Over cocktails with my friend J. last week, she mentioned her challenges finding Java programmers for her team. She had tried to partner with several recruiters. But the candidate pipeline she was seeing was as thin as a rail. She needed one recruiter whom she could trust to place programmers well-matched to her unique needs.


That recruiter was quite decidedly NOT me, as my software engineering days are — literally — from the last century.

But my blood orange margarita jogged my memory. I was able to recommend a few recruiters to J. Her next challenge was how to figure out if those recruiters were the right fit for her needs.

Here are some approaches we discussed.

Questions To Ask A Potential Recruiting Partner

1. Show me an email you used to reach out to a prospective candidate.

A good outreach is personalized and straightforward without being coy or pushy. It helps the recipient see ‘why me’ and encourages them to engage. Sadly, most of us have collections of bad recruiting outreach emails that fail to  accomplish this.

By seeing examples of outreach emails you will get a sense of the personality and approach of the recruiter.

If you are going to be recruiting analytical marketers, remember that they have a high bar for the messaging they receive. They can sniff BS from miles away, and the best ones will receive multiple outreaches. (Same goes for programmers, by the way.) An empty claim that “This is the best opportunity you’ll ever see” can make someone yawn. By contrast, a message that can make the right people perk up could be: “If you want to be a CMO someday, this role is good preparation, since you’d gain exposure across the marketing spectrum.”

2. Please do a mock recruiting call with me.

Few executives know how their company and job openings are being conveyed by recruiters. I find this surprising. In a typical recruiting project I could speak with 200 people, some of whom inevitably turn out to be prospective customers of my client. I have started offering a mock recruiting call, where the hiring manager pretends to be a candidate and we role-play a call where I engage them and provide an overview of the role.

Just as you’d help a new salesperson to effectively pitch your services, practicing with a recruiter can help to verify and hone your recruiting message. That said, a mock call is obviously a bit of a hack, since every conversation is dynamic and a good recruiter will personalize the pitch to each candidate.

3. What similar searches have you done, and how does your past experience — successful and unsuccessful — inform your proposed approach to this project?

The right recruiter will advise you. They will show if, and how, they’ve learned from past experiences. For instance, maybe the best candidates for your role are being wooed by multiple companies, so the recruiter will recommend a blitzkrieg approach, compressing the timeframe and interviewing on nights and weekends to land talent ahead of the competition. Or maybe you are looking for candidates who’ll trade off some salary for equity, and the recruiter can help you position that upfront and identify people with a history of embracing so-called ‘high-beta’ opportunities.

4. How will you get to know us and the role?

Will the recruiter camp out in your office for a day or more? Who will they want to meet? What questions will they ask during the onboarding? Are you comfortable with the process and commitment of the recruiter to get to know the nuances of your company and opportunity so that they can match you with the right candidates?

5. How well are you known to the top candidates for this role? Why would they know you? Why would they return your call?

When you are choosing a recruiter, you are choosing someone who will represent you. It’s a lot like hiring a salesperson. It’s important to engage someone who will get their calls answered, by dint of their reputation, style, and/or knowledge base.

6. How will you source candidates? How does your approach change when things get tough?

Good talent is scarce. It’s scarce for J.’s future developers, and it’s scarce for analytical marketing talent. When talent is scarce, a recruiter needs to borrow approaches from sales and marketing.

Just as the old ‘spray and pray’ methods to market a product seldom work, a ‘post and pray’ approach to recruiting is likely to yield only limited results. Listen for methods of fishing where the fish are. To market successfully to talent, a strong recruiter’s arsenal will include, at the least, a personal network in your area of expertise, plus knowledge of specific relevant companies, trade organizations, conferences, websites, and networking events.

By understanding how your recruiter has adapted and expanded their approach when things got tough, you will see whether they have the creativity to adapt and the tenaciousness to stick to your project.

The bottom line: Doing due diligence to find the right recruiter can help make sure that recruiter turns up — rather than turns away – great candidates.