How Leaders Can Improve Their Style Through the Questions They Ask

Do you ever finish up an interview and feel like you have not learned enough information to make a good hiring decision? If so, it may be time to revise your interview style. An interview not only gives us a chance to ask questions about a candidate’s skills, but it is also a way to determine if someone will fit into our company culture. With a few updates and changes to your approach to interviews, you will be able to hire the best candidates.

Good Interview Questions: Plan Ahead

I find that some of my HR colleagues have reached the point that they do not prepare much for interviews. You have done so many interviews that it seems easy to just pull the questions out of your head the moment you sit down with a candidate. Unfortunately, such an approach runs the risk may lead to that post-interview moment where you think, “Oh! Why didn’t I remember to ask about their reason for leaving their last job?”

Prior to your first interview for an opening, take the time to review the job description and figure out what types of questions you can ask to assess the candidate’s qualifications. If multiple people will be interviewing the candidates, decide who will ask what, so candidates are not asked the same questions over and over. Planning interview questions (like these) in advance will also ensure that you are asking each candidate the same things.

Do not forget to spend some time reading through a candidate’s résumé and application prior to the interview. Make a note of any areas that you want to ask the candidate about.

Avoid the Yes/No Trap

Unless you are asking about things like availability and ability to meet a job’s lifting requirement, avoid yes/no questions. Asking a question that results in a one-word answer gives you very little information about a candidate’s skills and experience.

For example, take the question, “Are you good at customer service?” A candidate is likely to say yes because they assume that is probably the right answer if they want the job. Instead, ask the candidate to give you an example of a time they had a challenging customer. How did they resolve the issue? If they were unable to resolve the issue, what did they learn from the experience? This type of question requires the candidate to tell you a story that will reveal something about their previous experience.

What Would You Do?

My favorite type of interview question is the scenario. Give the candidate an example of something that would happen on the job, and ask how they would handle the situation. This type of question is not one that a candidate cannot easily prepare for, so I think it tends to elicit a more sincere response rather than the rehearsed answer someone might give you for a question about their experience. Résumés can be very polished, and sometimes experience can be inflated. A scenario question gets around this and requires the candidate to think on their feet.

My last supervisor says that she hired me because of my answer to a scenario question. She had based the question on a harassment situation that had recently happened at the company. She removed identifying information in order to protect confidentiality. I had to explain how I would handle the complaint from investigation to resolution. Such questions show you how an employee thinks on the spot.

Let the Candidate Do the Talking

Think back to your last interview. Who did most of the talking? Your answer should be the candidate. An interview is a chance for us to hear about a candidate’s experience. Spend a little time talking about the benefits of working for the company, but other than that, you should mostly be speaking to ask questions and to answer any questions the candidate has at the end.

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Stephanie Hammerwold

Stephanie Hammerwold, is the founder and director of Pacific Reentry Career Services, a Southern California nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women find and maintain employment. She also blogs on a variety of HR topics as the HR Hammer. When not volunteering for her nonprofit, Stephanie has a day job in HR at a tech startup in Irvine, CA.

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