4 Great Questions to Ask Prospective Talent Acquisition Leaders – and the Answers to Look For

By Linda Brenner | July 12, 2022

It's common knowledge that recruiting professionals are generally very good at being interviewed. But that fact doesn’t correlate with excellent recruiting or leadership skills. If, like many others, you are hiring a Talent Acquisition leader, it’s key that you determine what the most important capabilities are for the role. Often, the two top TA leader capabilities are: 1) leading a passive candidate sourcing team, and 2) demonstrating effective TA team leadership skills. Does your current inteview approach suitably address these critical skills?

Here are some tough but fair questions to ask your finalist(s) - and the answers to look for - to get at better understanding of your candidates' key competencies:

Tell me about a time when you personally led a search that required passive candidate outreach. What was the targeted role? What actions did you take? What was the outcome? How often have you personally led searches like this?
Look for:  
  • An understanding of what ‘passive candidates’ actually are (may seem obvious but many in TA can't accurately define a passive candidate - e.g., those who are not looking for work / not responding to any type of job ad, regardless of how ’niche’ or costly it might be)
  • Track record of putting together a passive candidate sourcing plan with a variety of sources (alumni, research, professional organizations, etc.)
  • History of tracking activities in a detailed way in a CRM or even in just a google sheet - who did I reach out to, when, how did I find them, when / where did we speak, what was the outcome, how / when did I follow up, who did I eventually hire, etc.
  • Passive candidate hiring results.
Describe a time you led a team responsible for passive candidate sourcing. When was it? Where? What jobs were you targeting? What were your goals? What management routines / methods / tracking approaches did you use? What were the outcomes? What lessons did you learn?
Look for:  
  • Leadership and coaching a team to drive concrete passive candidate sourcing results
  • Data-based orientation regarding the researching, pipelining and hiring of passive candidates
  • Consistent, rigorous management routines to evaluate activities, obstacles, outcomes and continuous improvements
  • Understanding of the blend of people, process and technology to find and win passive talent.


What’s your opinion of an in-house TA team using outside search firms?
Look for:  
  • Pride and confidence in ability to do vast majority of searches on own; may make sense to use an agency for a specialized or unique search but should not be the go-to or fall-back plan since that’s why the organization has an in-house team
  • Research shows: in-house recruiting teams are significantly better than 3rd parties at finding and pipelining candidates over time, describing the culture more accurately, screening and selection, and hiring higher quality candidates who stay longer and perform better 
  • Someone who doesn’t say ‘if we can’t fill the job in 30 days, we’ll send it to search’ because that is just an inefficient, costly and time-consuming way to recruit. If a candidate does say this, an appropriate probe would be: “What kind of recruiting activities would you expect to take place during the 30 days before you send to search?” and “What would you expect an outside agency do that an in-house team couldn’t do?”


When you managed a large team of recruiters, tell me about the following:    
  • What were their goals (as individuals and/or as a team)? Look for specifics / measurable outcomes - e.g., speed, cost, quality, diversity - not nebulous / vague / subjective things like ‘managers were happy’ or ’they didn’t have too many reqs’ or ‘we provided a great candidate experience’ 
  • Describe the routines you used to assign work, review outcomes, redirect, share successes, etc. Look for structure, routines, consistency, goal-oriented focus
  • What was your vision of a high performing recruiter? Look for objective, data-based outcomes - not ‘managers liked them' and 'they were happy'
  • How did you go about developing / improving the performance of a struggling recruiter? Look for a structured approach to training, development, assigning clear goals, positive reinforcement and feedback, sharing successes and a collaborative approach to solving problems and managing performance.


A solid interviewing plan will go a long way in selecting the right person for a Talent Acquisition leadership position. As they say, pay now or pay later.

Share this Article

Learn more about our unique approach to Talent Strategy Formulation.



Our Bloggers

Linda Brenner

Linda is an industry vet with keen observations and a knack for calling it like it is.

Meet Linda

Tom McGuire

Tom brings the unlikely blend of Finance & HR to the practice, illuminating readers with the link between talent and business value.

Meet Tom