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Mark Shortall Founder & Leadership Talent Partner

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Good to Great - An Interview Guide for TA Leaders

7 traits of a great TA leader and 70 sample interview questions.

Recruiting in tech has been a mess for the last few years. Trying to mask your trauma in a coherent, positive summary in a 60-minute interview isn’t easy. You think you’re well prepared, you have your STAR examples down, and then you’re suddenly cringing at the rambly, clammy stranger in your seat.

On the other side, you’re probably too busy trying to keep your stakeholders happy to follow the best practice interview process you rolled out. You might have 10% of your week focused on finding a game-changing leader, so you skip steps and assume everyone in your hiring panel knows what they’re looking for.

I see this all the time, and I’m not judging you. We’re all experts at giving interview advice but applying it ourselves is a different story. I did it myself when hiring for my team in the past, and it's been ten years since my last interview, so I've packed away the horror of it in my mind. I’m hoping this will be helpful and not patronising.

Taking inspiration from Jim Collins' company research in the book "Good to Great," I’ll highlight the seven traits of a great leader and give 10 sample interview questions under each section. Most of the questions are broad, so they can be applied to anyone from an earlier lead level. Weave some of these into your career story or break them into focus areas for your next interview process. It should help you avoid bias and the trap of a high-level textbook management chat backed by a gut feeling and not enough data.

I sourced some of these questions from my network, my mind, and ChatGPT, so all feedback and further recommendations are welcome. This is a work in progress that we can all build on so everyone has a better experience.

I'm really sorry if this stresses you out even more...

"Level 5 Leadership" - The type of leader required and their values.

A Level 5 leader combines low ego and resilience, focusing on the success of their team and the business over their own need for recognition. This is all about how you empower your team, foster collaboration, and inspire excellence by leading by example. Hype up your team, not yourself and show you’re not afraid to make unpopular decisions for the greater good. Show you’re not all strategy, can delegate effectively, and are not too precious to be a hands-on builder if needed. How you lead in tough times speaks volumes about how you'll lead in the good.

  • How would your team and your manager describe your leadership style?
  • What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a leader? What did you learn from it?
  • What’s the hardest period you’ve had to manage your team through? What would you do differently now?
  • If you could do it all again, what TA strategies or processes in your last company would you change looking back? What worked well?
  • Could you tell me when you made a bad judgement or faced an unexpected roadblock? What did you learn from this experience?
  • Nobody is perfect. What has been an area of development that has been the hardest for you to improve?
  • Can you provide an example of a project or initiative where you empowered team members to take ownership and innovate? What were the outcomes?
  • How do you balance being approachable and humble as a leader while inspiring your team to achieve ambitious goals?
  • Have you ever had to make an unpopular decision for the greater good of the team?
  • Could you describe a situation where you had to provide difficult feedback to a team member? What was the outcome?

"First Who…Then What" - How to set the foundations for a high-performing team.

This concept emphasises the importance of capacity planning and building a strong team. As a recruiting leader, it should be a priority to shape an agile function that can withstand all the ambiguity in tech. A Level 5 leader will be thoughtful about the structure of their team, creating career paths, not overhiring and ensuring they have agile team players when needed. Reflect on how you designed your team structure, what worked well and what didn’t. Who were the high-performers, and what did you learn from up-levelling the rest? This is all about having a great vision and executing it by attracting great people and keeping them engaged and motivated.

  • How would you start to analyse your new team’s performance and design what “good to great” looks like?
  • Could you tell me how you identified a gap in your skill set and how you hired and managed the right person to bridge this gap?
  • Could you explain how you ensure your team is equipped to meet their hiring goals? What did you do when they were off track?
  • What metrics do you use to measure your team's effectiveness and forecast future performance?
  • How do you build a buffer to ensure your team can react to unexpected hiring while keeping team morale high?
  • Thinking about your last team, what worked well, and what would you change looking back?
  • Who’s the best person you’ve coached/hired on your team in the past? What made them great, and what did you do to encourage their development? Have you ever coached someone outside your direct team?
  • What steps do you take to develop and mentor members of your recruiting team to help them reach their full potential?
  • Could you describe a time when you onboarded a new team member? How did you ramp them up for success?
  • Could you tell me about when you had an underperformer on your team? What steps did you take to improve their performance?

"Confronting the Brutal Facts" - Creating a safe space where everyone is heard.

