Intake meetings are an obligatory part of the recruiting process, and it can sometimes be easy to let them be just that—obligatory. You and the client both yawn as you go through a perfunctory checklist, discuss dates and compensation, and hang up, both parties feeling unsure about what comes next.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could find a way to make intake meetings a benefit for both you and your clients? To actually be an additional tool in your belt, or even your competitive edge?

Intake meetings are great for establishing the requirements and expectations for a position, but they can also help you to:

  • Decrease the amount of miscommunication and follow-up conversations
  • Increase your credibility in the eyes of the client
  • Nurture the relationship between you and the client

Remember, intake conversations at their worst are a checklist. You should not go in with the intention to fill out a form, but instead to lead a guided conversation about the hiring manager’s needs. Often, they don’t know what they are looking for, and even if they do, they don’t know how to describe it, so it’s your job to coax it out of them by asking the right questions.

How to Prepare

Go in with a plan, and let a hiring intake form be a tool, not the focus. Think of it as a strategy meeting instead of a fill-in-the-blanks exercise, and the return on your meetings will be much higher.


Through careful research, you'll be able to ask the right questions, and as a result, the client will appreciate your diligence and professionalism. Here are some good things to look up:

  • Market salary for the role
  • Typical skills, certifications, and qualifications required for the role
  • LinkedIn profiles of people with the same job title
  • Other companies hiring for the same role

Review past hires

If you’ve worked with the company before, take a look at other positions you or your team members may have filled for them in the past. Were there any bottlenecks in previous projects? Reviewing past projects gives you an opportunity to address problems and roadblocks so you can analyze how to avoid them, honing your process with that particular client and fostering a great working relationship in the process. Use an intake meeting as an opportunity to grow as a strategic team with your client, and they will keep coming back again and again. The more you can get them to invest in the relationship, the more reluctant they will be to leave.

If you have filled this particular role before, take a look at past candidates that you’ve placed. It can be helpful to go back and look for instances where other candidates didn’t exactly match the requirements but still turned out to be great hires. Hiring managers often have lofty ideas about finding a unicorn, and it can be really helpful to come prepared to manage those expectations and call attention to previous successful hires.

How to Execute

Ask analytical questions

You know what you need to know (“Dates, skills, and salary. Next!”), but if your aim is to get in, fill out a sheet, and get out, then that sheet is all you’re going to leave with. Rather than checking the boxes with your head buried in a list, connect with the hiring manager and investigate what their needs are. With the right follow-up questions, you can help a client or hiring manager articulate the intangibles that they are looking for in a candidate:

Question: What does the position entail?

Follow-ups: Why is this position open? Why is this position important? What do you expect out of a new hire after 90 days?

Question: What department will the position be in?

Follow-ups: What does the team look like now? What are the members of the team like? How will the new hire communicate with and depend on other members of the team? Of the company? Who will they report to?

Question: What skills and experience are necessary for this position?

Follow-ups: What would make you decline a candidate immediately? What skills and qualifications are a “nice-to-have” — can we bend the requirements in any way? Is it a must to have out-of-the-box experience, or could the right candidate be someone who can grow into the position?

Question: What is the compensation structure?

Follow-ups: Why do people like working here? What is the career development path like?

With follow up questions, the intent is to gather as much information as possible. Hiring managers aren't going to know what information you'll need, so it's on you to fill in those vital blanks. The answers to these questions will give you a more three-dimensional picture of the position, team, and company, and that will help you find a three-dimensional candidate who will fit in based on more than just their resume.

Work with them to set their expectations

Remember, you bring skills and experience to the table. You’re not an order-taker; you’re a partner in your client’s hiring mission. They come to you because you have the expertise. Take the opportunity to give them a little window into how you work, and the lengths to which you go to find them great talent. Not only will this help keep their expectations realistic, but it will also demonstrate your mastery of the recruiting process and remind them why they reached out to you in the first place.

Some things to go over:

  • Expected # in each pipeline stage (applications/screens/interviews)
  • Approximate time-to-hire
  • Expected costs for the search
  • Candidate sourcing plan (including which channels you will use)
  • Touchpoints and check-ins (i.e. how often you plan to touch base with the client)

Consider putting together a one-page document outlining your practice and process that you can go over with the client. This adds credibility to your process — showing them that you’ve done it so much, you have it down to a science.

Get their commitment

Inspire a sense of urgency in the hiring manager, because talent is scarce, and if the right candidate comes up, both of you need to move fast. It’s important that they understand that a quick recruiting process yields better and more qualified candidates. Providing a positive candidate experience is key to your success, and you shouldn’t have to sacrifice that because of a busy hiring manager.

(Side note: for better contract execution and response time when you reach out to a client, make sure that your emails have action items listed; bulleted lists are very helpful for busy people. Paragraphs of requests can be overwhelming and cause them to say, “I will get to this later.”)

Consider setting up a response time agreement—decide upon a timeframe in which it is appropriate to expect that they will respond (24-48 hours is agreeable to most). Or, set weekly check-ins to help you stay in regular contact with them.

Strategy leads to success

Intake meetings are a necessity, but they don’t have to be mundane. With the right preparation and execution, they can be an opportunity for you to clearly understand a clients’ expectations and inspire confidence in and respect for your recruiting process. The more you can help a client to isolate what they are looking for, the happier you’ll both be with the outcome of intake meetings, and that’s the kind of experience that will keep clients coming back every time.