Great interview questions that get to the heart of a job candidate's capabilities


By Reed Richardson


Be prepared
You would never run right from a conference call into a job interview if you were trying to get hired, so you shouldn't engage in the same, careless behavior if you're going to be the one doing the hiring. Instead, spend at least 15 to 30 minutes before an interview going over a job candidate's resume so you can prepare some intelligent questions specific to their background and experience. After all, if you're really interested in hiring this person, you don't want them walking away from the interview thinking that you and your company are so disorganized that they don't take hiring employees seriously. Dianna Podmoroff, author of 501+ Great Interview Questions for Employers, notes that she has seen many of the same small business owners who agonize for weeks over the purchase of a new server or whether or not to switch cell phone plans turn around and spend almost no time at all preparing to interview an employee they might end up paying $50,000 a year.



Set an agenda and follow through
To make the job interview run smoothly, stay within the applicant's time limits, and don't get sidetracked. Mary Massad, managing director of recruiting services at Administaff, says it's imperative to set an agenda at the start of an interview. Doing this builds rapport with candidates and immediately makes them more comfortable because they have more of an idea of what to expect, she explains. This, in turn, means a candidate's answers will be more relaxed and truthful. Massad counsels to take a personable, but professional approach to the interview. "You can make a little small talk," she says, "but then it's important to dive right in."


Match candidate to boss
Interviews conducted by the human resources department-if your small business is large or lucky enough to have one-should be thought of as screening interviews only, says John Kador, author of The Manager's Book of Questions: 1001 Great Interview Questions for Hiring the Best Person. In other words, HR can weed out questionable candidates early on, but they should rarely, if ever, be used to make a final hiring decision. That should only happen after the potential employee has had an in-depth interview with the actual supervisor or boss that he or she would be working with. "Any company that doesn't conduct job interviews with managers or supervisors is making a huge mistake," he explains. "That's the only real way to figure out if a candidate is a good fit."


Conversations, not clichés
"Use questions that prompt conversations," explains Kador. "Try to keep candidates off of the canned, formulaic quotes or answers." To do this, avoid using old-fashioned questions like "What is your greatest weakness?" or "What would your former boss say about you?" Instead, Kador recommends employers have the interviewees describe themselves using one-syllable words and then give a reason or example that supports that word. Or, Podmoroff suggests eliciting real-life situations from the interviewee's past and how he or she handled them. "The best indicator of future performance is past performance," she explains. "So rather than asking a job candidate about what they would do, ask them what they did do."


The devil really is in the details
To better make sense of a candidate's answers and get sufficient information to make a hiring decision, Administaff's Massad says it's a good idea to employ the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) or SHARE (Situation, Hindrance, Actions, Result, Evaluation) formats when taking notes. "What we get in many instances from candidates are great sounding answers, but, in fact, they are really vague about their specific role or the outcome," explains Massad. Consequently, she says it's important as an interviewer to set a goal of always getting as specific an answer as possible, so you can determine if that given example or referenced skill set would be transferable to your organization.


Look for job fit and culture fit
This is essential, notes Administaff's Massad. "Most companies use job openings as the beginning and end of their search," she says. But smarter companies also ensure that the decisions made when filling staff positions also adhere to a larger vision of what the business is all about. As a result, interviewers should not only be thinking about whether a particular job candidate can handle the job but whether or not he or she would be happy and satisfied while doing it. "You screen for aptitude," she says, "but interview for fit."


Let the interviewee ask some questions, too
A promising candidate should have things they are looking to find out, things that likely won't be found on your web site or in your corporate literature. Specific questions about the co-workers and supervisors related to the position or current and upcoming projects as well as broader, long-term growth inquiries are signs that a candidate has done their homework and is legitimately interested in joining your team, says Massad. By the same token, she says that interviewees that display a more self-centered focus and only ask questions about pay, benefits, and vacation time may be telling you just as much about themselves as their earlier answers.


Employer Interview Resources
-Sample job interview questions for employers
-10 common job interviewer mistakes

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