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Mark Shortall Managing Director

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Interview Preparation for Recruiters

A guide into interview stages and common focus areas to help with preparation.

The role of a recruiter is hugely demanding. We're expected to be candidate whisperers, sourcing wizards, growth marketers, data analysts, innovative and completely emotionally immune to the general chaos and lack of control. You probably thrive on this unpredictability and variation, but it makes interviewing tough, especially when mixed with nerves.

I speak to a lot of recruiters who give high-level, unstructured answers, and I completely understand why. I'd be terrible if I had to interview tomorrow, and I still shudder when I think about my last interview at Facebook. 

I've broken this guide into interview stages and common focus areas to help you structure your thoughts. It's a work in progress, and I'd love to crowdsource advice from others so reach out if you'd like to guest blog or have any tips to share.

I hope you find this useful!

10 Qualities of a Great Recruiter

Self-Awareness & Humility 

The key to interviewing well is to be authentic and genuine with your answers. Reflect on your career, what went well, what didn't, what you enjoy, and what you can offer. Can you articulate the lessons you've learned and constructive feedback you're working on? Have you proactively looked for opportunities to upskill or learn a new approach?

Go through your past performance reviews and speak to a trusted colleague or friend to get their feedback. Frame your examples with facts and feedback you've received to avoid overselling yourself. It's important to know your value-add and strengths but be self-aware enough to know your faults.  Show your humility and growth mindset.

Concise Communication

Communication style is often the main reason for rejection. You're juggling multiple open roles, hiring managers, and projects. Your role is insanely busy, so you're destined to give surface-level answers without preparation. It's really important to take the advice you'd give to your candidates. Prepare your examples in detail and refine them into a compelling short story using the following structure: CARL (Context – Action – Result - Learning) or START (Situation - Task - Action - Result)


The ability to use data to drive decisions and influence change is key to becoming more than a transactional recruiter. Time to hire, source of hire, offer acceptance rates, and candidate experience scores are just the basics. Go further and try to think about any times you optimised a process by analysing the available data.

How have you used data to evaluate the past, plan for the future, and influence others to change? The quickest way to show that you're a credible business partner is to present yourself as data-driven. There'll be times that you'll have to make a decision without precise data, especially in a start-up environment. Think about your approach in this scenario and how you might bring order to chaos.

Positivity & Resilience

Life in a start-up or scale-up can be gruelling. How have you coped with constant change, lack of clarity, and sky-high expectations? Can you talk through how you managed an unexpected hiring spike or how you've driven a project through the painful implementation and iteration stage?

It's important to prepare examples to show how you've persevered and picked yourself back up after a setback. You need to show that you can tackle problems and present solutions with a positive mindset.

Proactivity & Influencing Skills

Prepare examples to show how you build a pipeline of talent ahead of headcount, how you've identified gaps in a process, and how you've influenced others to make a change. When did you last highlight something that could be improved? Have you fought to make this change and influenced others, or just let it go? Companies are looking for a proactive builder and not just a passenger to an existing broken process. 


Tech and new tools will continue to shape how companies recruit but can't replace the personal touch that's needed to build relationships and attract the best talent. Consistently creating incredible experiences for candidates and hiring managers takes empathy. What have you done to improve your candidate and hiring manager experience? What have you learned from times that you dropped the ball?


To become a better version of yourself, it's important to question everything and consistently ask why. John Vlastelica's blog "Why Curiosity Might Be the Most Important Skill for Recruiters" is well worth a read. If you struggle to think of creative examples, ignite your curiosity and start working on opening your mind to new perspectives and approaches. Subscribe to Hung Lee's Recruiting Brainfood or join DBR's Slack channel for some inspiration from others.

The Dreaded CV Update

Your experience of reviewing 1000's of CVs doesn't make it any less painful when you need to update your own. It's everyone's least favourite task but do yourself justice by spending more time here. You'll have 5-10 seconds to make a first impression, but it'll make your life much easier during the interview process as well. Here are some simple tips to help and a downloadable CV template below:

Easy on the eyes

It comes down to personal taste, but I follow some straightforward rules when tailoring the layout of a CV:

  • Two pages maximum. It's ok if you need more space, but you could likely cut back. Try to make it as compelling as possible and remove anything generic that's not highlighting your unique experience.
  • Clean layout, plenty of white space and no boxes. There are lots of flashy templates you could use, but I think you can't go wrong with a classic clean and simple design.
  • Use Calibri 11 font with minimal pops of colour to draw the readers eye and frame each section. Use of italics, bold or uppercase should be used very sparingly. Don't be tempted to decrease the font size to squeeze your CV into two pages.
  • No photo or company logos. Include a link to your LinkedIn profile instead.

