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So, you’re sitting down with a hiring manager in order to learn more about the position they’re looking to fill. You want to get a good picture of their ideal candidate, and to facilitate a good conversation, so you ask a general open-ended question: “What type of candidate are you looking for?”

It might seem counter-intuitive, but that is one of the worst opening questions you can ask a hiring manager as a recruiter. Odds are, you’ll receive a deluge of information about the organization, its values, why the last person in the role didn’t work out, and no concrete information about what will make a candidate successful in the role.

Or even worse, the hiring manager will paint a little too specific of a picture. The ideal candidate will live within walking distance of the office, hate their current job so much that they will take any offer, and are willing to work on weekends. That isn’t a candidate profile; that is a candidate scenario, and scenarios won’t help you find a great fit for the organization.

If you want to have a productive meeting, then you need to lead the discussion. Try these tactics:

Ask the right questions.

As powerful as the urge is to ask open-ended, big picture questions, they won’t be nearly as useful as targeted, direct questions. Try to use more of the latter.

Determine where the best candidate is now.

Ask what alternate job titles, positions, job functions, and organizations you should look into. Trust us, hiring managers will have this info; make sure you do too.

Don’t get sucked into a discussion about candidate scenarios.

You’re not a magic worker or an encyclopedia. Instead of trying to manipulate events or search through stacks of resumes for a specific set of circumstances, search instead for profiles: experiences, skills, and knowledge sets that will denote that a candidate is a better fit for the position.

In an ideal world, hiring managers would be building a proactive pipeline of talent, but often they’re scrambling to fill a position. Asking the right questions can help them help you find their best fit.

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