Your resume made the cut. Now it’s time for The Interview. The success or failure of the interview now rests solidly on the job seeker’s shoulders: … or does it?

As recruiters, we work hard to prepare our candidates for an interview, helping them develop strong answers to the questions they can expect. (We may even throw in a prayer to the traffic gods for them.) Then we anxiously wait for the post-interview call, only to find out that the interview was a complete disaster to no fault of their own.

The burden of responsibility for a successful interview lies equally on the shoulders of the interviewer and the interviewee. Ideally, during the process of developing the job description, employers will have done their homework and created a picture of the ideal candidate. Before a search is even launched, employers should have already defined what the best possible candidate will possess in regard skills, experience, seniority, strengths, weaknesses, and education, to name a few. Ultimately, these requirements should drive the interview.

  1. Never ask a candidate questions about their race, religion, family life, or sexual orientation. Any question that asks a candidate to reveal information about such topics without the question having a job related basis will violate various state and federal discrimination laws. There is nothing wrong with getting to know a potential hire. In fact, understanding what makes him or her tick will provide insight regarding work ethic, commitment, leadership skills, etc.
  2. Never ask a candidate to describe his or her greatest strength or weakness. These questions have been overused and any candidate can produce a canned answer he or she has used in every interview before yours. Additionally, knowing that someone is “loyal” or that he or she “works too hard” is not an indicator that he or she will thrive in your company. A good interviewer will have specific questions that will allow the candidate to highlight his or her successes and experiences and this will show his or her strengths and even some weaknesses.
  3. Never ask a candidate where she sees herself in five years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average length of time people stay with a company or in a job is 4.6 years. Given this information, it still surprises us that employers ask this question. Obviously you are looking to hire someone who wants to make a commitment to your company, making your hiring and onboarding dollars worthwhile. You know it. The candidate knows it. What the interviewer really wants to know and should ask is, “How does this position align with your broader professional goals?”

Always ask a candidate well-thought out questions which provide them the opportunity to demonstrate what they have done, vs. what they "might" do.  Questions that address issues such as teamwork, handling conflict, and career path, set in a "what if" scenario, are ok. However, in order to truly uncover the personality, decision making ability, critical thinking skills, and intellectual curiosity, you need to walk your candidates through actual situations that occurred in their previous positions. Excellent examples include:

  • Walk me through your last 3 sales/projects/marketing campaigns/month end close, etc.

The key is to ask about the components of their situation including decisions, motivations, results, lessons learned and people involved. Questions such as:

  • Where did the initial idea/project/process stem from?
  • Who was involved in the sale/project/campaign?
  • What was the initial directive/goal and what was the final result?
  • What tools did you leverage to complete the project?
  • What was the initial timeline, and did it take more or less time than anticipated?
  • What went right with the sale?
  • What would you do different, if you could do it all over?
  • What challenges did you encounter along the way and how were they resolved?

To hire the best people, you have to ask the right questions about real life, actual situations they experienced. Using an interview to discuss information that is clearly available on the candidate’s resume, only allows for yes or no answers, or elicits canned answers that can be found simply by Googling “Best interview answers”, is a waste of everyone’s time. From the moment an employer sits down to create a job spec, she should be developing quality interview questions which will allow candidates to demonstrate why their skillset, experience, and passion will meet your needs.

Check out our website for more interview discussions and tips.