Opening elevator pitch

This should be no more than 3-4 lines to highlight your experience and why you're an obvious fit for the role you're applying for. The aim is to grab the reader’s attention to continue reading so avoid generic descriptive words like “Highly motivated, dynamic”. Take a look at the key requirements section in the job advert and try to answer these points in your opening statement.

Concise content

The biggest mistake is to list bullet points that read like a job description. Be ruthless with your editing. If it's not impactful, cut it out. The content should be achievement led and unique to you. You'll have 45 - 60 minutes in an interview to talk through your examples, so the bullet points are just conversation starters. Cut the daily responsibilities that are assumed in your role and use this space to demonstrate tangible achievements and the impact you've had. Be selective and highlight approx five accomplishments to sell your experience. Try to quantify your achievements where possible to show you're fluent with data.

Set the scene

Ask yourself if the potential similarities in org structure and growth are crystal clear to the reviewer. Insert a line to describe your company if you're not working with a household brand. Include your reporting line and size of the company/office/organisation/region you support.

Focus on your recent roles

Only give detailed achievements for your last few positions to save space. It’s unlikely that the older experience will be as relevant so you can just list dates and titles.

Hobbies & Interests

Only include this section if your hobbies are genuinely interesting :) This is usually the last chance to impress on a CV so don't close it out with generic interests like travelling and socialising with friends.

                Attention to detial

If your CV is messy, the interviewer might assume your communication to stakeholders will be the same. Avoid typos and easy-to-fix formatting problems. Share it with friends or trusted colleagues to proofread and get their constructive feedback. Save a word copy but send as a pdf and don't forget to fix the file title - MarkShortallCV2020(2) isn't ideal.

I'm hoping this advice is helpful and here is a downloadable template to follow. If you're still struggling, feel free to send your CV to me, and I'll give honest feedback.

Download a CV template (.docx)

Passing the Initial Screen

This first conversation will be a high-level assessment of your background, motivations and interest in the role. Here is a mock interview with some sample questions and thoughts on what the interviewer is probably looking for:

It would be great to get a summary of your experience starting from __________.

Prepare an engaging snapshot of your career (ideally, 5 mins max). This is the first assessment of your communication style, so be structured and concise. Practice your storytelling approach to avoid sounding like you're just going through the motions or overly rehearsed. Setting energy levels at this stage is critical, and it's important to be open and authentic from the outset to leave a lasting impression.

Tell me more about your current role. How is the recruiting team structured? What roles do you recruit and how many reqs do you usually manage?

The interviewer wants to gauge how you align with their approach to TA. Research and map the company's recruiting org structure. From their job description and your company research, anticipate if they're looking for a high-volume recruiter or a niche specialist. If you're a generalist looking after tech and non-tech, tailor your examples to the role. 

Do you partner with agencies, or do _____ have a direct sourcing model? What sourcing channels do you use and what do you find most effective?

Prepare your basic stats and metrics (% Referrals, Sourced vs Agency, Time-to-hire, offer acceptance rates, etc.). Present yourself as data-driven at the earliest possible stage to establish your credibility as a business partner. Show you're more than a transactional recruiter who relies on applications by highlighting your proactive approach to pipelining. Prepare to talk about your strategy and toolkit for building your top of funnel. Have a creative sourcing example ready and don't feel pressure to talk about StackOverflow, Github or social media hacks if you're not comfortable backing it up in more detail. 

Take me through the recruitment process at your company. What works well, and what would you change?

This is a subtle way of assessing how solution focussed, curious, and positive you are. Prepare your constructive opinions to show that you're actively invested in continually improving the candidate/hiring manager experience. When did you last highlight something that could be developed? Did you push to make this change and influenced others or just let it go? 

Do you get the opportunity to work on projects outside of delivering hires? Tell me about a project you managed and the impact it had on the team or the company?

Give insight into how strategic project management skills and how you've added value beyond the very basic expectation of filling roles. Show you're a bar raiser with a bias to action which can help shape and define processes. How do you measure the success of a project? How did you collaborate and take people on a change journey with you?

Tell me about a time you had an indecisive or difficult stakeholder. How did you overcome this?

Managers don't want to hand-hold and need recruiters who can push back and have the confidence to manage stakeholders autonomously. How do you build credibility and foster a true partnership within your hiring group? Think of examples of when you were able to shift a hiring managers opinion of recruiting from just an order-taker to a strategic partner. 

What is the biggest challenge you've faced in your current role/career?

Growth mindset, resilience, and positivity are essential. Give an authentic example to show how you've taken ownership of your mistakes, overcome a bad situation, and learned from it. Show that you can tackle setbacks or tough feedback and bounce back.

How is your performance measured? What feedback do you receive about your performance?

Frame your examples with facts and feedback you've received from others to avoid overselling yourself. It's a delicate balance between confidence and ego. Know your value-add and strengths but be self-aware enough to know your faults and what you need to work on.

