Get the best result from an agency interview - part 1

Ok. I know that the recruitment industry has some very average consultants and even some bad ones. And this is right across the industry from contingency firms to top level specialist search firms. Aside from issues with expertise, ethics, timeliness, feedback (you probably have your own list of gripes), any interview with these bunnies invariably feels like a waste of time – just going through the motions before you get to the “real” interview with the employer.

But the recruitment industry also has some very impressive consultants.

Professionals who are actually the trusted advisors for their employer clients.  Consultants who really do have in depth  knowledge on the company and the politics and the challenges of the remit – who know so much more about what will make the hire work over and above the spiel on the job description.

So when you strike one of these people, and you’ve been asked to interview with them, you really should be treating this as seriously as if you were meeting the employer. Miss a trick here and you won’t even get near the hiring leader, regardless of how good your CV is.

Here are some reminders of the essentials I think you need to get right.


Failure to munch mints after that last cigarette, polish your shoes, iron your shirt, dye that grey hair stripe, press your suit…’re supposed to be an inspirational leader of people. Sort it out.

First impressions

Along with poor grooming, you're doomed for failure with a bad handshake, showing up with a chain store coffee cup (unless of course you're interviewing for that particular company!), sitting for a crotch display, showing up late without an apology…..why would I risk the embarrassment of you presenting like this to my client?

Answer the questions

I have clear objectives for this interview.  Critical aspects that I want reassurance on.  Don’t tell me what you think I should be asking.  Don’t ignore the questions.  If you can’t partner with me I’m not going to want to work with you. 

Have the ‘hygiene’ aspects ready and to hand   

I have lost count of the number of times when I hear “oh, I didn’t expect you to ask that” for something as simple as “what is your notice period/impact on bonus payment if you resign in the next 3 months”.  It doesn’t fill me with confidence that you’re doing anything more than kicking tyres.  And I won't risk wasting the time of my client.

Prepare with the right experience examples  

Yet again this week I experienced the frustration of someone who knew in advance all the requirements of the job, but still wanted to talk about his experience with factory workers in a scaling down manufacturing environment when I kept asking him to describe relevant actions within a fast paced high growth white collar scenario.  If you cannot apply your experience to the needs of the role, you won't be giving my client any reason to hire you.

Know the format of the interview and again prepare

I haven’t run my stats on this but my guess is that despite our warnings in advance, four out of five HRDs fail the most basic of behavioural competency interviews.  Sure you know the theory and probably coach folks on this, but it’s very different being on the other side of the desk.  If you cannot master this very simple format there is no way I’m going to risk you wasting my clients’ time with illogical and unfocussed explanations. 


There are several other aspects that are critical to consider when you're interviewing with an agency, and I'll run through these later this week.... In the meantime, let me share a secret with you. If you cannot impress me at interview, there is no way I will risk my relationship and professional reputation with my employer client, in the wild hope that you might be able to impress them. A faint and random chance of a placement fee, just isn't worth that kind of irreversible damage.