Tune Up Your Interview Questions for Better Hiring

I’m a regular reader of the “Corner Office” column in the Sunday NY Times. It presents a personal view of a CEO’s management philosophy delivered in an interview format. As a recruiter, a standard question that always catches my attention is “How do you hire?” This week’s CEO, Paulett Eberhart, of CDI, http://goo.gl/PYEFS delivered a good one, “If I were to talk to a group of people who’ve worked for you in different roles, what would they say that’s good about you, and then, what are the two things they would change about you?” She goes on to explain that it’s not the answer that’s so important, rather the thoughtfulness and honesty that goes into it.

This falls into a category known as “Behavioral Questions,” and a candidate’s answers to these questions can provide important insights into what motivates the person and what type of employee they may be. Here’s an interesting collection of behavioral questions from the Harvard Graduate School of Education http://goo.gl/vOMWm . You’ll find many others via a simple internet search which you can then modify to fit specific circumstances.

For instance, if I suspect an area of deficiency in a candidate (like teamwork, leadership skills, creativity, resource allocation skills, etc.), I employ questions like these to confirm or put to rest my suspicions about the candidate’s suitability. During a recent phone interview that included me, the candidate and the client, I ask the candidate, who was interviewing for a management position, to describe a time when there was a poor performer in the group and how she handled it. What I was looking for were examples of how she tried to work with the person to overcome his or her deficiencies. If that was not successful, did she attempt to redeploy the person to another department; or, if all else failed, move to dismissal.

A candidate’s ability to think on ones feet, cite real world experiences and communicate effectively is all tested with the use of behavioral questions. Make sure have a few in your quiver when you’re across the table from a prospective hire.

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Comment by Linda Ferrante on June 11, 2013 at 3:07pm

While behavioral questions are extremely important in an interview, and in the successful hires, I have a problem with questions where someone is asked to 'describe a time when'.  You can google 'how to answer' these questions and come up with a bunch of generic ways to craft your answers.  What is important for recruiters who use the behavioral questions to do is to go further than just those questions.

Ask what happened, what was the turn out, how did management react, did it change their perspective of their management team, was their fallout/reward, how did the team react, did you ever do it again, what happened with your relationship with those involved, was that why you left, etc.  Asking these follow up questions is CRITICAL to understanding where the candidate is coming from and will give you an incredible amount of insight into the personality and behaviors of the candidates.  Too many recruiters stop at the first question, or don't know how to interpret the follow up questions!

I don't think it's so much the ability for the candidate to 'think on their feet', but rather how THEY interpret a situation and how they articulate it back to you.  The insight is invaluable in making strong hiring decisions!


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