understand, what steps would you take to figure it out?


Hiring a junior recruiter can sometimes be your best (and only) option when looking to grow your recruitment team. If you interview a candidate that ticks all 5 of these boxes, and you’re confident that they’ll be a good team-fit, then make them an offer quickly before your competition does!


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interview tips


With thousands of books, articles, blogs and courses that discuss the science and art behind ‘perfect’ interview questions, it’s easy to get overwhelmed on this topic. Throughout the last 10 years in my career I’ve learned that you don’t need to over-complicate interview questions and I prefer to keep my questions fairly simple and straightforward – Keep It Simple Stupid (as my dad used to tell me!).

Below are my top 12 interview questions that I like to use to gain an accurate, broad, and multidimensional understanding of a candidate to ensure the best possible long-term match for a specific job opportunity.

Note: I wont ask all of these questions in the same single interview, some of them are better suited for an initial phone screen conversation, and some of them are better suited for conversation during the offer stage.

1) Why did you apply to this position?
A good open-ended question to start the conversation. It will usually reveal the candidate’s main motivators (very important!),their current situation, and will provide a good basis to launch a productive conversation.

2) Why are you a [ insert: developer / project manager / architect etc] ?
Another very open-ended question that candidates will interpret differently from one to the next (but that’s ok!). Hopefully they will talk about the passion for their craft, what they like about it, and discuss the path that brought them to where they are today.

3) If i was a magic genie and could create you your dream job, what would it be?
This is a great question if you can’t quite peg down what the candidate is a fit for, or if you’re having trouble identifying whether the role is a good fit for a candidate. This question can also help to accurately ‘pipeline’ a candidate for future roles.

4) What’s your understanding of this position?
A good level-setter. During an interview I like to ensure that the candidate has an accurate understanding of the role that they are interviewing for, and this question should reveal any discrepancies or misunderstandings. Once they’ve answered this question, I’ll usually ask the hiring manager to explain the role in their own words and to cover off any discrepancies that have been revealed.

5) What are some of your key strengths as they relate to this position?
Most candidates will have a premeditated response to this popular question so I like to take it one step further by asking them to relate their strengths to the specific role they are interviewing for.

6) What do you love/hate about your current job?
This question can reveal a lot about the candidate’s personality, likes and dislikes and will help you to assess whether the role is really going to be an enjoyable and long-term fit for them.

7) What do you like to do for fun in your spare time?
It’s important to gain a complete understanding of the candidate and that includes their personality and interests outside of a professional work environment. This will help with culture fit assessment and will usually reveal interesting facts about a candidate that will keep the tone of the interview light and conversational.

8)Tell me about your long-term careers goals and how you feel this position fits into them.
Evaluating long-term fit is critical and this question will help you do this. I like to hear how the candidate feels about the long term fit, while I’ll also be making my own assessment.

9) Tell me about a single [project / task / event / product ] that you were involved in from start to finish that that you’re particularly proud of.
Taking a page out of Lou Adler’s book, this is a fantastic question that will reveal a lot about the candidate, and will create many opportunities for follow-up probing questions and conversations.

10) Tell me about your favourite manager and what about them made them so great?
Recruiters also need to evaluate whether the candidate is a good fit for the management style and personality of the hiring manager. This question will give you insight into this area and will help you make comparisons to evaluate a good overall team fit.

11) What concerns do you have about this opportunity?
This questions allows you to uncover, discuss and overcome any ‘red flags’ that the candidate could have about the role. It can also reveal any discrepancies or misunderstandings that the candidate may have. The quicker you can identify these, the more time you will have to overcome their objections and clear up any misunderstandings.

12) Compensation aside, why do you want this job?
Another page out of Lou Adler’s book, I’ll often ask this question during the offer stage to reduce the focus on salary and remind the candidate of the non-monetary reasons of why they should accept the position.


Asking good interview questions doesn’t need to be complicated or fancy. By keeping it simple and asking intelligent open-ended questions at the right time, a recruiter can easily gain a deep and broad understanding of a candidate to be able to make insightful and accurate assessments of their long term fit in a position and within an organisation.

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Enlightened by the Dark Side:

In 2013, after 8 great years of working in agency recruiting, I decided to change career paths slightly and switched to the ‘Dark Side’ (or ‘Light Side’ depending on which side you’re on!) and became an in-house recruiter at an international corporation with their global HQ in downtown Vancouver. Being on the Dark Side felt new and strange at first, but it didn’t take me long to adjust to my new environment and I’ve enjoyed the experience so much that I doubt I’ll ever go back to the agency world (or what I now refer to as the ‘Dark Side’). Working in house has allowed me to work with businesses at both the tactical and strategic level to design and execute successful recruitment campaigns for immediate and future need, which is a nice change from the transactional, ad-hoc based recruitment style of the agency world.

It also didn’t take long before the flood of cold calls from recruitment agencies wanting business from me started to fill up my voice mail, email and LinkedIn account. After 8 years of ‘hammering the phones’ for new business at agencies, it was an interesting and enlightening experience to be on the other side of a cold call, and I immediately realised how repetitive and annoying they are to listen to. Almost every day I’d have messages in my inbox or voice mail that sounded something along the lines of this:

“Hi Brian, I’m calling from XYZ recruitment agency and I see that you’re advertising for a ABC position. I specialise in the recruitment of ABC’s and have a great candidate for your role. Please call me back at…”

Sound familiar?

It sure sounded familiar to me as I was guilty of leaving the same message on voicemails all over Vancouver for the past 5 years! Sure, it worked sometimes, but not very often, which is no surprise seeing as all of my competitors were probably leaving the same message.


Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for… (drum roll please!)

What is the secret to building a solid client base for recruiters? After reflecting on this for a while, I’ve concluded that if I were ever to return to agency recruiting, I’d go about business development with an entirely different approach and here’s how:

1) The goal of the cold call should be to form a relationship with the HR representative or hiring manager as a CANDIDATE and not a CLIENT.

Sound simple? Well it is!

You’ll find that people are a lot more willing to take time and talk to you if you are offering them something. Instead of asking for business from a hiring manager or HR representative, offer to help them with their own career. In fact, make it clear that you don’t want their business and instead that you want to form a relationship so that you can confidentially notify them of career opportunities in the market. Don’t ask for something, instead give them something.

2) Don’t expect to get business for at least 6 – 12 months.

Go in with the expectation that you’re not going to get the business for at least 6 – 12 months and be ok with this. Take this time to build a deep relationship with them as a candidate and don’t be tempted to cross the line by offering to help them with their hiring.

3) Be genuine, keep it organic and don’t force it.

If you’ve done a good job of building a genuine candidate-based relationship with them, then you can be almost certain they’ll ask for your help eventually: “Hey, by the way, if you’ve got a great developer on your books then I’d be interested in seeing a resume…”

Also, if you’ve managed to place them in a new position during this time, the chances are that they’ll be picking up the phone to call you next time they look to expand their new team.



Separate yourself from your competitors by trying this approach. Even if they don’t become a client in the end, at least you’ve gained a good candidate (and maybe even a friend!).If they do become a client, then they’ll probably be one of the best and most loyal clients you’ll ever have.


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