What are you typically the go-to person for in your team?

This is a less direct way of asking what your strengths are. Think about what the team or your manager comes to you for. Maybe you are known for being a strong stakeholder manager, passionate about candidate experience or systems?  

Thinking about your next career move, what is important to you? What do you need to see in the next company and role? Why are you interested in this role?

When I worked at Facebook, we were looking for people who genuinely identified with the mission and didn't just want to work with a big brand. Make sure your answer aligns with the goals of the company you're interviewing with. Why would you be proud to be the brand ambassador of this company? Focus on your career growth and the impact you can have in the role.

Do you have any questions about the role or concerns?

This is your last chance to leave a lasting impression, so take the information you've gathered from the interviewer and show you've been actively listening. Highlight your enthusiasm for the role by having thoughtful questions prepared. Don't wrap up the interview by asking basic questions that can be asked at a later stage or after you receive positive feedback.

45 Sample Questions for Onsite Stages

The onsite interview stage is usually broken into defined focus areas. I've made some generalisations and grouped sample questions under four main focus areas. It's a long list, so don't be overwhelmed!

I've created this public gDoc that you can download and delete the questions that might not be relevant. Use the gDoc as a guide to create your structured answers using the CARL (Context - Action - Recruiter - Learning) technique where suitable.

Do you have a question to add? Send it on and let's crowdsource the most frequently asked questions.

Attraction & Assessment

  • Tell me about the most challenging search you've worked on.
  • What attraction/sourcing channels do you find most useful, and why?
  • Talk me through your search strategy to find a [job title].
  • Create a Boolean string to search for a [job title].
  • What are your favourite tools for finding, tracking, and following up with candidates?
  • Take me through how you craft an inMail. What selling points do you usually highlight to passive candidates?
  • Take me through how you improved your messaging to candidates. Have you tracked response rate? What have you observed, and what have you identified as the most effective way to attract passive talent?
  • How do you sell your current company to a passive candidate working with a competitor?
  • Give me an example of when you had a particularly passive candidate. How did you manage to “convert” them to an “active” one? What techniques did you use and what worked particularly well?
  • How do you assess a candidate for culture fit and technical skills?
  • What challenges do you think you'll face attracting candidates to join our company?

Process Management

  • Take me through the recruitment process at your current company. What works well, and what would you change?
  • Describe step by step the best practice hiring process you would follow to find a [job title].
  • Give me an example of when you were asked to recruit for a profile or business area you were unfamiliar with. Walk me through the entire process you followed.
  • How do you prioritise your open roles? What would you do if you had to manage twice as many?
  • How have you prioritised an exceptionally busy workload? How and what have you communicated to your Manager and your stakeholders?
  • Tell me about the last two times you used data to influence someone or change a process.
  • Have you recently used any new tools or methods to streamline your workload?

Stakeholder Management 

  • What questions do you ask a hiring manager to understand their essential requirements?
  • What information from hiring managers is particularly useful for you when kicking-off the recruiting process?
  • Describe your relationship with your last three hiring managers.
  • How do you set priorities with multiple hiring managers who are all under equal pressure to hire?
  • Tell me about a great partnership you had with a hiring manager.
  • Tell me about a time you had an indecisive or difficult hiring manager.
  • Tell me about a time you pushed back on a hiring manager to manage their expectations.
  • Tell me about a time when you collaborated with a team to fill a challenging position.
  • What do you need from a hiring partner to be successful?

Best Practice & Strategy

  • Tell me about a time you used data to improve the hiring process.
  • How do you measure candidate experience? What does a great candidate experience look like?
  • What does diversity mean to you?
  • How do you ensure your candidate pipeline is diverse?
  • How do you manage bias during the recruitment process?
  • Describe your experience with referral programs. What worked well, and what would you change?
  • What steps would you take to review and improve our employer brand?
  • How do you measure the effectiveness of a talent acquisition function?
  • What steps would you take to review and improve the time to hire and cost per hire?
  • How do you measure the quality of hire?
  • How could we improve our recruitment process based on your experience so far?
  • What trends do you think will shape the industry over the next few years?
  • What are you doing to become a better recruiter?
  • How have you evolved as a recruiter? What specific skills have you developed that make you best in class today?

Culture & Values

  • Why are you interested in our company? How much do you know about our products?
  • Which one of our values do you identify with most?
  • What is the toughest challenge you've faced in your career so far?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to adapt quickly to internal changes.
  • Describe the culture at your current company. What are the challenges?
  • Describe a great week in your role. What motivates you, and what do you find frustrating?
  • Tell me about a time when you and a teammate/manager disagreed.
  • Describe a situation where you mentored a colleague or took the lead on a project.
  • How do you like to be managed? Describe your relationship with your current manager.
  • Tell me about a time when you spotted a problem that needed to be solved.
  • Tell me about a time when you made a terrible judgement or faced an unexpected roadblock. What did you learn from this?
  • How would your current manager/team describe you? What areas are you working on that wouldn't be your main strength?
  • Tell me about a time when you received feedback that was difficult to hear.
  • What are you typically the go-to person for in your team or company? What areas have you been asked to train the team on?

