This week, the U. S. Labor Department reported that employers advertised for more open positions at the end of April than had been previously recorded in the fifteen years the government has been tracking the statistic. With hiring on the rise, employers and potential employees will find themselves engaged in more job interviews in the weeks and months ahead. Therefore, the next two articles will focus on questions to ask during an interview, both from an employer’s and a potential employee’s perspective, starting with cogent inquiries from interviewers.
The Value of Pre-Employment Screening
A previously posted article on this site, “Hiring the Right People: Benefits of Pre-Employment Screening,” details the importance of organizations avoiding bad hires and establishing effective pre-employment screening practices. While a variety of screening assessments may be used (see the aforementioned article for examples) to secure quality hires, a standard component of selecting candidates for employment is the job interview. Asking the following questions will help you learn more about the person you are interviewing and help you determine whether he or she will be the right fit for your company.
What can you tell us/me about yourself?
This is a good question to get the interview started and to put the candidate more at ease, but it can also be a very revealing question. How the interviewee responds can tell you a lot about that person. Does he/she emphasize their professional goals and experiences, or does he/she focus on his/her personal life? How does he/she see himself/herself, and how might this person’s self-image fit in the culture of your organization? Allow the candidate to fully answer the question before asking any others to avoid the potential for leading.
What interests you about this position or company, and what skills or strengths can you bring to it?
Asking the question in this manner will allow you to better assess whether or not the candidate is a fit for your company or the position being sought because you are not asking for his or her strengths in general but how his or her strengths can benefit your outfit. A well-prepared candidate will be able to answer this question, and he or she may even take the opportunity to do a little self-promotion. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this; in fact, as long as it does not go too far, it may be the sign of an energetic, intelligent go-getter.
Where do you see yourself five or ten years from now?
This is a good question to help you determine whether the person will be a long-term fit for your company. Look for clear, specific answers that can tell you something about where the candidate expects to be (in position or salary) in the years to come. How candidates respond to this question can help you understand how they see themselves and help you gauge their levels of motivation and sense of reality. For instance, the candidate who simply wishes to feel fulfilled without offering specifics may lack ambition or vision while the candidate who expects to go from cleaning toilets to the head of a Fortune 500 company in just a few years may have an overinflated ego or unreasonable expectations.
How have you handled a specific challenge or difficult situation that you have faced in your profession?
You may want to frame this type of question with a specific example of an issue that is common to your industry. The interviewee’s response will give you a clearer sense of his/her ability to handle the challenges of the position. Furthermore, asking for a specific incident from the candidate’s past will better allow you to spot potential problem employees. For example, if a candidate describes a scenario with a previous employer that turned out to be a failure and the candidate does nothing but blame everyone except himself for what happened, you may be talking to a person who always sees himself as a victim. This type of employee could become problematic in the future or even damage your organization’s culture.
What is your passion?
This question can give you a glimpse at the candidate’s true self and motivations. People who are passionate about the industry may make terrific long-term employees who can help your company grow and thrive. However, even if their passions lie outside the industry, people can still value the position as a means of allowing them to do what they love after hours, and they may still make great employees. After all, an honest, confident answer can speak well of a person’s character, and loving something in one area does not necessarily negate a person’s skills in another. However, if you sense you are being fed a line because the candidate is just trying to tell you what she thinks you want to hear, you may reasonably wonder about her forthrightness and dependability going forward.
Why did you leave (or why were you forced to leave) your last position, and (if a significant period of time has elapsed) what have you been doing since?
While this is a valuable question to ask, it is important to make every effort not to ask it in an accusatory or condescending manner. Remember, you are looking for specific, factual details, and you are more likely to get them if you can avoid making the interviewee feel defensive. In fact, you may also feel tense or uncomfortable asking the question, so be as diplomatic and neutral as you can be to make the conversation as painless as possible. It is important to inquire about the candidate’s employment history to get a clearer picture of what you can expect. While this question affords another opportunity to gauge an applicant’s potential to become a toxic force within your organization, keep in mind that there are many reasons someone might lose a position or remain unemployed for long periods of time, and these reasons may not speak to the quality of the person’s character or his/her potential to become a valuable asset to the company. If red flags do arise, follow up with verifiable information from the human resources department of the previous employer.
Asking these questions can help you conduct meaningful interviews, which in turn can help you make successful hiring decisions. Coupling successful interviews with other pre-employment screening techniques will allow you to find the right people for your organization, which is one of the most important things you can do to ensure the success of your enterprise. As hiring picks up across the nation, take the steps needed to give yourself an advantage over your competition.
Need help screening potential hires? Leadership Excellence consultant Greg L. Thomas is one of a handful of professionals trained to implement the The Judgment Index™. Contact us today to learn more about this exclusive pre-employment screening test and how it can save your organization thousands.
*Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net