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Rather than ignoring the next email or call you get from a recruiter, think of it as a learning opportunity — even if you aren’t seriously considering leaving your current position. In most cases, the experience will help you learn about yourself as a job prospect and give you a sense of what employers are looking for — insights that can be invaluable when it is time to make a move.
Time and again, I've seen job candidates who weren’t even beginning to think about a career move completely change their perspective — and strategy — when presented with a compelling opportunity.
So, if you are contacted by a recruiter, consider asking the following:
Why is the position open? Find out whether it's a newly-created role or an existing position that has become vacant. If the latter, ask why the person who occupied the position previously left and how long the position has been open.
What are the skills and experiences the hiring manager is prioritizing? Ask the recruiter to list the desired skills and experiences for the position. Having such a list will make it a lot easier for you to compare the employer’s requirements to your own skillset and decide whether it is worth pursuing the opportunity.
What does the day-to-day of the job look like? Asking this is a great way to get beyond the boilerplate of a job description and to really start to understand what the role entails. Is it a meeting-heavy position? Does it require research and/or writing? How much? How closely supervised is the position? Ask questions that will help you understand how you would be spending most of your time.
What can you tell me about the person to whom I would report? Research shows that the biggest reason people leave their jobs is their manager, not the work itself. Your manager is critical to your success and level of satisfaction. Ask the recruiter to tell you what the person who will be managing you is like, what she values, and how she prefers to operate.
Why did you reach out to me? What in my background suggests I'd be a good fit for the position? The answer to this question can help you understand how people outside your organization view your work and accomplishments, as well as how diligently the recruiter did her homework, which might also be an indication of how well they understand the position they've been hired to fill.
Is there anything in my resume or background that could be a concern? This is a great way to get a sense of how competitive you are for the role, and it will also provide information you can use to map out a strategy for addressing any perceived gaps in your cover letter, resume, and during the interview process.
What is the compensation range for the position? Asking about compensation up front shouldn't impact your candidacy in any way. Indeed, the recruiter should be ready for this question and have no qualms about sharing a range. And remember, in many states it's illegal to ask a candidate for a job what her current salary is, so don’t feel you have to share it if asked.
What kind of flexible work arrangements does the job offer? This is especially important information in the era of COVID, when many people have gotten used to working from home and may want to continue to do so. Understanding the range of benefits that come with position more generally is also a good way to learn about the organization’s culture and values.
Tell me about the organization's culture? What are its values and how do they show up in the organization's work? For most people, organizational culture and values are critical factors in deciding whether to accept a position at a new organization. Ask the recruiter to provide details that go beyond what's on the organization's website or in a handbook and show how its values actually manifest themselves in its day-to-day activities. Ask, too, about professional development opportunities, its human resources practices, and all the other things that go into creating a vibrant organizational culture.
What work has the organization done to become more diverse, inclusive, and equitable? This is deeply important in 2021 to candidates who are seeking workplaces that are inclusive and equitable. Feel free to ask about the diversity of the staff, senior leadership team, and board of directors. Ask about diversity and equity-focused trainings and development opportunities. And don't be hesitant to ask how the organization has responded to external events that have put a spotlight on racial injustice and equity.
What are the steps in and timeline for the interview process? The answer to this question should give you a sense of how much of a time commitment you’ll be asked to make if you want to pursue the opportunity, and whether it is something that’s worth the investment of your time and energy.
The questions above are meant to be a starting point for determining whether a potential role may be a good fit and deciding whether you want to pursue an opportunity that a recruiter puts in front of you. Be creative and come up with some of your own. Moving to a new organization can be scary, but it's also a great way — maybe the best way — to advance your career. Gather as much information as you can before making a decision and act accordingly.
Molly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya Partners, which is part of the Diversified Search Group, where she is also the nonprofit practice lead. A frequent contributor to Philanthropy News Digest and other publications, Brennan also authored The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors.