Saturday, July 25, 2009

Great Interview Questions

When getting ready to interview candidates, it is always a good idea to have some effective questions prepared that will allow you to make the most of the time you spend with the candidate and make an informed decision on whether or not you would like to move forward with their candidacy and even offer them a job.

In order to standardize the interview procedure, I always like to ask candidates a selection of questions that includes a standard five. Also, try not to forget that you really don’t need to be hard-nosed about the entire process and just rattling off questions is not going to result in a good interview or a favorable impression being created. Let the candidate relax and ask some questions that will allow them to open up.

Now, some of the questions I am going to recommend here are far from being ground-breaking stuff, but what I do want to do is offer some insight into just why they are good questions to ask at an interview.

1. Tell me about yourself

I like to ask this question with a twist; explaining that of course I have read their resume but would really like to hear a summary covering their skills, qualifications and experiences. I tell the candidates I am giving them about 2 minutes to do this, to prevent the answer just being a regurgitation of the resume I already have.
What you are looking for here is a clearer idea of just how the candidates view themselves and how they prioritize the different aspects of their background in relation to the role they are interviewing for.

2. What do you know about us?

It is very useful to get an insight into just how seriously the candidate is taking the interview process and find out if they have done their homework and actually researched the interviewing company. For more senior positions, I don’t just want to see evidence that they’ve checked out a company website; they should be able to put forth a good analysis on just how the company places itself in the market relative to its competitors in terms of segmentation, strategy and potential.
Frankly, if a candidate approaches an interview too casually, they either don’t care about getting the job or it’s a good reflection on how loosely they approach work-related issues in general.

3. Why should we hire you over other candidates?

This is an opportunity for a candidate to place themselves within your company; their understanding of the organization is further revealed along with their self-insight into their strengths and how they distinguish themselves from the other candidates. Their vision can be easily matched with just what you are looking for in a new hire and how they would fit within the organization.
Bear in mind that if the candidates can’t answer the question directly, succinctly and without boasting, they are very unlikely to make a good hire.

4. What is your dream job?

Ignoring the fact that it is very unlikely that anyone is ever going to find their dream job within an existing organization, there will always inevitably have to be compromise – this is still a great question and can provide real insight into just what motivates the candidate, where they are planning on getting to in their career and just how much they have thought it through.
Don’t let the candidate fob you off by saying that the job they are interviewing for is their dream job. Push a little harder to find out what job would be their perfect fit and why – and by implication whether the job they are interviewing for really is going to be right for them.
Obviously these four questions alone are not going to unlock the hiring process for you, but using them and being more aware of what you are looking for when you do ask them will allow you to gain valuable insight into the candidate sitting opposite you and whether or not it is worthwhile giving further consideration to their candidacy.
On top of these questions, I like to go into interviews with a clipboard affixed to a page of general questions and another page listing questions more specific to the role I am looking to fill.

Here is the list of General Questions I like to have at my disposal when interviewing candidates.
  • Explain the organizational structure of your last company and how you fitted into it.
  • What did you do on a day to day basis?
  • What skills and qualifications do you regard as essential for success in the position you have applied for?
  • What can you contribute?
  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • What functions and tasks of the position do you feel most/least comfortable with?
  • For which parts of this position would you need training?
  • What are your strong points? What are your weaknesses?
  • What motivates you? (What demotivates you?)
  • How do you handle criticism?
  • Can you work well under pressure?
  • Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team?
  • What management style gets the best out of you?
  • How long do you think it will take before you start making a significant contribution to the company?
  • What interests do you have outside of work?
  • What are your five most significant accomplishments in your career so far?
  • How did you achieve them?
  • What was your biggest failure?
  • How could you improve yourself?
  • What do you know about our organization?
  • What interests you about our products/services?
  • What can we offer you that your previous/current company could/does not?
  • Do you feel you progressed satisfactorily in your last job?
  • What problems did you encounter in your last job?
  • What was good/bad about your last job?
  • Describe a time you had to work with someone you didn’t like.
  • What annoyed you about your last job?
  • What do you dislike doing?
  • What would you like to avoid in your next job?
  • Tell me about a situation when you saw room for improvement in a task you were required to complete?
  • What did you do?
  • How did you present your idea?
  • Why did you choose a career in ….? (Why are you changing careers?)
  • What are your career goals?
  • Are you prepared to relocate?
  • Are you willing to travel?
  • What level of salary are you looking for now?
  • Is there anything else that we should know about you that you haven’t shared with us?

Srikanth Nyshadham