Tips from an Interview Performance Coach

Recruiters are experts at advising others but often struggle when it comes to their interview preparation. You've interviewed hundreds of people, so you'll either take shortcuts in your preparation or overthink everything. Aleksandra Durand-Mac is an Interview Performance Coach, and I asked her to help.

Aleks has over ten years' in-house recruiting experience with LinkedIn, PayPal, eBay, and Google. She launched her own interview coaching business, Here2Coach, to help people maximise their chances of securing their dream role. Here are some of her thoughts to help with your prep:

Becoming interview ready.

Don't leave your preparation for the night before an interview. You'll be more calm, confident, and natural if you give yourself extra time to reflect on your career. Here are some tips to help bridge the gap between the "every-day you" and the "interview-ready you."

Think about what makes you successful. It is interesting how many of my clients find this question challenging. They are assuming and guessing rather than answering with conviction. Ask yourself:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What gives you a great sense of joy, and why?
  • Why do your stakeholders love you?
  • Why do colleagues ask for your guidance?
  • Why did your manager put you on a shortlist for promotion?

The recurring theme I see with my clients is that they can easily talk about their operational expertise but struggle when it comes to knowing themselves or comfortably talking about it. It is such common practice to focus on the job description, research of the company, that the true "I" can be neglected. These questions are often answered generically with little genuine insight. Your authentic "why" will make you stand out and differentiate yourself.

I’ve written a more detailed blog about the topic of always being interview ready with six practical steps which you might find useful.

The importance of storytelling.

Storytelling might sound a bit cliché, but it is so vital when it comes to interview preparation. Concise, structured stories allow you to attach emotion and passion to your career to bring everything to life. By definition, storytelling forges connection amongst people. Like any other skill, storytelling can be learned and developed.

The two most effective techniques to practice storytelling in an interview is the STAR or CARL technique. You have likely advised your candidates to use this approach, so take your advice and don't give high-level unstructured examples. I am a big fan of the CARL (Context - Action - Result - Learning) technique as it emphasises your ability to reflect. To wrap up your answer with impact and make it more memorable, ask yourself these questions:

  • Why have I picked this particular example?
  • What have I learned from this situation?
  • How has this experience made me change my view?

Don't cut out the feelings and use expressions that reflect exactly how you felt in those situations. Use language like "I loved how that conversation made me change my mind on..." or "I felt quite frustrated initially but continued with the project…". This allows the interviewer to get a more rounded picture of you and your personality. Growth mindset is key in recruitment, and no fellow recruiter is expecting someone to be perfect. It's ok to make mistakes, own up to them, be humble, and show how you learned from them.

Use your insider knowledge.

You've probably interviewed thousands of candidates in your career and had countless conversations with your hiring managers on why they selected a candidate over another. You've heard numerous times why someone who, in your view, was an excellent match, just did not cut it.

Work backwards. Think of all those conversations, and some solid reflections will start to surface for you. Why was candidate A far more experienced yet far less impressive than candidate B? What made the Hiring Manager willing to "take a risk" and moving to offer with candidate C despite them missing the point from the "must-haves" list?

Take all of these reflections and analyse your prepared examples. Could you be more concise? Are you genuinely excited about the example you picked? Are you being honest or cringing at the idea of selling yourself?

In conclusion, to strengthen your chances of success think beyond the standard type of preparation. There are always different angles than can give you an edge. Do you have a personal affinity with the brand, and are a brand ambassador already? Have you found things in common with the interviewer when researching their profile? Find a good time to mention it during the interview, and your chances of being more memorable will be higher.

Advice from other Recruiters

 "Interviewing is like getting a drivers license and only driving 7-10 times in your life. Driving that infrequently wouldn't make you that great of a driver. In fact, you'd probably need to practice A LOT every time you had to go out for a drive. Interviewing is the same. It's a skill you need to build since you only do it a handful of times in your life. And once you have the skills, you have to practice to stay fresh!" 

Ginny Cheng - Head of Recruiting

"Prepare examples to showcase how you're a strategic partner who truly understands the landscape rather than being an order taker. We can tend to focus on filling high volumes without highlighting our ability to analyse and put strategic plans in place. It's important to think about the times you've had meaningful conversations with the business to understand their needs. Recruiters can sometimes rely on assumptions, so show your ability to underpin your advice and execution with real data."

Elizabeth Murphy - Talent Acquisition Partner

Have advice to share? Reach out!