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Ditch the old questions and replace with questions that increase the effectiveness of the hiring process…

So, you’re a manager and you’ve been interviewing for many years and you’ve got your faithful stock interview questions – STOP have you asked yourself are these questions really helping you to qualify a candidate’s capability? After all, that is the main purpose of an interview right!

If you ask these questions to the “polished” or “prepared” candidates they’ll get out the PowerPoint Presentation, the laser pointer and talk you through the ready-made textbook answer!  Here’s one I made up earlier!

Wouldn’t you rather get to know the real person? The real person that you will be working with you Monday to Friday 9 to 5!

You need to understand if they are capable of doing the job they are being employed to do.

What are your strengths & weaknesses?

This question really plays to those candidates who like only sharing the positives and only sharing what they want you to know – and you may as well not bother asking about weaknesses – no one is going to be stupid enough to list all the things they cannot do or do badly!

This question basically gives the candidate free text to show off or give you a list of nice/positive words.

I’m challenging anyone to be able to assess someone’s competence with this information. How do you measure the answers?

The candidate takes control of the information they share with these types of interview questions and the answers are always positive! Even the “weaknesses” will be a list of the candidate’s strengths because who’s going to be negative or talk themselves out of a job by telling you what skills and knowledge they don’t have!

This interview question will not provide quality evidence of someone’s competence – this isn’t assessing someone’s previous behaviour – which is still the most effective method of predicting future behavioural competence.

Alternative interview question:

Talk us through achievement or objective or project [select as appropriate] that benefited the organisation and moved your career to the next level? Describe the situation step by step and tell us what actions you took.

Probing questions might include describing how you managed any challenges that arose? What were the lessons learnt? What would you do differently next time? This last question will explain their “weaknesses” although I prefer to call them developments or training opportunities.

Why do you want this job?

What are you trying to assess with this question? This will not give you an idea of the persons’ motivation – it’s too direct and no candidate is going to say – well it’s the only interview I’ve been invited to recently!

Better to ask key questions throughout the career history conversation – i.e. when talking through the candidate’s CV.

For example, talk me through an edited highlight of your career to date? Be careful with this question – you can easily lose control of the time if you allow “free text” with this chat through the candidate’s career.

If you are a new hiring manager, ensure you have a set of questions specifically for the CV background check and stick to the information you need to make a decision.

Alternative interview questions:

  • Why did you select this University to study?
  • What were your reasons for choosing this subject?
  • We see you worked at XX.  What made you join this organisation?
  • What made you move on from this job so soon?
  • In particular, what tasks did you really enjoy and why?
  • What tasks did you find de-motivating and how did you cope?
  • Was there anything frustrating when you worked at this organisation?
  • What parts of the corporate culture fit with your values and what didn’t quite fit? What was the management style?

These questions will give you an idea of what motivates and de-motivates the candidate.  So, listen carefully to their reasoning and justifying their decisions.

It will also give you information about how they make decisions – was it a random decision or well thought out and clear rationale?

How are you managing your successful candidates? 

How are you managing your unsuccessful candidates?

Multiple questions

I’ve supported hundreds of managers during the interview process and mostly experienced interviewers. However, there were a few that were less experienced and were more nervous than the candidates!

This tended to result in lots of questions being asked in one sentence – “So I can see from your CV you have done this work before, did you enjoy the work, or was it a challenge at first or did you just get on with it and did you get any feedback on how you were doing…

Okay, please stop and breath!  What should the candidate answer first?

Well actually it’s more likely the candidate will only answer one of the questions and it’s likely to be the last one asked.  Or they will only answer the last question or the easiest question!! This situation also tends to happen if you haven’t prepared properly and don’t have any written down questions.

Give me five words that describe you at work?

Okay, this question is a great “buy some time” question. You can use this question to fill a gap or try to catch up with your notes or to ensure you’ve asked all your questions before closing the interview.

However, it’s not giving you any useful information to make a decision.  It’s just a bunch of positive words that anyone could say!  Again, you are giving control of information to the candidate – so they decide how they want to be viewed.  Maybe you’re thinking this assessment of the question is a little unfair. 

It will give you an idea of the candidate’s values and what characteristics are important to them.  It’s not a total waste of time asking this question.  

Alternative interview questions:

Talk us through your last appraisal? What were the main objectives and what was the feedback from your manager? Did your manager give you any advice or guidance for the next years’ objectives?

Or you could ask “How would your manager describe you?” Watch the body language with these questions – it might say more than the candidate’s answer!

How to avoid common mistakes during the hiring process.

10 Common mistakes during the hiring process

Hypothetical questions or scenarios

If you are looking for a candidate to talk you through their understanding of a process then I’ll let you have this question!  However, just talking through a process or textbook step by step guide does not demonstrate someone’s capability or competence. It only demonstrates they understand the flow of tasks or activities. 

Let me explain with an example if I attended a Project Management (PM) course and by the end of the course, I could explain the steps of a project (Business case, Strategy, Scope, Resources, Milestones and Specifications etc.).  I now have knowledge of the process of Project Management. This does not automatically mean I’m a competent Project Manager. 

I need to start applying my knowledge of PM to be able to demonstrate the many behavioural competencies needed to be a good Project Manager (Managing Resources, Meeting Deadlines, Communication skills, People Management Skills, Influencing Skills, Planning & Organising skills etc.)

So, it’s okay to ask the hypothetical questions to gain an understanding of the candidates’ knowledge of a process but not to assess competence.  

Alternative interview questions:

Always ask for a specific example from their career history.  This will give you real evidence of their capability and competence and will help you understand how they deal with real-life events throughout a particular project cycle/task or objective.

Working life is not a textbook – project scopes change, markets change, client specifications and requirements change, budgets get cut, business priorities change and so do their resources to name a few disruptions, distractions and disasters.  So, you need to understand how someone deals, copes and manages in real working conditions.

About Dawn Moss

Dawn has worked in a corporate environment for over ten years providing Recruitment & Selection Services, and has been involved in Coaching & Educating Business Leaders, Managers and Employees in all aspects of the recruitment process.

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