OPEN Forum asked two experts and a business owner to reveal their best and worst hiring interview questions, as well as why they worked or didn’t. Danielle Wilson is CEO and president of Aero Jet Medical and United Medevac Solutions, air ambulance and healthcare logistics provider in Georgetown, Texas; Matt Poepsel is vice president of product for PI Worldwide, a global workplace personality assessment provider in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts; and Stephanie D’Amico is recruiting manager for Kyyba, Inc., a national staffing agency for high-tech jobs in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
How important are interview questions to the hiring process?
Matt Poepsel: I think it’s clear that the interview is the most popular form of assessment in the hiring process, and it’s an important one. It’s a chance to go deeper into the candidate’s background
Danielle Wilson: It’s extremely important. Just about anybody can look good on paper. I’ve also found that people can prep for standardized questions. It’s important to find questions that tune into not only their qualifications—that should be a given—but their personality traits and character.
Stephanie D’Amico: Questions are an extremely important part of the hiring process. What they have on their resume may look great. The questions start giving you insight into their real experience and how they react to situations in the workplace. It’s all about asking the right question. Every time we make a mistake in hiring, we change our interview files and questions to make sure we don’t make those same mistakes.
What are a couple of the best, most useful and productive questions you’ve asked?
Wilson: Most of our interview questions are medically based scenarios that often have a twist of conflict resolution or customer service. I like to do open-ended questions and have the panel listen very intently and observe the reactions. Once that scenario question is answered, I ask the candidate to describe the last time they had to deal with that issue in their current workplace. Once they answer that, I institute an informal after-action review and try to drill down to very specific questions about how and why they made decisions.
In asking those, not only am I gaining insight into their critical thinking but also their body language. That tells me how people are going to deal with pressure, whether they’re going to be open to feedback or get defensive. I’ve found that it’s sometimes a very good indicator of some underlying personality or behavioral issue that may not become apparent until later on in their employment.
D’Amico: We always say we can’t teach motivation. So one of the questions we ask is, “What motivates you?” We want a recruit to tell us that money motivates them. The more money they’re making, the more money the company’s making. We’ve found that those who are most motivated by money are the best fit for us.
We also ask, “What mistake did you make, and how did you handle it?” Sometimes recruiters will make a mistake and try to cover it up, and it ends up causing more trouble. We’re all about learning from our mistakes. We want someone who knows how to make mistakes and take risks and also knows how to learn from them.
Poepsel: We have a lot of data and know a lot about candidates before they walk in the door. So the question for us in the interview process is, how do we get to the things our assessment can’t get to? For instance, I was having an interview with a sales candidate who was being very assertive. That can be good, but I wasn’t enjoying the interview. I asked, “Do customers enjoy buying from you?” This was an unexpected question and caused the candidate to examine their core values: Do I want to get the sale or be liked?
This became a great interview question, and I use it every time I talk to a salesperson. I want to understand what they value. Is it the relationship or putting up the numbers at any cost? Hopefully, it’s a balance.
What about the worst, least productive or most misleading questions?
D’Amico: Any question that they can give us a yes or no answer to. We’re not going to learn anything from that. A better way is to ask, “What do you do when you don’t meet your goals for the week? How do you adjust?”
Poepsel: I’ll give you the question that I kick myself every time I ask it. That is, “What question do you have for me?” I’ll ask that when I’m trying to close the interview. But either they have questions they've already asked or they don’t have them and are going to scramble to come up with something.
Wilson: The least productive are some of the standard questions that everybody preps for regarding what their strengths and weaknesses are. Even though those are good things to collect, I find that it’s very easy for people to tell you what you want to hear. I ask them to tell me factually what they’ve accomplished in the past. This is usually a pretty good indicator of their future performance.
What does the future look like? Since we can learn so much about people from social media and other sources, will hiring interview questions become more or less important?
Poepsel: For the more specialized roles in the knowledge economy, interview questions will be more important than ever. The amount of data we’ll collect will allow us to have more informed questions during the interview. I also expect that questions will be more easily collaborated across the interview team. A lot of teams ask the same questions across interviewers instead of triangulating. And I think interview questions of the future will be applied to post-hire. A lot of times answers aren’t used to help a candidate on-board. The role of the interview will be more important than it is now.
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