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Basic Questions to Ask Applicants during a Job Interview

A good job interview question does two things: it gives you the specific information you need to make a sound hiring decision and helps you gain insight into how the candidate’s mind and emotions work and her experience and style.

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • “What interests you about this job and what skills and strengths can you bring to it?” The answer is yet another way to gauge how much interest the applicant has in the job and how well prepared she is for the interview. Stronger candidates should be able to correlate their skills with specific job requirements.

  • “Can you tell me a little about your current job?” Strong candidates should be able to give you a short and precise summary of duties and responsibilities. How they answer this question can help you determine their passion and enthusiasm for their work and their sense of personal accountability.

  • “In a way that anyone could understand, can you describe a professional achievement that you’re proud of?” This question is especially good when you’re interviewing someone for a technical position. Someone who can adequately explain the job to those not in the field will be able to step out of her world sufficiently to work with people in other departments.

  • “How have you changed the nature of your current job?” A convincing answer here shows adaptability and a willingness to take the bull by the horns, if necessary. An individual who chose to do a job differently from other people also may show creativity and resourcefulness. The question gives candidates a chance to talk about such contributions as greater efficiencies or cost savings.

  • “What was the most difficult decision you ever had to make on the job?” What you’re looking for is the person’s decision-making style and how it fits into your company culture. Also note how people went about making the decision. This question is an especially important one if you’re interviewing a candidate for a middle- or senior-level management position.

  • “Why did you decide to pursue a new job?” This question is just a different way of asking, “What are you looking for in a job?” Some candidates come so well rehearsed that they’re never at a loss for an answer. Sometimes by phrasing the question in a different way, you can cause them to go off script.

  • “I see that you’ve been unemployed for the past few months. Why did you leave your last job, and what have you been doing since then?” This question is important, but don’t let it seem accusatory. Especially in challenging economic times, it’s not unusual for highly competent people to find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own.

    Candidates should be able to account for all extended periods of unemployment and demonstrate whether they used that time productively.

    The reasons for employment gaps may pertain to legally protected information that you may not consider in making hiring or any other employment-related decision. Probing into the reasons underlying employment gaps can unearth information that you may not want to be injected into the hiring process.

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