While folks seeking employment may spend hours prepping for their interviews, the failure to adequately prepare typically comes on the end of the person asking the questions. The people you hire can be your greatest strength or your biggest liability, and we owe it to ourselves and our businesses to take the time to find the most talented employees who are also a good fit for our business model.
Prospective employees prepare canned responses to the questions they think you’ll ask. Their goal is to make themselves look good—to amplify their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Your goal should be to set up a discussion that reveals patterns in their behavior and predicts how they’ll fare in your company. Past behavior predicts future behavior, so make it your goal to collect some honest, thoughtful responses that will give you a better idea of how each candidate will actually perform. What are the key questions you should ask?
1. What is your purpose in life? Most people haven’t thought about this question. If they haven’t, then they’re far more likely to be working solely for the money, and you will know that they’re more likely to jump ship for a chance at more money. Since staff turnover is so expensive—both in time and money—one of your primary goals should be to define which candidates have long-term potential.
2. How do you make decisions? What you’re looking for in this instance is thought patterns. Ask your candidates to take you through their decision-making processes, and then ask for examples of decisions they’ve made. Check to see if their real-life decisions are made by employing their processes. You’re looking for consistency between what your applicants say and what they do.
3. Show me how you'd ... Ask your applicant to demonstrate one or two of the tasks they’ll be performing for your business. How do you answer the phone? How would you try to sell me this product? How would you edit this document? How would you handle this programming need? Even though the candidate may feel self-conscious, you will gain valuable insight into the ways they perform.
4. How did you go about researching our company? This question lets you immediately differentiate between casual applicants and those who are authentically interested. A candidate who takes the time to learn about your company and its goals is serious.
5. Tell me something about me that you think is interesting. Following up on the previous question, you’re sifting out the applicants who haven’t bothered to learn about your company and the goals of its founder. You’re also putting the applicants on the spot and creating an opportunity to see how they think on their feet.
6. What have your past bosses been like? This question will give you an idea of how candidates relate to authority and will tell you how each candidate likes to be managed. Again, remember that what you’re looking for is patterns in behavior. The tale of one horrendous boss may not indicate trouble, but a litany of gripes about every supervisor indicates a potentially problematic relationship with authority.
7. What is your greatest fear about this position? The goal of this question is two-fold. First, you can weed out candidates who aren’t entirely honest. Any applicant who claims to not have any fears isn’t being completely truthful. Second, you’ll be able to identify each candidate’s weaknesses (and they all have them). Identifying weaknesses gives you another measure of comparison among candidates, and it can even help you get your new staff member started off right by focusing on the areas about which they’ve expressed concern.
8. If money were no object, what would your ideal job be? Ideal candidates will be working in—or working toward—their ideal jobs. If the position you’re hiring for has no relationship to the ultimate goals of your applicants, then they’re unlikely to be dedicated, long-term employees. If, however, your job is a step toward what they want to be doing, then even though you may not keep them forever, you’ll get great results from those employees who will continue to work in your field.
9. Who are the biggest jerks you’ve had to deal with in life? The answers to this question will reveal how your candidates see other people. It reveals how they label others and whether they accept responsibility or shift blame. What you’re looking for is how each candidate resolves the conflict that’s inevitably going to occur.
10. What parts of work drive you nuts? The question gives you another way to get at each applicant’s weaknesses. The parts of work that we find frustrating highlight our weaknesses and ways in which we struggle.
Keep in mind that it’s not necessarily a specific answer that qualifies or disqualifies any candidate from employment; you’re looking for the employee who will be the best fit for your company’s culture and goals. You’re looking to anticipate future performance and hire successful, long-term staff. With that goal in mind, I strongly advise hiring for every position on a test or trial basis.
If after the trial period—say three months—you decide that the employee is a keeper, try this bonus tip: Invite them to leave with a $500 check in hand, or stay for a full-time position. The employee who takes the $500 check relieves you of the future expense of time and money that’s associated with further training, while the employee who rips up the check demonstrates the commitment to you and your company that indicates dedication and long-term success.
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