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A recent Forbes article caught our eye with the title, “Ten Questions Recruiters Ask That Are None of Their Business”. We had a read through and… well, we have some quibbles (don’t get us wrong, we like Forbes). With a few exceptions, most of these questions that a recruitment consultant might ask a candidate are usually backed with a legitimate reason. We know this because we asked one of our consultants.

Maria is a distinguished recruitment professional who specialises in the Real Estate agency market. With over 15 years experience within the Built Environment Industry, Maria has worked both in-house and agency roles, giving her a holistic understanding of what a great recruitment process entails. So, we asked Maria to delve into her wealth of knowledge, to get into the mind of an established recruiter and find out for once and for all – are these questions really that bad? Here’s what we learnt…

Q: “What’s your current salary?”

A: “None of your business.”

Actually, it is. If (and it’s a big if) they try to use your answer to put you forward for a lower paid job than the one you already have (or a role that you have no interest in whatsoever, but simply matches the figures on the salary you disclosed) then we encourage you to sass them seven ways to Sunday. However, a reputable consultant isn’t trying to swindle you, theyre simply trying to gage your expectations.

While you would normally be entitled to huff at this brazen line of questioning from a relative stranger, this is a pretty normal thing for a recruitment consultant to ask you. It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s hard for a recruiter to negotiate on your behalf if they have no clue what you’re earning already. A quality recruitment consultant will use that information to track down the best possible market rate for you and ensure that you get a genuine career opportunity – or the equivalent of a promotion.

Q: “What do you dislike about your current job?”

A: “No tea, no shade, but-“

Granted, there are better ways of phrasing this question (we’ll get to that in a moment). However, there’s no need to be taken aback if a recruitment consultant does ask you this – they’re not just looking for you to dish a bit of dirt on your organisation.

Think about it: through knowing what you aren’t satisfied with, a recruitment consultant can then more easily identify what sort of culture and environment would best suit your preferences. Frustrated with being micromanaged? They could look to place you under a manager with an engaging leadership style. Is your current role too repetitive? They could try to find you a role of a more varied nature.

That being said, while the motive behind the query is innocent enough, they could word it better. For example, a better, more open-ended way to say this would be, “why are you looking to move?”

Q: “Which other companies are you interviewing with, and where do you stand in those interview pipelines?”

A: “Why do you need to know that?”

Knowing where you stand with other potential roles, and how far along you are in the interview process, will allow the recruiter to determine the urgency of putting you forward for other opportunities – so they can negotiate the best possible package for you. This also means that they will be better informed to liaise with the employer about who they are up against, so they can explain what they would need to do to secure you for their business.

Q: “What is the lowest salary you would accept?”

A: : *mouth agape, awkward silence ensues*

They’re trying to loop the wool over your eyes and bundle you into a role so poorly paid you’ll be dressed in rags and counting pennies for the rest of your wretched, frugal existence!

…aren’t they? Let’s do a bit of scene setting.

A recruitment consultant finds a role they suspect is ideal for you.

You know, the whole shebang; lovely people, fascinating job, a dream cultural fit, offices to envy Google – which they tell you. They call the client and let them know about you. The client is excited to meet you. The recruiter then gets in touch with you to confirm the details…only for you to mention that actually, the salary isn’t really high enough for you to accept. Much too low, in fact. Then the recruiter has to call the client and not only disappoint them by disclosing that they actually won’t be able to meet you – their dream candidate – but also makes themselves look like they haven’t done their homework in the process.

In other words, the recruitment consultant needs to know your minimum expectations before they try and negotiate a package with the client. A big part of their job is liaising between the candidate and the client, so if the recruiter wants to maintain a reputation for being consistent, they need a very concrete idea of what each side is looking for. As for thinking they’re going to try to put you in a low paid role, remember that recruiters make commission through getting a percentage of your salary – so it’s in their interest to try and get you as high a salary as possible.

Q: “Have you ever been dismissed from a job?”

A:  “I’m not sure how that is relevant.”

Fair enough – this question is a bit iffy. A recruitment consultant might go over your CV and ask why you left previous positions to understand your motives and what circumstances you would like to avoid in future, but it isn’t really their place to ask directly if you’ve ever been sacked. Feel free to proceed with caution.

Q: “How’s your financial situation?”

A: “I don’t see how that is any of your business.”

Don’t worry, we agree – this isn’t something that a recruitment consultant has much of a right to ask you at any stage. Whether you’re juggling overdrafts like an indebted acrobat or frantically siphoning your millions into offshore accounts in the Bahamas, your personal finances aren’t their business.

Q: “How long have you been job-hunting?”

A: “Enough to pay for LinkedIn premium so you had better be worth it.”

This is simply a means of determining where you’ve been and how unique your CV is. It’s helpful for a recruitment consultant to know how long and how actively you’ve been searching for so the same efforts aren’t being made more than once. Also, if you have applied for a fair amount of jobs, it lets the know what you are going for and up against so recruiter can negotiate what is best for you.

Q: “What kinds of pay increases have you received at your current job?”

A: “Is that information truly necessary?”

Not a heinous question – but really, the current salary should be the main point of focus here, so although it could be used to determine how you’ve been rewarded for your efforts, it’s not a particularly necessary one.

Q: “Are you working with any other recruiters?”

A: “I am actively job hunting.”

You’ll be hard pressed to find a recruiter who doesn’t ask this! This question is ESSENTIAL to prevent the duplication of efforts. A company may choose two or three recruitment agencies to recruit for the same position – so it’s handy for your recruitment consultant to have an idea of what organisation they’re up against, and where your CV has gone.

Be warned – highstreet agencies may saturate the market with your details, so it is best advised to have control over where your CV does go. A professional agency will devise a target list and see what opportunities are there.

Q: “ How badly do you need a job?”

A: “I am open to the right opportunity.”

Hmm – again, dodgy phrasing – but a recruiter will do a much better job of getting you what you want if they know how urgently you need to be back in work. If you’re in a position where you’re prepared to wait for a role that’s just right, the recruitment consultant will know that they can spend more time doing research and making enquiries and really trying to source you your dream job. In any case, a good recruitment consultant will naturally do their best to ensure that the roles they put you forward for tick all your boxes, but they might make more flexible suggestions to you if time is of the essence.

When you take everything into consideration – yes, there are certain details about your circumstances that are nobody else’s business but your own. Whether consultants chose to ask these questions or not is dependant on their experience, intentions and reputablility. We hope this Q&A has helped you to clarify between the necessary information and the damn right nosey.

If you were content in your current position then you wouldn’t bee seeking the services of a recruitment consultant in the first place. You know that, we know that, they know that – so why do some of these questions spark so much suspicion? Recruitment consultants aren’t out to get you. Most of the time, the recruitment consultant is simply trying to understand your circumstances. The more they know about you, your expectations and your non-negotiables, the better they can cater to your aspirations.

It’s best to be open and honest with your recruitment consultant, afterall, they’re on your side.

Credit: Clare Toner/Thea Fraser

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