Job interviews are stressful – and not just for the potential candidate. Interviewing someone for a role, especially when you have to defend your selection to a manager higher up, puts a lot of pressure on the interviewer too. You need to guide the conversation in a way that helps you gather more information, but also doesn’t put the candidate on the spot too much. Even the most skilled and competent candidates can get flustered sometimes, and you don’t want a bad interview to get in the way of what could have been a really good fit. Here are some general pointers, good questions to ask any candidate, and questions to avoid.
Use your list of required skills to build your interview questions around
First and foremost, an interview should help you ascertain whether someone actually has the experience you need, or whether they’ve been a little… generous about listing skills on their resume. Before the interview, highlight the areas on their CV that mention the skills you’re looking for, and write down a question that probes a little deeper.
What kind of projects did you use XYZ software on? Can you give me some examples when you used XYZ to help a client? I see you listed XYZ skill here, can you give me some examples where you used it? Engineering recruitment agencies, for example, often ask candidates to describe the details of their involvement on a construction project. You should get an immediate sense of how confident the candidate is addressing the particular skill you’re after, as well as some insight on their level of attention to detail.
Use open-ended questions carefully
If there’s one question every interviewee loathes, it’s the classic: “So, tell me a little bit more about you!” Even if they’ve prepared very thoroughly for the interview, this very broad kind of question regularly throws candidates for a loop. That might be a good thing if you’re looking for someone who’s extroverted and can think on their feet, but not if you’re looking for a hard worker who gets on with the task at hand behind the scenes.
Likewise, a question along the lines of, ‘How good are your time management skills?’ is going to give you less useful information than if you asked, ‘How do you prioritize tasks when you have too much many things to address at once?’
Get a feel for their problem-solving ability by asking hypothetical questions
One excellent way to gauge how suitable a candidate is for a particular position is to run a problem they’re likely to encounter in the role past them. ‘Our clients often ask us if we can help them with XYZ. How would you address something like that?’
The question can be very specific if you want to find out more about a particular skill, or slightly broader if you want to get an idea of how well they handle stress and new situations. Their answer also gives you insight into their working style – whether they prefer to handle problems independently, in a team, or if they prefer to go to someone higher up for help.
Tell me what you liked best about your role at XYZ?
If they’ve previously held a position that’s very similar to the one you’re looking to fill, this is an excellent question to see how happy they would be in the position. If the thing they enjoyed most had little to do with their main function, they’re probably not going to be happy doing something so similar for long. On the other hand, if they found their chief duties in a similar position to be rewarding, they’re likely to find working for you pleasant too.
Where do you see yourself X years from now, what are your career goals?
Sometimes it’s easy to pick up signs of a well-planned career path in someone’s CV by the progression of roles that they’ve taken over the years, but more often than not, factors outside of the candidate’s control have had an impact. Asking them where they want to be in the future should give you a good indication whether they intend to stick around for some time or whether the role is just a stepping stone for them. Depending on what you’re looking for, either might be a good thing! If you specifically want someone who’s busy studying towards a qualification your company can use down the line, going for someone a little more ambitious – and open about it – could lead to a mutually beneficial outcome.