How to Interview Job Candidates: Ask the Right Questions
By: Paul Falcone
Let’s face it: knowing how to interview can be a challenge. Conducting an interview isn’t always fun and it doesn’t come all that naturally to lots of people. Why? Most interviewers are unarmed with the appropriate interview questions, unable to follow-up up on candidate responses and otherwise fill the void that often results when two strangers sit together for the first time.
In fact, many hiring managers fear interviewing and hiring. Still, the stakes are exceptionally high in terms of building your team and furthering your own success.
There are a few simple tips that, when consistently applied, will help you identify candidates who are geared for progression in their careers and who can make an immediate contribution to your organization.
On closer analysis, the list is fairly intuitive. First, look for an individual’s ability to self-assess and articulate how he or she could make a positive contribution to your firm by virtue of their emotional intelligence. Second, look for compatible communication and work styles. And third, look for the “candidate desire factor.” After all, that will typically serve as the ultimate swing factor in determining whom to bring aboard.
Interview Questions: Gauge the Candidate’s Level of Self-Awareness
Open your interview with a question like:
- “Walk me through your progression in your career leading me up to your current role.”
Follow up with something along the lines of:
- How have you had to reinvent your job in light of your organization’s changing needs?
- What makes you stand out among your peers?
Then, progress to:
- What would your most respected critic say of your strengths, areas for development, and future potential in your field?
Likewise, gauge the individual’s understanding of his current position:
- How many employees does your company have?
- What’s your organization’s annual revenue base?
- How is your department structured in terms of reporting relationships?
And don’t forget the obvious:
- “How exactly does your company make money, and what are its two biggest expenses?
Depending on the level of candidate you’re interviewing, their responses can provide excellent insights into their level of business acumen and self-awareness.
Look for Compatibility, not Just Likeability
We all tend to hire in our own image, but look beyond immediate chemistry by asking questions like:
- How many hours a day do you find it necessary to work in order to get your job done?
- How sensitive are you to accepting constructive criticism?
- Describe the pace that you typically work in the office -- moderate, fast, or hair-on-fire?
- How much structure, direction, and feedback do you generally prefer on a day-to-day basis?
- Do you generally ask for permission or forgiveness when making decisions?
A natural follow-up to this initial question might be:
- Tell me about a time when you may not have erred on the side of caution when you should have.
After all, unless you’re focusing on matching the individual’s personal style to your department’s corporate culture, you may end up with someone who can do the job technically but who’s totally out of sync with the rest of your team.
Assess the Candidate’s Desire Factor
There’s no excuse for candidates not having researched your company, its achievements, competitors, and challenges prior to an interview. Still, some will go out of their way to articulate their understanding of who you are and why they’re so excited about joining your firm. Try questions like these to isolate those who are hungriest for the opportunity that you offer:
- Why would you want to work here, and what do you know about our organization?
- What makes us stand out in your mind from our competitors?
- If you were to accept this position with us today, how would you explain that to a prospective employer five years from now?
- In other words, how would this role with our company provide a link to your future career progression?
Assess your Role in the Interview
The key to a good interview will always lie in your ability to avoid common hiring mistakes and assess potential talent in the interview process. But keep in mind that more new hires fail due to personality-culture mismatch than technical skills mismatch, so keep a keen eye out for compatible styles in terms of communication, pace, constructive criticism, and work hour commitments in candidates’ responses.
Finally, when you're figuring out how to interview, make sure you’re following the 80–20 paradigm (interview candidates, then educate them) so that the candidate speaks for 80% of the time at the beginning of the interview, and you speak for 20% of the time after you’ve completed your initial round of interview question; always be willing to offer a good amount of career advice and direction.
After all, every relationship gives us an opportunity to share our wealth of knowledge and experience with others: If you simply see the interview as an opportunity to give a gift to someone else -- whether you hire them or not -- you’ll find that the communication becomes a lot more natural and enjoyable.
Paul Falcone is Vice President of Human Resources at a major Fortune 500 company. He is the author of several books including 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire, 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees, 101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems and 2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews.