4 interview questions you must ask

Contract. Photo: ©istock.com/AndreyPopov
Contract. Photo: ©istock.com/AndreyPopov
Be prepared: Don’t be one of those hiring managers who wings interviews.

Life is all about choices. In every moment, we make choices. Do this or do that. Go here or go there. It’s endless. And every choice produces a logical outcome, a result. The most important choice we make in business is who gets hired. When you hire the right people, you create a win/win/win situation. You win, your employees win and your customers win. The question is: Why can’t we do it right more often?

My take on it is that rather than hire the person who is best for the job, business owners and hiring managers most often hire the person they like best. The only way to override this built-in, faulty bias is to create a hiring system that screens in those who meet the hiring criteria—not those who make a good impression.

At the heart of every hiring system, no matter how simple or how elaborate, is the interview. It’s here where people make the most mistakes. While the people who are looking for jobs prepare for interviews by reading books and rehearsing their answers to the most frequently asked interview questions, the interviewers most often wing it.

And because they’re ill-prepared, 98 percent of interviews start with these profound words: “So, tell me a little about yourself.” If you want to find out if an applicant is honest or dependable or innovative or a team player, would this prompt get you the information you need? The next move is usually to scan the application and ask the applicant to confirm information he or she provided there. “So, I see you worked at Mighty Fast Foods. How did that go?”

Let me suggest that—rather than asking the applicant to ad lib or confirm things you already know—you use this structured, four-question set to get the information you need to do a better job selecting the people who will do the best job rather than those who make the best first impression.

1. “Tell me about your very first paying job and three things you learned from it.” This question catches most applicants off guard. As they recall and recount mowing lawns, baby-sitting or flipping burgers, the experience immediately lowers their defenses. The implication is you are more interested in them as a person than what they did on their last job. The response will also give you a glimpse into motivation and how the person’s work ethic developed. Then, to get the big picture, have the applicant tell you a little about each successive job and what he or she learned. This gives you a sense of the types of successes the applicant has experienced as well as any common frustrations or roadblocks.

2. “On a scale of 1 to 10, rank yourself in terms of your (customer service skills) and tell me your reasoning.” Repeat this for every trait, skill or characteristic that is important to success on the job. The responses will indicate what kind of standards and expectations applicants hold themselves to. For instance, let’s say you did ask about customer service skills. The answer may be, “I’d say I’m about a nine because at my last job I got more raises than anyone else in my department.” Or it could be, “I’m about a five because I find putting up with stupid client questions is really frustrating.”

3. “How were you rated for each of the areas we’ve just discussed on your last performance appraisal? Could you give a me a copy of the last one you had?” This holds the applicants’ feet to the fire because they will assume you will be checking references. When they provide you with a copy, you will find out if the applicant’s supervisor had a different opinion. Probe any discrepancies for better or worse to understand why the applicant and the former manager did not agree.

4. “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about yourself and your abilities?” This effectively closes the interview in the best possible way, by letting the applicant have the last word. It also may elicit information that you never would have discovered otherwise.

Photo: ©istock.com/AndreyPopov

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Mel Kleiman

Mel Kleiman is the author is the founder of Humetrics. He helps companies build high-quality, frontline, hourly workforces. Reach him at mkleiman@humetrics.com.

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