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Interview Questions to Ask Yourself before You Hire

Interview Questions to Ask Yourself before You Hire

By: Dona DeZube

When hiring a new employee, most employers focus on interview questions for the candidate. But some experts recommend asking yourself a few questions first. 

The answers can help nearly any employer develop better interview questions, regardless of company size or industry. Why? Because unless you know your company’s values, culture – as well as the job’s tasks -- the less likely you are to make the right hire. 

Those three questions are:

1. What are the five biggest problems the new employee will have to solve?
2. What traits are shared by the best (and worst) people who’ve done this job?
3. Should the new hire match the current company culture or expand it?

Here’s a closer look at why these queries can help you generate better interview questions and better hiring results.

What Are My Five Biggest Problems?
The “five biggest problems” format helped the YMCA hire more than 100,000 camp counselors nationally. It’s been used by In and Out Burgers, as well as companies seeking board members, entry-level accountants and call center employees, says Lou Adler, author of The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired and CEO of The Adler Group, an Orange County, California, training and performance-based Hiring(SM) consulting firm.

Adler developed the “five biggest problems” strategy after he received a serendipitous call a few years back from a manufacturing client. The plant owner had a managerial candidate waiting in his office, but hadn’t prepared for the interview. He asked Adler to quickly tell him the best interview questions to ask.

Adler suggested he walk the applicant through the plant, stop at every problem area he passed, and ask two questions:

1. If you were to get this job, how would you solve the problem?

The candidate’s response shows whether they understand and could solve the plant’s biggest problems.

2. Have you ever solved anything similar to this problem?

This question reveals whether the job applicant had applied his solutions in the real world. Nearly everyone can envision a solution to a problem, even an entry-level person, Adler says. “But if they haven’t done anything reasonably similar, it adds risk to the hiring.”

Take some time to think about your company’s biggest problems and whether your next hire will be tasked with solving them.

What Traits Are Shared By The Best (And Worst) People Who’ve Done This Job?
Before you begin the hiring process, think about the employees who’ve held the position in the pas. Then list the traits shared by successful workers as well as the traits of those who failed, says Mark Murphy, author of Hiring for Attitude and CEO of Leadership IQ, Marietta, Georgia.

For example, Murphy once worked with a small engineering firm owner who thought being smart was the most critical trait in the engineers he hired. When asked to paint a picture of someone who failed, the owner described an engineer who was smart, but arrogant, and often told customers they were wrong and he was right. 

The most successful engineer remained calm no matter how upset customers got, was caring and objective, and didn’t take criticism personally. 

After making a list of these traits, a pattern was clear. “He’d been hiring people that didn’t work out because they were so focused on how smart they were and how dumb everyone else was that they failed,” Murphy explained.

Comparing past employees’ characteristics in this way will generate a list of must-have’s (and must-not-have’s), including characteristics to consider when writing job interview questions, Murphy says.

In the case of the engineering firm, the owner asked behavioral interview questions aimed at uncovering negative, critical attitudes, such as: Tell me about the most difficult customer you’ve dealt with? How do your skills compare to the rest of the people on your current team? Can you tell me about the weakest colleague on your last team?

Do I want the new hire to match the current company culture or expand it?
The third question worth asking yourself before your next hiring decision is whether the new employee should align with the company culture or be someone who’s different enough to take the company culture in a new direction, says R. Wendell Williams, Ph.D., managing director of ScientificSelection.com, Jacksonville, Florida.

One way to think about company culture is to ask: What characteristics are most valued in my workplace? 

For instance, if your company is a startup, you may reward innovative thinking and agility. In contrast, a family-owned business might prize good teamwork and comradery.  

Before hiring outside of the culture, consider carefully whether someone who’s radically different from the current staff will work out in the long term. 

“I worked for a utility a long time ago and they were extraordinarily conservative,” Williams said. “They said they wanted to be entrepreneurial but they really didn’t.” 

A line manager might think he wants to hire someone who is off-the-charts entrepreneurial, but in fact he’d be better off with someone who’s just slightly more entrepreneurial than he is.

To evaluate your own company culture, ask yourself these questions about your company:        

  • How do we handle conflict or differing opinions?
  • What employee accomplishments do we formally recognize?
  • What behaviors do we reward monetarily versus those that generate promotions?
  • What traits do we value in our employees? Such traits might include innovation, respect for authority, customer service, efficiency and speed, etc.

Once you’ve identified your culture’s traits, your interview questions can dig deeper into those traits: What processes did you change at your last position? When you disagreed with your supervisor, how did you approach the situation? How does your average call time compare to the company’s average call time?

Taking the time to interview yourself -- before you hire -- will give you clarity about the next position you need to fill as well as future hires. 

Are you looking to hire someone who will enhance your organizational diversity and align with your company culture? Learn to use behavioral interviews to build team diversity.

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