Knowing just what to ask during an interview with a prospective candidate is not an art, it’s a science. You should interview all candidates from a master list of questions, take good notes, and be objective. But what questions are “good” questions, you ask.
If your goal is to get the candidate talking, to find out whether or not s/he is a good fit for the position you have open, and to get to know him/her as much as you can during your allotted interview time, then you need well-crafted questions. That’s a tall order for an interview that may take an hour at most. So make the most out of the questions you ask.
I stay away from questions that will produce a YES/NO answer. When you ask this type of question, you’ve already wasted one. You want to ask ESSAY questions. These are the questions that take some time to answer. Remember taking tests in high school? How much time did you really spend thinking about the TRUE/FALSE questions? Not as much time as you spent on the ESSAY questions. Your candidate will have to think to answer these questions. If you can see your candidate thinking, you have asked a good question.
You want to structure your questions in a way that will give you an idea of how the candidate has behaved in the past. Past behavior is a predictor of future performance. Remember this – it’s important. Your questions should ask for examples of how the candidate has handled something in the past, how s/he has completed a project, how s/he gets work done.
Here are some examples you can tailor to suit your own work environment:
- Talk me through your employment history and let me know, along the way, why you’ve left each position to move on.
- Describe for me the person you consider to be your mentor.
- Who do you respect the most as a supervisor and why?
- Tell me about a project you’ve worked on that you were particularly proud of.
- Walk me through a typical day in your current position.
- Describe a situation in which you failed and how you handled it.
- If you were the president of your current company, what would you do differently?
- Some people are described as individuals who “roll with the punches.” Would you describe yourself this way and why?
- Tell me about a difficult situation you’ve handled and describe how you handled it.
- Describe a situation that you handled badly and tell me about how you’d handle it differently now.
The answers to these questions will give you information you need to determine whether or not the person you’re interviewing is a good fit for your organization and for the position you have open. Now that you have some examples, you can write your own.
Just remember a few key elements of writing good interview questions:
- Write job-related questions.
- Write questions that produce essay answers.
- Write questions that call for examples of past behavior.
- Don’t ask questions that you know have the potential of giving you information you shouldn’t have.
- Don’t ask questions that are illegal.
- Don’t ask hypothetical questions that call for the candidate to predict how s/he will react (these are worthless).
Since these questions are a bit different from what many candidates are used to, you’ll have to be patient as your candidate thinks of an answer. Let him/her know you don’t mind waiting for an answer. In fact, you expect to have to wait for an answer. Once the candidate gets in the habit of answering questions with examples, it will become easier.
Be prepared for interviews. Don’t think that because you’ve interviewed candidates for 10 years that you can wing it. You can’t. Conduct the interview with your legal pad and pen in hand. Ask your prepared questions. Take notes. Invite the candidate to ask you questions.
Finally, end the interview with a description of your process (the next step is…) and timeframe (I will call you by… or we plan to make a decision in…), as well as a call to action (if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call me).