These questions are designed to assess the ability to identify and address recruitment challenges, make data-driven decisions, foster open communication, and drive positive change. Making good decisions without data or honest reflection on what’s happened in the past is impossible. Show you have a growth mindset and that you lead with questions, not answers. A great leader creates a safe culture where everyone has a voice and is encouraged to reflect without blame.

  • How do you ensure that you accurately understand your recruiting function's current challenges and the realistic solutions available, taking into account your budget?
  • Can you share an example of how your recruiting team has used data and analytics to confront the facts about their performance and identify areas for improvement?
  • Could you describe a situation where you encountered resistance when addressing recruitment challenges out of your team's control? How did you navigate this pushback and facilitate open dialogue within the teams?
  • Can you describe when you had to pivot your TA strategy based on new information or insights?
  • How do you leverage recruitment analytics to identify areas for improvement in the hiring process? Could you tell me about a time when you had to use data to influence a leadership team?
  • Can you provide an example of how you've used data to optimise recruitment spending or improve ROI?
  • How do you measure satisfaction among hiring managers and other stakeholders with the talent acquisition process?
  • How do you push for continuous improvement in your team while maintaining high morale and motivation?
  • How do you foster a culture of open and honest communication within your recruiting team to encourage different opinions and voices at all levels?
  • How do you foster a culture that embraces transparency? How do you lead by example in this regard?

"Hedgehog Concept" - How you uncover and focus on the things your company and team care about.

I know I might lose you here. Take the cute little animal out of your mind. The hedgehog Concept from "Good to Great" emphasises the idea of finding the intersection between what everyone is deeply passionate about, understanding what you can realistically be the best at with your resources, and ruthlessly prioritising what you need to focus on. This is all about your listening skills, business acumen, coaching ability and stakeholder management. You're trying to show you're someone who can see the bigger picture, understand everyone's needs, and collaborate closely with everyone to achieve common goals.

  • Can you describe what you are deeply passionate about in talent acquisition? How does this passion drive your approach to your role as a recruiting leader?
  • How do you ensure alignment between your team's passions, their capabilities, and the objectives of your stakeholders? How do you prioritise these factors when considering your strategic decisions as a recruiting leader?
  • How do you foster a culture within your recruiting team that encourages individuals to pursue their passions and strengths?
  • How do you create a sense of common purpose and shared responsibility with your stakeholders?
  • How do you measure satisfaction among hiring managers and cross-functional peers in the People team with the talent acquisition process?
  • How have you made sure that hiring decisions are closely linked to the wider People strategy?
  • Can you describe a situation where you had to balance the needs of different stakeholder groups in designing and implementing a TA initiative?
  • How do you ensure buy-in and alignment from your key stakeholders?
  • Here is an example of a TA challenge I’m currently trying to solve in my organisation that I'm passionate about. Please walk me through how you would approach this.
  • Could you tell me about a time when you raised the hiring bar for a stakeholder?
  • Could you describe a time when your recruiting team faced competition from another organisation? How did you leverage your company and team's strengths to differentiate yourself and maintain a competitive advantage?

"A Culture of Discipline" - The alchemy of great performance.

A good-to-great leader builds a system with clear guidelines, allowing for some freedom and accountability. This is all about creating a self-disciplined team that doesn't need to be managed so that you can manage the system, not the people. A Level 5 leader builds an enduring culture of discipline rather than personally disciplining their team through micro-management. This links to the "First Who...Then What" team-building principles. If you have the right people on your team and get the wrong people off, you don't need to worry about needing to become a miserable tyrant. You use your "Hedgehog Concept" to focus on the things that matter, not the dramas or distractions that come your way daily. It's time for a coffee break now that I'm starting to link them all.

  • How do you instil a sense of discipline within your recruiting team to ensure consistency and accountability in their work?
  • Can you share an example of how your recruiting team maintains focus and adherence to established processes and procedures, even in the face of distractions?
  • Describe when your recruiting team had to make difficult decisions or trade-offs to uphold its standards and maintain discipline. How did you ensure that team members remained aligned with the organisation's goals and values?
  • How do you measure and track the performance of your recruiting team to ensure that they are meeting their goals and objectives with consistently high standards?
  • Can you discuss a situation where your recruiting team faced resistance or pushback when implementing processes or procedures? Could you tell me how you addressed this resistance and maintained momentum?
  • Describe a situation where your recruiting team maintained discipline and focus during rapid growth or expansion. What strategies did you implement to ensure standards were upheld even during change?
  • How do you hold team members accountable for their actions and performance within your recruiting team?
  • Can you provide an example of how you've addressed performance issues or non-compliance with disciplinary measures?
  • How do you ensure your recruiting team remains disciplined and focused on its goals, even when faced with competing priorities?
  • Why is it important for a recruiting leader to cultivate a culture of discipline within their team? How does this contribute to the overall success and effectiveness of the recruiting function?

