We all know prospective employees spend hours prepping for important interviews. They research the company they’re applying to, and they try to anticipate tricky questions they’ll be asked. What surprises me is how little time many entrepreneurs spend preparing to interview their prospective hires. If you take the time to think through what you want to learn from an interview, you’ll make the most of your time and effort.
The basic premise behind this list of questions is that you want to evoke genuine – rather than scripted – responses that reveal patterns of behavior in your applicants. The way they’ve behaved in the past is the best indicator of how they’ll behave in the future, and as expensive and time consuming as it is to hire, train, and sometimes fire new staff, you want to get it right.
Here’s what to ask:
- What is your purpose in life? The folks who have thought about the answer to this question are the ones less likely to be motivated solely by money, meaning they are less likely to jump ship for a higher wage. Since staff turnover costs you money, you want to identify candidates with long term potential.
- How do you make decisions? This question is a two-parter: you want to assess your prospects’ decision making process, but you also want to ask for examples of decisions prospects have made in order to determine if their actions support their words.
- Show me how… Ask applicants to demonstrate some of the skills they’ll be using in their new job. They may feel like you’re putting them on the spot, and in truth, you are. Whether you ask them to show you how they’d answer the phone, pitch your product, or resolve a customer complaint, you’ll get an idea of how they’ll handle the work they’ll be doing.
- How did you go about researching our company? Serious candidates take the time to learn something about the places they apply.
- Tell me something about me you think is interesting. Again, you’re putting an applicant on the spot, seeing how they think on their feet, and testing the extent of their research. Do they understand your goals and values?
- Tell me about your past bosses. This is a particularly powerful question, as it gives you insight into candidates’ relationship to authority, and it also tells you how they like to be managed. Keep an eye out for applicants who complain about every single boss they’ve ever had; they’re revealing more about their struggle with authority than they realize.
- What is your greatest fear about this position? This question sifts out dishonest applicants, as every single one of them has fears, whether they own up to them or not. It also lets you identify areas that will need extra attention when you hire. You’ll be able to start off on the right foot by addressing concerns on the very first day.
- If money were no object, what would your ideal job be? In a perfect world, you want to hire long term employees, and finding out what candidates really want to be doing lets you know if they’ll be around for the long haul. If the position you’re hiring for isn’t at least a stepping stone, then you may be looking at a short-timer.
- Who are the biggest jerks you’ve ever dealt with? What you’re looking for in this answer is a reveal of candidates’ conflict resolution skills. How do they see people who cause them problems, and how do they deal with the conflict that will inevitably occur?
- What parts of work drive you nuts? This question offers another way to catch a glimpse of applicants’ weaknesses and insecurities, letting you weed out inadequate candidates or address challenges early on.
Hiring new staff is too important for you to walk into an interview unprepared, but sometimes you’re still uncertain whether prospects are a good long term fit for your company’s goals and values. When that’s the case, I advise you to hire on a temporary basis – say three months. At the end of the trial period – assuming you’re pleased with the work – offer the employee a chance to stay on for a full time position or walk away with a $500 check. The folks who jump at the check aren’t likely to be committed to your long-term success, and the ones who rip up your check are proving their dedication to you.