How do you feel when you need to interview for a new post? Nervous? Anxious about making a mistake?
Don’t worry, you’re in the majority! Most people have concerns about making decisions based on how a person comes across in a false work situation. Remember, the interviewee has prepared well, is on their best behaviour, wants to make a deliberate positive impression and will not moan, complain or make you feel anything other than they are the best person on earth for the job.
How do you make it easier for yourself to make the right decision? Well, the quality of your questions will help you assess the best candidate.
Don’t be content with just asking a question, getting an answer and moving on. Ask an initial question, then put on your interrogator’s hat and probe deeper.
Fully understand the situation described, determine exactly what the candidate did and did not do, and find out how things turned out. Follow-up questions don’t need to be complicated: “Really?” “What did you do then?” “What did she say?” “What happened next?” “How did that end up?” All you have to do is keep the conversation going. Remember, an interview is really just a conversation.
When devising your questions, identify the intent behind it. Here are some of my favourites:
1. “Tell me about a time a customer or team member got mad at you.”
Your intent here is to evaluate the candidate’s interpersonal skills and ability to deal with conflict.
Remember, make sure you find out why the customer or team member was mad, what the interviewee did in response, and how the situation turned out both in the short- and long-term.
Listen out for whether the candidate pushes all the blame and responsibility for rectifying the situation onto the other person. What you want to hear is how they dealt with the problem and how it was fixed.
If the candidate shows they were able to admit they made a mistake, took responsibility for it and learned from it, those are the signs you need to determine if they are a good candidate for the position.
You need to know that the candidate focused on how they addressed and fixed the problem, not on who was to blame.
Another good question:
2. “Tell me about the toughest decision you had to make in the last six months.”
The purpose here is to judge the candidate’s ability to reason, problem solving skills, judgment, and sometimes even willingness to take intelligent risks.
What you’re looking for are interpersonal skills and decision-making skills. You are looking out for the candidate weighing up the pros and cons of the situation, and how they solved the problem, so you can judge their thinking and innovation skills.
3. “Tell me about a time you knew you were right… but you still had to follow protocol or the boss’s instructions”
Here, you are judging the candidate’s ability to follow… and possibly to lead. You are assessing how they deal with tough situations and rectify them in the end. What you want to hear might be that they did what needed to be done, especially in a time-critical situation, then found an appropriate time and place to raise issues and work to improve the situation.
You need to determine if their manner is one that would fit in with your processes, and how anything that happens that they don’t agree with affects their motivation.
4. “Tell me about the last time your workday ended before you were able to get everything done.”
You’re trying here to assess commitment, ability to prioritise, ability to communicate effectively. You want to know the level of commitment the candidate shows without them saying they would be a martyr to the job. Evaluate a candidate’s answers to this question based on your company’s culture and organisational needs.
There are many others, of course, but I’ve found these to be helpful in assessing the qualities of people I’ve interviewed.
Forget opinion-based questions, and concentrate on facts, as many interviewees have read books on how to be interviewed and can guess their way through many of the stock questions. Check their CV and make sure it matches with their accomplishments. Your questions will determine how factual their background is.
Let me know how you get on with your next interview!
Looking for more help with conducting interviews? Try this article:
Originally published: 23 June, 2011