Interview Questions Hiring Managers Should be Asking

We briefly mentioned Top-grading interview techniques in our post titled, “Ten Tips to Improve Your Company’s Recruiting and Hiring.”  We’d like to take the time here to explore the topic of interview questions and techniques in greater detail.

Interviews are not a static operation. Multiple people are involved, making the interview process difficult to effectively reduce to a list of perfect questions that will be successful in all situations.  The goal of an interview is to understand a person; you are trying to discern if an individual is the best fit for your company. The more you understand what truly motivates a person, the more accurately you are able to predict how well a candidate’s goals line up with those of your company.

Topgrading technique and our years of experience recommend, then, that your interview questions seek out the details of a candidate’s work history in order to understand what most motivates him or her.

Simply asking, “What motivates you to complete a task well?” is ambiguous enough to generate confused, canned, or generalized answers that offer you no real insight into the interviewee. However, taking the time to go over a candidate’s work history and asking specific questions about successes and failures at different jobs, for example,  will allow the interviewer to piece together a fuller, more accurate picture of the candidate’s character and motivations.

Imagine, if you will, a typical interview scenario. An applicant sits across the desk from a small panel of interviewers. One of them asks the common interview question, “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” This isn’t a bad question; it’s actually precisely what most employers want to know about a candidate. However, asking this question to an interviewee without any given context will rarely give you the kind of honest, reflective answer you are seeking. You may even get a humorously cliché answer like, “My greatest weakness and my greatest strength are the same; I simply care too much.” Whether this answer makes you grimace or chuckle, it doesn’t help you understand the inner workings of your candidate.

Instead, imagine that the same group of interviewers and interviewee were seated as before, and one of the panelists asks, “On your job history it shows that you worked at Company A for five years and then took a job across town at Company B. Can you tell us why you decided to make this move?” Follow-up questions could include, “What did you like most about your time with Company A? What did you like least? What is one thing you learned at Company B that has made you a better employee? What things do you think you could have done better to make your time with Company B more successful? What would your supervisor at Company A most likely say is something you need to work on?” The questions are endless and cannot be strictly scripted, as a mindful interviewer will listen to a candidate’s answers and follow up with the most relevant questions. Though it takes more time and thought to ask these sorts of questions, at the end of this second interview, you’ve started to develop a more accurate view of the candidate’s actual strengths and weaknesses.

Top-grading experts include, as further assurance of the effectiveness of the process, checking in with the bosses and direct supervisors at each of the candidate’s past jobs. Knowing that you will follow up in this way encourages the candidate to give honest, thoughtful answers, as opposed to the overly self-glorifying answer you may receive if a candidate believes you are only speaking with the friends and coworkers he or she has listed as recommended references.  Even very honest applicants can give better answers when they know that their responses will be weighed against another’s perspective.

An effective interviewer understands the that he or she is dealing with the person behind the paper resumé. People are complex and cannot often be summed up in a few easy, rehearsed sentences. The resumé is the snapshot, the interview should be the travel journal. You should leave an interview with a better understanding of not only what an applicant has accomplished, but how and why an applicant accomplished those things.

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