The Best Interview Questions to Ask, and More.
Recently a new client came to me and said, “We‘re scaling, fast, and I hate interviewing. I don’t know the right interview questions to ask, and actually, I don’t think I’m very good at it. How can we scale if I can’t find and select the right people?”
Are you asking the standard questions and getting the standard answers? Do you spend too much time ‘selling’ the company and do more talking than listening? How much do you prepare for the interview?
Searching for, and selecting, the right candidate does not need to be painful. And the payoff? Well the payoff is excellence. You have the right people on the team, doing the right jobs, and making the place buzz with innovation and growth. But making that happen takes more than knowing the right interview questions to ask. This cheat sheet will guide you through finding good candidates, and using smart interview techniques to select the right person for your team.
First up, figure out what you need.
Job Description – A successful interview starts by finding the right candidates; and you can’t find the right candidates if you don’t know what skills, experience and attributes you need. The job description helps potential candidates understand the expectations and requirements of the job – the goal is to help them self select, so qualified applicants will apply, and unqualified ones won’t. Use these questions to guide you in writing the job description.
- What are the objectives and expectations of the position?
- Is anyone currently in the position, what personal characteristics make them successful in the position (attention to detail, strategic thinking, project management etc.)
- What previous experience is required?
- Are there educational or equivalent experience requirements? (Note: take care in the use of educational requirements alone, as you may run afoul of anti discrimination laws. Yes, you can accidentally fall into this pit – so I suggest asking for either education or equivalent experience.)
- To whom does the position report?
- Where is the position located?
Next, figure out where to look.
Posting – How do you get the word out about your job opening, you must post the position. Generally, postings come in two formats: short form (more of an ad version of the job description) and long form. Which version applies depends on the platform’s guidelines. This is a broad overview, pricing may (and almost certainly, will) change – check with the posting board in question:
- Monster.com – general posting site. Long form job postings. Average Cost, single post: >$300
- CareerBuilder.com – general posting site. Long form job postings. Average Cost, single post: >$300
- Indeed.com – general posting site. Long form job postings. Average Cost: pay per click
- Dice.com – specialty site, technology jobs. Long form job postings. Average Cost single post: >$400
- SimplyHired.com – general advertising network (they aggregate listings from other sources, your paid positing appears above the free listings – much like Google ads). Long form job postings. Average Cost: pay per click
- CraigsList.com – general posting site. Long form job postings. Average Cost, single post: $25 – $75
- LinkedIn – social networking site. Long form job postings. Average Cost: pay per click
- Facebook – social networking site, company page. Short form job postings. Average Cost: free
- Twitter (yes, Twitter) – social networking site, company page, use hashtags. Short form job postings. Average Cost: free
- ZipRecruiter.com – multiple site posting (including social network sites). Long form job postings. Average Cost: appx. $100 per mo.
Now, decide who is best for the job.
Interviewing – The interview starts long before someone walks in your office and you ask them where they plan to be in 5 years (BTW – don’t ever ask that question!). Interviews start with the resume. No matter if you are the first one to see the resume, or you have someone who does the initial screening – your job is the same in both cases. Compare the resume with the job description to determine three things; 1) is there a match of qualifications/experience, with what you need, 2) what additional information do you need regarding items listed on the resume, 3) what information do you need regarding items not listed on the resume.
Focus on #2 and #3 – information you need. This will form the backbone of your interview questions. Your goal is to identify and measure competencies (a fancy HR word for abilities). You are delving into competencies in order to measure the candidate’s level of expertise.
Resume says: I am customer focused.
Competency to measure: Customer service
Interview Question Series:
- Give me an example of a time you were not able to meet the client’s request.
- What made the situation challenging?
- How did you communicate the information?
- How did the client respond?
- What was the outcome?
Use this format for each competency you identify. Require the candidate to provide details and examples. Begin questions with descriptive words or phrases: ‘tell me about’, ‘describe’, ‘how’, ‘when’, ‘help me understand’, ‘give me an example’. Use follow up questions until you are satisfied that you fully understand the example given. Try these sample questions.
Once you are fully satisfied that you have all the information you need, you may then talk about the position, benefits and opportunities, and the general joy of working at such a unique and progressive company. If you’re anything like me, this will be your favorite part of the meeting.
I know there are any number of alternate ways to interview: group interviews, multi stage interviews, video interviews etc. While I don’t directly address these variables in this post, keep in mind that the interview prep remains the same for all interview formats.
Additionally, all applicants should fully complete an employment application. A resume is written to highlight the candidate’s significant credentials. However, a job application is a legal document that asks specific facts, and includes a statement of faith/oath that the information is true and accurate, as well as the applicant’s signature. An application provides far more support to the company than a resume. While it may be a bit annoying, you should have every interviewed candidate complete an employment application – yes, even senior staff.
While I’m being Debbie Downer, I will also mention other interviewing pitfalls:
Testing – this can be a problem if an employer uses them to intentionally discriminate; or if they disproportionately exclude people in a particular group, unless they can be proven to be a ‘business necessity’. Physical ability, cognitive, and personality test must be carefully administered, if used. Best practices include ensuring that all tests are properly validated for the positions and purposes used (even if you use a third party vendor for testing, the employer is still responsible for compliance). Determine if there are equally effective alternates to the test. Consistently evaluate job requirement changes. Monitor all tests being used by the organization. Sound complicated – that’s because it is. That’s why we recommend you use testing very carefully, and stick to specific skills tests vs. personality, cognitive or similar tests.
Bad Questions – steer clear of any questions that could be considered equal employment no nos. Here’s a short list:
- What childcare arrangements will you make for your children?
- Have you been convicted of a crime?
- Do you own a car? (Yep, I have to explain this to clients a lot. As an employer, your interest is simply that they will arrive at the right place, at the right time – not how that will happen)
- Do you have a disability that would interfere with your work here?
- Are you or have you ever been married?
- Have your wages ever been garnished?
- Have you ever been arrested?
- Do you plan to have children?
- Are you pregnant?
- How old are you?
- Have you ever filed a Workers Comp claim?
- What are your thoughts on the current healthcare changes?
- What was your maiden name?
- Do you attend church on Sundays?
- Where were you born?
A general rule of thumb – only questions related to if the candidate can do the job are permitted, not how.
Congratulations! You found the perfect person!
Now, rinse and repeat.
You’re scaling – remember?