96 Great Interview Questions To Ask Before You Hire
Updated and expanded, a practical collection of probing interview questions designed to uncover the truth behind every job candidate.
Every harried interviewer knows the result of throwing out vague questions to potential employees: vague answers and potentially disastrous hiring decisions. Presented in a handy question-and-answer format, 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire provides readers with the tools they need to elicit honest and complete information from job candidates, plus helpful hints on interpreting the responses. The book gives interviewers everything they need to:
identify high-performance job candidates
probe beyond superficial answers
spot 'red flags" indicating evasions or untruths
get references to provide real information
negotiate job offers to attract winners
Included in this revised and updated edition are new material on background checks, specific challenges posed by the up-and-coming millennial generation, and ideas for reinventing the employment application to gather more in-depth information than ever before. Packed with insightful questions, this book serves as a ready reference for both managers and human resources professionals alike.
Paul Falconeis Vice President of Employee Relations at Time Warner Cable in Los Angeles and was formerly Vice President of Human Resources at Nickelodeon. He is the author of 2600 Phrases for Effective Performance Reviews, 101 Sample Write-Ups for Documenting Employee Performance Problems, and 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire. He lives in Valencia, California.
96 Great Interview Questions To Ask Before You Hire
McGraw-Hill Education Australia & New Zealand
Author: Paul Falcone
Interview with Paul Falcone
Question: What inspired you to write 96 Great Interview Questions To Ask Before You Hire?
Paul Falcone: I had an interesting beginning to my career in that I had worked on both sides of the employment desk-first as a headhunter / contingency recruiter for six years and then as a human resources recruiter for one year (at the time of writing the first edition of the book). As a headhunter, I constantly got the same questions over and over from candidates, and I spent such an enormous amount of my time preparing candidates for interviews with employers. Then once I became a corporate recruiter and got to see the "receiving end" of candidates who came in geared up for an interview, I developed some interesting counter-insights in terms of the candidate interview process overall. That unique perspective led me to believe that hiring managers often didn't get to see the real candidate behind the facade. There were so many books on interviewing that would help candidates evade truthful and direct answers, and hiring managers generally didn't have enough "critical mass" in their interview questioning strategies to get beyond the initial level of superficial responses. So my goal was to create an interview questioning strategy guide that focused on particular disciplines that are common in corporate America - sales, recent college grads, senior executives, and the like.
Candidates tend to respond to initial queries in a very formulaic and predictable pattern. If employers don't know how to move them away from the Q&A rhythm of a typical interview, then they'll walk away with a very superficial understanding of what makes that person tick, and that could lead to unfortunate surprises down the road (as happens all too often when you look at a typical company's turnover stats). My goal was to teach readers (hiring managers) how to match a candidate's personal style to the company's culture - and that it's not just about likeability-it's about compatibility in terms of personal style, pace, ability to accept constructive criticism, willingness to work the appropriate number of hours, and the like. And the best way to get there in my mind would be to give the interviewer a number of relevant questions for specific roles that would be fairly common but also easily customisable-and then address common responses to expect and how to dig deeper from there.
Question: What is one of the most often missed, yet extremely important questions employers need to ask during a job interview?
Paul Falcone: Employers often look to see if the candidate would be a good fit personality-wise and if they have the proper technical credentials (e.g., software technologies, cost accounting systems, prior industry experience, and the like), but they sometimes fail to look at the candidate's needs and whether this would be a good move in career progression for that person. It's very important that interviews become a two-way exchange: open, honest assessments not only of the candidate's potential fit factor but whether the role in question will help that individual further his or her career interests. So I stress that employers engage candidates in career discussions regarding their short- and long-term goals and whether this role could be a match. It forces career introspection into the discussion, and candidates typically appreciate that very much. Question #37 asks: "If you were to accept this position with us today, how would you explain that to a prospective employer five years from now? How would this job provide a link in your future career progression?" It usually stops candidates in their tracks-but in a good way… It forces them to voice out loud what they're looking for, how they see themselves building their careers, and how this particular role might help them get there. It also sometimes helps them see why they may not be a good fit and why accepting a particular position might not make sense over the long haul. For example, if someone is interviewing for a role that she currently supervises in her current company, then it would not only represent a cut in pay but also a cut in responsibilities that could be difficult to justify from a career development standpoint three to five years down the road. So it's a very selfless question and it actually shifts the career development paradigm to the pre-employment stage, making the candidate appreciate the fact that the hiring manager is focused not only on the company's interests but on the individual's as well.
Question: Why was it important to update the book?
