Recruiting in the Age of the Savvy Candidate

tough questions

If you’ve heard candidates ask any of the following during your latest interview, you’re not alone: How much of your stock is common versus preferred? What’s the most hours per week that any employee at your office works? Isn’t offering unlimited vacation time just a ploy to get employees to take less time off?

In today’s increasingly transparent society, candidates are asking more and more pointed questions. Transparency has essentially become a movement, expected in every field from politics to entertainment to manufacturing. No matter the industry, hopeful candidates expect the same from the companies they apply to — so recruiters on the receiving end feel the pressure to meet them halfway. But making sure that candidates feel they have a satisfying answer while keeping sensitive information on a need-to-know basis is a delicate balance.

To successfully walk that tightrope, follow this three-pronged approach.

Call a Team Huddle

If you don’t answer certain questions, there’s a good chance that other companies will — and when a candidate is weighing more than one offer, clear-cut information can make the difference between an acceptance and a rejection. Keep in mind that candidates know a beat-around-the-bush response when they hear one, so leave those to the sleazy used car dealers. Instead, provide real, substantive answers to candidates — something made much easier by involving the whole team.

Hold a meeting with the senior HR team and other key leaders to discuss the questions you’ve been getting recently, and decide which ones you feel comfortable addressing and at what point in the recruiting funnel. While you’re at it, take a crack at discussing which questions haven’t come up yet, but that you feel might reasonably make an appearance. Every company is going to feel differently about what information they want to reveal, but take note that more and more companies are looping candidates into what their valuations, stock options, and growth rates are.

Draw Up Your Cheat Sheet

One of the most helpful things your team can do to stay in sync on sensitive questions is compiling a Frequently Asked Questions from Candidates list, complete with the officially approved answers. After finalizing the document, hand it out to recruiters and hiring managers so they know what to expect.

But while a list like this is helpful in providing messaging and guidelines for responding to touchy subjects, you don’t want to read straight off of the document. There’s no bigger turnoff for candidates than a generic, rehearsed answer. Get your main points across, but feel free to translate exact wording from corporate speak into your own voice and really level with a candidate about what it means. And this should go without saying, but for the record, don’t leave that cheat sheet anywhere that candidates might stumble upon it.

Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Your Ground

Of course, no matter how well-prepared you are, there’s always the chance that a candidate will ask certain questions that you’re just not willing to answer. Precise diversity numbers, history of equity, and turnover rates are just a few examples of things that many companies keep under wraps, even among current employees.

So if a candidate asks anything that crosses the line, don’t feel obligated to cave in. There’s nothing wrong with telling a candidate that as a rule, your company doesn’t release that information publicly. But you should nevertheless give them a meaningful answer. If you don’t share the exact diversity numbers, for example, be prepared to walk them through the general narrative and history of diversity at your company. Where did you start? Where are you now? How will your company work to improve on this in the future? Even if you don’t share hard metrics, walking a candidate through your company’s plan of action will likely leave them feeling like their question was sufficiently addressed.

When candidates start to ask sensitive questions, it can cue a bit of internal panic. But in my opinion, we shouldn’t fear this — in fact, it’s actually a good thing. It means that today’s talent is showing initiative, educating themselves, communicating openly and honestly and expecting that in return. In other words, all traits of a great employee. But whether or not you agree with me, all signs point to our culture of transparency sticking around. And in a competitive talent market, you want to make sure you have as much of a leg up as possible — even if it means answering some tough questions.