Hosting a successful interview is a tricky business. The interviewer affects the interview environment, and of course the questions also contribute to whether the interview is successful in revealing the character and competence of the interviewee. Following an inefficient questioning structure can lead to you losing out on candidates that could have meant a lot to your company.
An interview is best structured in a manner that starts by putting the candidate at ease and making him/her feel welcome and comfortable. After introducing yourselves, an idea would be to explore something of personal interest to the candidate possibly found on his/her CV or LinkedIn profile, this often sets up the meeting for an open and engaging conversation. It’s important not to start with hard-hitting questions, as candidates might get flustered or get the sense that the organisation’s culture is unforgiving or just not meant for them. Thereafter one can build up to more in-depth questions relating to the role applied for.
Here are some of the best questions to ask in an interview.
1. Tell us about yourself and how you came to be here.
This question allows the candidate to share whatever information about themselves they feel comfortable to share and gives you an overview of how they came to be in the interviewee seat. Look for answers that include personal as well as professional information and try to pick up on personality traits and professional highlights that might indicate the employee could be a good fit for the job and for the company’s culture.
2. What made you apply for this job?
This question separates the candidates who indiscriminately apply for many vacancies from those who are truly interested in your company. (If you’re a professional Recruiter, this question might reveal more about the reasons motivating the candidates search for a new appointment.) Look for candidates who mention specific features of your company, or who speak passionately about the duties they would need to fulfil.
Extra tip: Don’t ask ‘why’ the candidate applied. Starting the question with ‘why’ inherently creates the perception of an uncomfortable challenge, rather than truly wanting to gauge what brought them there.
3. Where do you see yourself in 3 – 5 years?
This question might be a cliché, but the manner and confidence with which the candidate answers the question, sometimes tells you more than the actual answer. An unclear answer or one that sounds like a faraway dream with no achievable goals, or just difficulty to formulate an answer, often indicates that the candidate is unfocused and might be employed only fleetingly. On the other hand, a clear, specific 5-year plan – or even just a clear 2-year plan – indicates that the candidate is focused, dedicated, ambitious, and has clear life goals to which they feel your company can contribute. This further indicates that your company could benefit from appointing the candidate, and that you could help each other grow to new heights.
4. Why are you leaving your current position?
Previous employers may not give a candidate a bad review when contacted as a reference. However, the confidence or hesitance with which a candidate answers this question could tell you much about the circumstances of their leaving. Asking the candidate this question allows you to assess their attitude toward their previous employer, as well as their integrity. Candidates who share confidential or disparaging information might do the same to you should they leave your employ, and such an answer is indicative of a poor work ethic and low integrity. Look for a candidate who remains respectful and positive throughout their response without creating the impression that they are glossing over serious issues.
5. How did you find out about us?
Candidates find vacancies in many different ways. Some work through recruitment agencies, some work through recruitment sites such as Pnet, Careers24, Executive Placements, etc. and others keep an eye on companies which they are particularly interested in, all three are respectable ways of searching for employment. When candidates find you through a recruitment site, listen closely to their answer to determine whether they blindly applied for your vacancy or did some research on your company first.
On to strategic questions …
Strategic interview questions assess not only a candidate’s capabilities, but their behavioural, situational, and career development aptitudes. These questions are aimed not just at gaining information, but at assessing more than one facet per question.
Here are some strategic questions to ask in an interview
1. How would you explain your role/job to someone who knows nothing about it?
This question provides you with two clear sets of insight: whether the candidate’s understanding of their role truly matches your requirements, and the extent to which they are able to articulate their thoughts. This is a good measure of their communication skills and – especially if the role is in the creative field – how well they would be able to take an idea, structure it, and voice it in a manner that is understandable to those around them.
2. If you could start your career over again, what would you change?
While nobody likes to dwell on the past, everyone has one or two steps in their journey – no matter how small – that they might regret or want to amend. This question is not aimed at sussing out the mistakes that candidates made in the past, but is rather aimed at determining whether someone can reflect on past actions, analyse the occurrence and outcomes, and calculate different actions for more favourable outcomes. As an added bonus, the favourable outcomes mentioned grants insight into their ambitions and vision of the future.
3. What frustrates you most in your current work environment?
This question provides a multitude of insights. When talking about frustrations, candidates reveal details about their personality, diplomacy skills, ability to work in a team, and the level of irritations that frustrate them. Pay attention to the type of frustrations they describe – and of course, how many things they list. Are they easily frustrated by minor irritations and inconveniences – such as the squeak of a door hinge and general office buzz – or are they more frustrated by overhead/larger concerns such as conflicting priorities and poor communication.
4. How would you handle working with a colleague with whom you don’t get along?
This question provides insight into a candidate’s conflict resolution skills and interpersonal relationship skills. It’s an unavoidable fact that not everyone in a workplace would get along. The lines between colleague and friendship does not always have to be crossed for a good working relationship to form, but personality clashes and strong differences of opinion could influence the productivity of the individuals as well as the team. Look for answers that reflect a preference to open communication, direct yet conversational conflict resolution, and a willingness to compromise or understand the colleague’s point of view. Red flags with this question would include running directly to a supervisor or HR, taking an unnecessarily confrontational approach, or ignoring the conflict in the hopes that it goes away. Some people prefer to internalise conflict to a certain extent, but this is not always possible or advisable in roles that require definite or high-level decision making.
5. Thinking about this role, what do you believe is your primary value proposition (offering) for success in the role? In what areas do you know you’ll excel?
Rather use this only for candidates who apply for high-level roles, or roles that have a higher level of responsibility associated with managing reputational or operational performance risk. Also, pose this question in a friendly demeanour rather than a challenging one, as candidates with a softer character might feel attacked rather than open to share – which might not necessarily be an accurate indication of their capabilities. Look for answers that indicate the candidate understands and meets the core needs of their role or of your company and be wary of candidates that inflate accomplishments without considering whether it’s applicable to their application.
6. How do you handle criticism from a supervisor?
Criticism on any level is part and parcel of any job. Look for a candidate who sees constructive criticism as a learning opportunity, and who can respectfully or discreetly listen to open criticism. A good job candidate can receive criticism gracefully and find a way to implement the feedback into their work. Also, try to notice whether they see a difference between constructive criticism and criticism that is shared by a less than supportive supervisor.
7. Do you have any questions for us?
Well-prepared candidates might have one or two questions to pose to the panel. This might be something light-hearted such as team-building activities or something more meaningful such as employee benefits. Look for questions that have some relevance to your company, or ones that indicate specific needs on the candidate’s part. Both of these are indicative of a candidate who is focused or well-informed.
As a bonus …
Here are some general tips to improve the results of a strategic interview:
- Create an interview environment where candidates feel welcome and comfortable, as this will make them more inclined to talk freely and share their thoughts.
- Ask all candidates the same questions so that you have common criteria against which to measure them.
- Pay attention to their body language, as their facial expressions and posture could indicate their overall confidence, as well as discussion points with which they are uncomfortable.
- Ask open-ended questions that encourage candidates to talk or share more information, as this grants you deeper insight into their attitudes and abilities.
- Don’t ask about the candidate’s salary expectations, as this almost always leads to them feeling flustered and uncomfortable – and indicating the salary range is good practise in recruitment.
Do you have any questions or need help with the interviewing process? Reach out to us and we will gladly help you through best practices for interviews. Contact Justin Durandt: email firstname.lastname@example.org