by Carol Nibley
As we know by now, interviewing is not a foolproof method for selecting candidates. Last month’s column discussed some do’s and don’ts for the interview. This month’s we focus on generating the most effective interview questions.

Perhaps the most common interview question today remains “Tell me about yourself.” Interviewers like this question for a variety of reasons—it’s certainly an easy way to begin an interview, and it can provide a variety of different follow-up opportunities. However, better interview questions will yield telling information and reduce the likelihood of opening a “pandora’s box” of unsolicited information.

With a slight modification, the “tell me about yourself” question can actually become a very effective question:

“Beginning with your most recent job, tell me about your career history. What did you like about each job you held? What did you dislike? Why did you leave?”

Now your question provides answers to a candidate’s motivation, stability, and performance without treading into dangerous territory.

With so many possible interview questions, I recommend selecting questions that relate specifically to the position for which the candidates are interviewing as well as to candidates’ work ethic and character. You may also want to assess thinking and reasoning skills and find out how they have responded to challenges in past situations. Determine what qualifications are most important and craft questions that will tell you if the candidate meets these qualifications. Don’t be afraid to probe if you feel the responses aren’t genuine, and be flexible if follow-up questions are appropriate.

For example—

You need someone who enjoys working with details.
Ask: “What aspects of your most recent job(s) did you enjoy most?”
(Listen for examples of detail-oriented tasks as well as for the amount of detail the candidate shares with you in answering the question.)

You need someone who has excellent customer service skills.
Ask:  Can you tell me about a time you exceeded a customer’s expectations?
(Listen not only for the specific example(s) but also consider how difficult it is for the candidate to answer this question. If the examples don’t roll off the candidate’s tongue, dig a little deeper. You may want to follow up with “How do you define excellent customer service?”)

You want someone who will work well in a team environment.
Ask: Under what circumstances do you work best? Do you prefer to work alone or with others? Share an experience where you had difficulty working with someone on a team. How did you make it work?

You want someone who will take direction without becoming defensive.
Ask: How do you like to be managed? How do you like to receive feedback? Describe your working relationship with your favorite former boss.

As for the illegal interview questions, you don’t have to worry as much about all the “don’t ask” questions if you stick with job-related criteria. For example, someone’s marital status or religion likely will not impact the ability of a candidate to do the job and shouldn’t be asked.

For more information on questions to avoid, consult the following links:


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