Top 10 Candidate Questions aka Why Executive Recruiters "Qualify" You

My name is Mark Wayman, and for the last eleven years I have owned an Executive Recruiting firm focused on gaming and high tech. Compensation starts at $100,000; last year I placed eight executives north of a million dollars.

This article explains the types of questions you can expect when engaging an Executive Recruiter, and why we ask those questions. I focus on executives in the $100,000 to $1,000,000 compensation category, however these answers are relevant at all levels. Every time a Recruiter submits a candidate for a job, their reputation is on the line, so there is due diligence to ensure the candidate is a strong match for the open position. Three important points to remember about Executive Recruiters.

1.Executive Recruiters Get People for Jobs, NOT Jobs for People - If we don't stay focused on filling our open searches...we don't eat. We don't have the time to play career coach or figure out how to get a candidate placed. Our focus is on the clients, and filling open jobs.

2.The Wrong Time to Meet a Recruiters is When You are Unemployed - The best Executive Recruiters only work with executives they know personally, or were that were referred from their professional network. Our clients expect us to have a strong knowledge of the candidates, so we can't accept cold calls or unsolicited resumes. Make sure you have a good relationship with at least one Recruiter while you are gainfully employed. Recruiters rarely represent unemployed executives.

3.I Have Jockeys, I Need Horses - My horse trainer used to tell me this. Horses pay the bills, not jockeys. In Recruiting, hiring companies (clients) pay the bills, not candidates. Yes, Recruiters need high quality candidates, but make no mistake; the focus is on the searches. Recruiters can get 10 more candidates, however replacing even a single client because a candidate was unprofessional during an interview...is a major challenge.

OK, on to those ten questions. You are probably wondering, "What if a candidate refuses to answer the questions?" Then I won't represent them. I only want to work with executives of integrity that realize this is a partnership. No Recruiter needs a candidate that wants to be secretive or play coy. So here are the questions, and a translation of what they mean.

What is your current (or most recent) base salary?

The company is going to get this information, period. They can ask your last employer for title, compensation and tenure. The Recruiter needs to ensure you are "in range" for the position. If you are $100,000 and the job is $300,000, you are probably not senior enough. If you are $200,000 and the job pays $100,000 the Recruiter won't be able to meet your compensation requirements. Do not lie! Give your base salary and total compensation. Do not spin. Do not embellish. I guarantee you this...you will get caught.

What is your desired base salary?

This is used to weed out unrealistic expectations. I routinely have executives at $100,000 ask for $150,000 to $200,000. That is just not going to happen. Even if I believe you are worth that number, Human Resources is going to shoot me down. Companies do not give fifty to one hundred percent salary increases. 20% to 25% is reasonable. I drop a significant number of candidates due to their unrealistic expectations. They are good, solid people, however they have an inflated opinion of their abilities. Kind of like when people sell a house - they typically price it way too high.

If you are in transition, please give me a one or two line synopsis of why you left the last company.

You know how many people told me they got fired? Out of 20,000, maybe two? It is REALLY important that you are honest with the Recruiter on why you left. If it comes out later that you lied, you are going to be dropped from consideration. If you are already on payroll, you WILL be fired. I have a Casino President that would not tell me why he left. Finally he said, "I did not make my numbers" and I replied, "Maybe your number were not realistic." There are plenty of good reasons to leave a company. Don't be shy - be honest!

If you are gainfully employed, please give me a one or two line synopsis on why you are looking for a new career opportunity.

Career advancement is the best answer. Worst answer? Complaining about your company or your boss. You will be dropped like a bad habit. A lateral is OK, but most executives are looking for a bigger title and/or a bump in compensation. Remember to stay focused on the OPPORTUNITY. There is nothing worse than a candidate that provides a line by line breakdown of their compensation. Recruiters don't like it; hiring companies don't like it.

To which companies have you applied to in the last 12 months?

Be honest! If you have applied to the hiring company in the last 12 months, the Recruiter CAN NOT REPRESENT YOU. And don't ask them to "do you a favor" and recommend you. At the end of the day, this is a for-profit business. Another big tip - if you are applying to online job postings, don't contact a Recruiter. We get paid very well to find the best of the best, not executives that spam their resume. If you are applying to a $50 LinkedIn ad, the hiring company has no reason to pay a Recruiter.

To which recruiters have you submitted your resume in the last 12 months?

Again, be honest! If you are using one or two Recruiters you know personally, perfect. More than two is spamming, and smells like desperation. Personally, I look at which Recruiters the candidate is using as well. I'm 25%, so if they are being represented by a 15% Recruiter, I am out. Not judging. I like Costco, but I get my suits at Sak's and Nordrsom's. You are trusting your career with the Recruiter; don't use a discounter.

Can you relocate nationwide?

If you can relocate, you will have more opportunities. If not, focus locally. Keep in mind the Recruiter probably has a specific role that he is filling, and if that is not in your city, you will need to relocate. When someone says they need a job in a specific city other than the West Coast, I recommend they find a Recruiter in that city to represent them.

Do you have any contingencies (have to sell your house, spouse needs to find a job)?

This is not IBM in the 1960s. No one is going to buy your house off you. And it's not the Recruiters responsibility to find your spouse a job. Contingencies translate to you performing the job search on your own. Recruiters like flexible executives that will do whatever it takes to move their career forward.

Do you have a non-compete?

If I have one more guy tell me his Brother is an Attorney and his non-compete is not valid...I'm going to cry. There is exactly one thing a Recruiter can get sued for - knowingly placing an executive that is in violation of a non-compete. We don't do it, ever. If your non-compete is geographic (Nevada or Las Vegas for example), you will be relocating if you want to make a career change. If there is any ambiguity, I let the hiring company General Counsel review the verbiage and make the call.

All positions require a Compliance check (criminal record, tax lien, DUI, bankruptcy, foreclosure) and drug test. Do you have ANYTHING in your background that will show up on a background check?

Most of my companies are in regulated industries, so criminal record or a failed drug test is a deal breaker. Companies don't want to hire people that make bad personal decisions. Again, I'm not judging. These are the rules, and Recruiters have to play by them. More recently, bankruptcies, foreclosures and short sales are subjective.