Paul Falcone: The original manuscript came out in 1997, and the second edition was published in 2009. It's amazing how quickly the world changed in those 12 years! I definitely wanted to add a section on interviewing Millennials - those new workforce entrants who were born since 1981 who are roaring onto the employment scene in such huge numbers. This is the largest generation since the Baby Boomers, and they represent such a huge economic and social force that's changing the rules of leadership, motivation, and corporate operations overall. Navigating generational politics has taken on a whole new meaning, and this tech savvy, individualistic tour de force of youngsters is changing how media gets delivered, how markets are being niched and defragmented, and how companies approach hiring and retention. On the one hand, they're incredibly ambitious, optimistic, and self-reliant. On the negative side, they've been characterised as self-indulged, IM-illiterate, and possessing short attention spans. And because their numbers are so huge and represent (literally) the future of corporate America, finding the line between incorporating them into "traditional" corporate cultures and accommodating their revisionist understanding of the world will make for many challenges to come.
In addition, I wanted to address the changing nature of career stability in light of the 2008 economic collapse. So many people were laid off en masse that following the traditional interviewing paradigms and understandings was no longer a valid way to engage in candidate selection: It's no longer so bad if someone is unemployed currently, it's not terrible if they've been laid off through no fault of their own, and longer-term contracting, consulting, and temping is now a viable way of keeping bread on the table-not an about-face from a traditional corporate career path. Spending time on qualifying an individual's reasons for leaving prior positions, qualifying a layoff to see if only the individual alone was impacted vs. thousands of people who were cut because of a company bankruptcy or divestiture, and getting to understand what criteria they're using in selecting their next employer or position has become all the more important.
Question: Can you talk about the importance of the helpful hints on interpreting the responses?
Paul Falcone: It's important that interviewers get off the patterned, Q & A rhythm of short, superficial questions followed by short, superficial answers. The goal of every interview should be get to know the "real" candidate behind the hype, but getting there isn't easy when you're meeting a stranger for the first time and trying not only to establish immediate rapport but also to develop enough trust to get real answers to somewhat challenging questions. After all, when you hire someone, you're probably assuming that you're going to be investing in this individual heavily over the next three to five years, and let's face it - one bad hire could wreak havoc on your otherwise well performing operation. You'll know you've arrived at the desired trust level, though, and "pierced their heart" when a candidate responds, "Well, I normally wouldn't say this on an interview, but…" Once you hear those magic words, you can rest assured that the individual has let his guard down and is willing to share much more openly who he is, how he sees himself, and how excited and engaged he is about this opportunity. Getting to that level of interpersonal trust with a candidate often comes from discussions like the one outlined above where the employer asks the candidate to engage in some career introspection and determine if this is the right fit for him for the long term. Likewise, sitting across from one another on a couch (rather with a desk between you) and maybe offering some candy or cookies to break the ice just creates a different sense of who you are as leader and what your company is all about, and you'll typically generate much more realistic results if you can convince the candidate that this isn't a formal, distanced, "play your cards close to the vest" type of interview but rather an open and honest exchange where both parties' interests are equally important.
Likewise, interviewers should employ a behavioural interviewing format to get candidates off the Q&A rhythm of short, spotty queries and equally illusive superficial responses that don't really add value to the exchange. Ask, "Give me an example of a time when you actually had to do that -- How did it go, did you feel like you could have done something differently that would've made it better, or did your boss provide you with any constructive input as a learning experience? What is it about you that typically makes you respond that way - How do you see yourself and your role in those types of circumstances?" and the like. These types of follow-up interview questions get the candidate talking freely, and the conversational tone helps people on both sides of the table let their guards down. That's a critical step in interpreting responses because you're getting much more realistic information that will help predict how the individual will relate and respond to situations and people within your organisation in the future.
Question: How can employers spot 'red flags" indicating evasions or untruths?
Paul Falcone: Candidate responses are sometimes rote and not necessarily well thought out. I don't recommend trying to catch candidates in "gotcha!" moments, but it's important that the questions are structured to elicit truthful, well thought out responses. For example, one of the questions in the book discusses the candidate's reason for leaving his or her current position. A typical response is "no room for growth" or some such equivalent. A typical follow-up query might be, "What would be your next logical move in progression at your current company, and how long would it take you to get there?" If the candidate responds, "Well, I'm a financial analyst and my next move up would be to a finance manager position, but my boss has been there for fifteen years and isn't going anywhere," that would be a totally logical response because it clearly justifies why the candidate is sitting in your office and interviewing with you.
But what about candidates who respond, "My next move in progression would be to a finance manager position, and I'd guess that could happen somewhere between the next six to twelve months." That should typically stop the interview cold. The interviewer would ask, "Then don't mind my asking, but if you can promote into that manager position within the next year, why are you here with me today?" And all of a sudden the interviewer finds out that there are other circumstances really driving the candidate's search - he doesn't get along all that well with the director of finance, maybe the director dislikes the manager and sees the candidate as in cahoots with the current manager, and the like. So the structure of the question moves the conversation in a particular direction, hopefully toward shining some light on the real motives behind the candidate's moves and other similar, but very important, factors. Again, the goal isn't to "catch someone" doing something wrong by giving inconsistent information-it's for you, as an interviewer, to more realistically gauge who this candidate is, how she sees herself relative to the opportunity you're offering, and how she could help you move your organisation forward.
Interview by Brooke Hunter