Judging Your Hiring Efforts for the Year

Dealbreaker Questions to Ask Jobseekers Up Front

When it comes to interviewing candidates, HR professionals, recruiters and small business owners all have their own strategy. To do that, the skilled interviewers generally have a list of questions they ask that provide the detailed, in-depth information they need.

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Meaning, they ask questions that pending on the answer, will make or break the deal based on the candidate’s response. And because of that, employers are changing how they interview job candidates as they place as much, or more, emphasis on personality as technical skills, according to the ExecuSearch 2015 Regional Hiring Outlook for the northeastern U.S., released on January 14, 2015. This report was the subject of a Society of Human Resource Management article by Kathy Gurchiek and reported these findings based on surveys with more than 200 employers that are ExecuSearch clients. Respondents included C-suite executives, directors and managers in the New York City tri-state and greater Boston areas:

  • Sixty-three percent of survey respondents said they use behavioral-based questions
  • 54 percent use personality-based questions and
  • 34 percent use candidate presentations to gain a better sense of a job seeker’s personality and fit within the organization.

Dean DeGroot of Innerview Consulting is a licensed psychologist who also provides interview training and has served as a consultant for companies as part of the candidate selection process. In interview situations, DeGroot likes to ask these types of questions:

  1. What attracts you to the company?
    “This gives me an idea of how much effort they spent in researching the company, and what aspects motivate them,” says DeGroot. This is also where DeGroot looks for a possible connection to the company. Does the candidate know someone already working with the company? Do they know about the community service projects, or perhaps that the company was recently named to a Best Place to Work list?

“It’s about fit and something more than a pay check,” says DeGroot.

Good answers include candidates citing a company’s reputation, quality of products or services, experience working with people from the organization, or relaying positive feedback about the company from other employees currently at the company.

Bad answers, says DeGroot, include, things such as “it’s close to home.” or “I don’t know much about the company.” And dodging the question completely is another red flag.

  1. Two part question: People who do not know you well, may describe you as ______? And what 3 words do you believe best describe you as a person?”

What to look for: DeGroot is looking for details on an individual’s “self-knowledge,” he says, which he believes “shows some maturity and likelihood that they have learned a few things through feedback. The first part gets at how well they know themselves in terms of first impressions, so if they are a shy person they can state that which may be evident by the interviewer. The second part can give the candidate the opportunity to share other sides of themselves – other dynamics that my come out in their dealings with others.

“Some folks know themselves well, but others can be totally tripped up by this set of questions, which shows little self reflection and perhaps someone void of feedback or interpersonal interaction,” says DeGroot.

Finding passion and motivation: DeGroot likes to find out what the candidate is passionate about and what could be considered motivational killers.

Why? This can provide clues of people, environments, management styles, conflict management, as well as what will satisfy the individual at work. One can also get a sense of how resilient the candidate is: “I’m not real keen about a lot of routine, but realize that every job has some mundane aspects. Generally speaking, not much of anything really de-motivates me that much because I can always find a new challenge or learn something new if I look around.”

Rachel Salley, SPHR, Director of Human Resources of CSS – Divine Providence Village, in Springfield, PA., likes to ask pointed, behavioral-based interview questions. Behavioral-based questions are designed to gauge an employee’s ability to deal with specific scenarios based on their prior experiences.

“What could potentially disqualify a candidate from further consideration is if he/she does not have the ability to effectively answer these questions with real life examples of situations they have faced in the past and how that experience would correlate to the position/organization in which they are interviewing for,” says Salley.

Salley likes to ask these questions:

  • Why are you looking? Why did you leave and what is your ideal opportunity at this time?
  • What do you think your biggest contribution and immediate impact to the organization/position will be and why?
  • What are your career goals and how do you see this position fitting into those goals and why?

The combined answers of these questions play a key role in the decision-making process.

“Any answer that indicates there was an interpersonal conflict between the employee and his/her supervisor, and/or any answer that indicates the employee resigned in lieu of being let go,” says Salley.

These answers advise the recruiter that the candidate may be difficult to manage, unable to handle or overcome conflict and/or may have done something that constitutes misconduct in their previous role. Another red flag is when an employee cannot effectively answer why they left or are looking to leave a position.

“As HR Professionals, we understand that sometimes there either just isn’t a fit between an employee and an organization or things change, either in the employee’s life or the organization that force and employee to leave,” says Salley. “Honesty, and the ability to effectively answer the ‘Why are you looking?’ or ‘Why did you leave?’ question is vital in ensuring that the interviewer has faith that whatever issue or reason caused you to leave has been addressed and resolved.”


8 Tips for Successful Interviews
From Heather Barnfield, the director of Intellectual Property Development for Korn Ferry and editor and co-author of Korn Ferry Interview Architect™ Interview Guide, for the Society of Human Resources Management

  1. Prepare for your interview: Even if you are an experienced interviewer, resist the temptation to take a spontaneous approach. Decide which skills, behaviors and experiences are critical for the job and the specific questions that will determine if the candidate is qualified. Be clear on what you want to hear; knowing what you’re listening for will help you to determine whether the candidate has what it takes to succeed in the role.
  2. Budget your time: Don’t let a candidate’s answer to one question take up all the time you have available for the interview. Consider the time that you have scheduled to conduct the interview relative to the number of questions you want to ask, and allot your time accordingly.
  3. Put the interviewee at ease: You’re much more likely to see and hear the real person if the candidate feels relaxed. Start by providing an overview of what he or she can expect during the conversation. Reassure the candidate that it’s OK to take time to think and take notes. Let her know she will have the opportunity to ask questions.
  4. Be consistent: Using a job profile as a guide, determine which competencies you need to focus on for the position. Ask each candidate for that role the same competency-based questions in the same order. Probe further into their responses to gain deeper insight.
  5. Take notes: Stay engaged with what the candidate is saying, but also record your observations during the course of the interview. Even if you have an excellent memory, it’s easy to confuse one conversation with another. Stick to key facts and bullet-point observations. Don’t make assessment notes during the interview. This can be disconcerting for the interviewee and distracting for you.
  6. Remember the 80/20 rule: The candidate should do around 80 percent of the talking. Use open-ended questions to help ensure the correct balance: What? When? Where? Why? How? Who?
  7. Stay objective and neutral: Be aware of potential biases that may influence your perceptions during the interview. We tend to like and feel more comfortable with people we see as similar to ourselves. However, that doesn’t necessarily make them right for the role. It also reduces valuable diversity. So don’t get drawn in by the things you have in common or make judgments based on differences. Also steer clear of a lot of small talk, as this can introduce conversation that’s inappropriate for the interview, such as references to family. Avoid approving responses. Stick to the structure of the interview and establish an appropriately formal tone.
  8. Evaluate carefully: Assess candidates against the specified requirements for the role—and not against one another. In other words, don’t select someone just because he or she is the best of a mediocre group. If the person doesn’t meet the specifications, there’s little chance he will succeed in the role. Leave enough time after the interview to take stock of your observations and review your ratings.

Written by

Matt Krumrie is a career columnist and professional resume writer who has been providing helpful information and resources for job seekers and employers for 15+ years. Learn more about Krumrie via resumesbymatt.com, connect with him on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/mattkrumrie/) and follow him on Twitter via @MattKrumrie.

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