When a new employee comes on board you commit significant time and money to developing what you hope will be a team member who will make meaningful contributions to your business. Obviously you’ll do your best to check on a candidate’s background and work history, but many times it’s difficult or impossible to get a straight answer from previous employers, or a balanced appraisal from hand-picked references. That’s why the interview questions you ask and the prospective employee’s answers are so important.
Assuming you want what most employers desire in a new hire – good work ethic, loyalty, honesty and integrity, along with the specific skills the position requires, asking the right interview questions and carefully listening to the answers should enable you to make a more informed hiring decision.
Here, then, are 7 key interview questions and what you should be looking for in the answers:
Tell me about yourself. Listen carefully and let the person finish before you say anything. The answers can give you insights into the person's self image, and the positive traits they want you to see. Do they focus on work only, or do they also reveal what kind of person they are? How does the answer mesh your company culture, the nature of the position and the people they’ll be working with?
Why are you applying for this position? Clearly you’re looking for an answer that says more than “I need a job.” Does the person display any knowledge of your company and what it does? Do they communicate any passion for the kind of work you do? Do they see this as an opportunity to contribute and grow within your organization?
Tell me how you would… This is an opportunity to test the person’s ability to solve problems related to the position. Give them a hypothetical situation that is likely to occur in their first months on the job. For example, if a process breaks down, equipment fails or a customer delivery deadline is in peril. How the person answers will also give you insights into whether they can see the bigger picture, or only focus on their immediate role.
Tell me about a success you’ve had in your present or past job. This question goes to how the person defines success and if he or she shares credit with the other people involved. It can also reveal problem solving capability, leadership qualities and independent thinking.
What would your current/previous employer say are your greatest strengths? This question puts the “personal strengths” question into a different perspective. We all think we know our own strengths, but thinking about it in this context should make the person consider how others see them, and may bring out some other factors, such as if the person feels they weren’t able to demonstrate some of their strengths in the current or previous job.
What would your current/previous employer say are your most important areas for improvement. Again, this shifts the focus and may reveal an honest understanding of shortcomings or the inability to accept criticism.
What would you like to ask me? Hopefully the person will ask questions related to the company and the position that indicate an honest interest in the work and working environment. If all they ask about is how soon they’ll get a raise and how much vacation time they can take this year, it’s not a good sign.
Interview questions like these can go a long way toward helping you make good hiring decisions. Just remember to listen well to each answer and read between the lines.