"Technology Accelerators" - Technology is a trap unless it's used correctly.

Good-to-great leaders think differently about technology, avoid fads and become pioneers in the application of a carefully selected tech stack. You know how to use it to accelerate the capability of your team. These questions uncover how you use tech to enhance recruitment processes and drive efficiency. The aim here is to assess your ability to effectively implement and leverage technology accelerators, as well as your vision for the future of technology in recruitment.

  • How have you used technology to streamline and optimise the recruitment process within your team?
  • Can you provide examples of specific tools that your recruiting team uses to enhance efficiency and effectiveness in sourcing, screening, and hiring candidates?
  • Describe a situation where your recruiting team successfully implemented a new technology or tool that significantly improved recruitment outcomes. What challenges did you encounter during the implementation process, and how did you overcome them?
  • How do you stay informed about emerging technologies and trends in the recruitment industry, and how do you determine which ones are worth adopting for your team?
  • Can you discuss when your recruiting team faced resistance or hesitation from team members when introducing new technologies or tools
  • How did you address this resistance and ensure successful adoption?
  • How do you measure and evaluate the impact of technology on your recruiting team's performance and outcomes? What key performance indicators or metrics do you use to assess the effectiveness of tech?
  • Describe a situation where your recruiting team had to adapt its use of technology in response to changing market conditions or recruitment challenges. How did you ensure that technology remained an accelerator rather than a hindrance in these circumstances?
  • Please tell me how you can ensure your recruiting team remains skilled in using technology effectively to support their efforts.
  • Can you share an example of how tech tools have enabled your recruiting team to scale operations or handle increased demand for talent more efficiently?
  • In your opinion, what role does tech play in driving innovation and competitiveness within the recruitment function? How do you envision the future of technology in recruitment, and how do you plan to leverage it for your team's success?

"The Flywheel and the Doom Loop" - How to build momentum on longer-term strategies.

Jim Collin's research showed that the good-to-great companies had no names for their transformations. There was no launch event, tagline, or programmatic feel whatsoever. A great leader will drive significant change that feels organic without fanfare to the point where people are only aware that a significant transformation is underway once they are well into it. Every TA leader faces similar short-term challenges, but the great ones have the patience and discipline to follow a longer-term flywheel model despite outside pressures/doom loops. Sustainable transformations follow a predictable pattern. It takes a lot of effort to get the thing moving, like pushing on a giant, heavy flywheel, but there'll be a breakthrough point with persistent pushing. This all applies to topics like DEI, Employer Branding and location strategy. There's no silver bullet solution: just consistent effort and tiny steps to improve things longer-term.

  • The COO needs to grow the sales/tech org at a cost base lower than our current primary locations. You have been asked to recommend two new cities to consider building a hub in line with these goals.  How would you go about scoping and understanding the problem? What would be your considerations and advice for the COO?
  • What strategies have you implemented to foster a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture in previous roles?
  • How do you cultivate positive momentum within your DEI initiatives to create lasting change and impact?
  • How have you contributed to creating an employer brand that attracts top talent and promotes a diverse and inclusive workplace culture?
  • Can you provide examples of specific steps or programs that have contributed to building momentum in your organisation's DEI efforts?
  • How do you measure and track the progress of your organization's DEI initiatives over time? What key metrics do you use to assess progress and identify areas for improvement?
  • How do you promote allyship and create a sense of belonging for underrepresented groups within your team or organisation?
  • How do you measure and track the impact of your employer branding efforts on recruitment outcomes, such as candidate attraction and retention rates?
  • Could you describe when your organisation faced challenges or negative perceptions in its employer branding efforts? How did you address these challenges to turn the situation around?
  • Describe a time when your team faced challenges or setbacks that threatened to derail focus and morale. Please tell me how you identified and addressed these obstacles to prevent further setbacks.