Making the Most of Applicant Interviews

Effective interviewing is critical to successful recruitment. Particularly during sluggish economic times, recruitment efforts can yield numerous highly skilled candidates. This makes the interview session even more important.

Ideally, every one of the ten to twelve questions that interviewers should be able to ask during a typical one-hour interview should be geared to give the most insight on the candidates' knowledge, skills, and abilities. With limited time, don't throw away a third or more of the interview by asking questions that won't help in the hiring decision process.

Scrutinizing interview questions before using them can improve their effectiveness as well as ensuring that the applicant and the interviewer get the most out of the limited time of the interview. Ask the following questions about each interview question you will use:

What is the most likely response to this question?
Will the answer give me concrete information that will help in the hiring decision?

Here are some examples of questions to avoid and alternative questions that will provide better job-related information:

Don't ask: "Why do you want to work here, or why do you want this job?"

This question addresses the candidate's motivation. We know the likely response to either of these questions is to ramble about how wonderful the organization is and what a great opportunity the position represents for the candidate. Neither of these responses helps demonstrate what kind of worker the candidate is or provides any insight to their professional goals.

Instead ask: "What particular skills or experiences make you the best match for this position?" or "What would your most recent supervisor say are the skills that make you the best candidate for this position?"

These questions give the candidate the opportunity to bring attention to the things they found to be important from researching the position and their vision of how they might fit in the organization.

Don't ask: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

Applicants are normally thrown by this question and typically respond that they plan to be at the organization they are interviewing with, excelling, and making great contributions. This gives no insight on the candidate's vision of their professional growth.

Instead ask: "Where does this position fall along your career path?"

Asking this question gives the candidate an opportunity to speak about the skills and experiences that have prepared them for the responsibilities of this position and gives the interviewer an idea of what goals the applicant hopes to achieve. Some candidates may view the position as a "destination" job that they would like to hold on to until retirement. Others might see the job as an opportunity to gain skills needed to prepare for jobs of greater responsibility.

Don't ask: "What are your greatest weaknesses?"

Some canned responses you're likely to hear ... "I'm too much of a perfectionist." or "Because of my dedicated nature, I put too much of myself into my job and don't take time for me." Interviewers know these answers before asking the question.

Instead ask: "What kinds of professional development would make you a more-effective worker?" or "What areas of training would your last/current supervisor say you would benefit from the most?"

This gives candidates the ability to provide self-assessments of skill gaps in an environment where they're displayed not as personal failings but as opportunities for professional growth.

In summary, giving candidates the opportunity to share answers with depth and breadth about their skills, knowledge, and experiences provides a hiring manager with much more useful information than an interview that uses canned questions to see if the candidate can give the "right" or "best" answer. The success of a company's hiring process depends heavily on the ability to assess accurately what candidates can bring to the organization.

SESCO Management Consultants is available to assist with your human resource issues. You may contact us by phone at 423-764-4127 or by email at sesco@sescomgt.com .