Better interviews, better hires – Part One

In last week’s post, I shared some ideas on how to assess and address staffing needs as well as some points to consider prior to hiring a new team member. Some of the key takeaways included:

  • When someone leaves your company, don’t automatically look for a one to one replacement. Seize the opportunity to optimize your team.
  • Carefully examine your team members’ and your own strengths, weaknesses, passions, and interests and how they align with your company goals.
  • Analyze what you’re doing too much of, enough of, and not enough of.
  • Don’t be afraid to switch things up if you have the right people on the bus. You can teach people what to do, but you can’t teach them how to be.

Bringing a new person on board is a big investment, for you and for the new employee. Therefore, it’s crucial to be thorough and purposeful during the interview process.

Let’s look at some tips with regard to identifying the right candidate. Today, we’ll focus on the questions to ask, and next week, we’ll look at other important factors, such as demeanor, follow-ups, and group interviews.

Be sure to ask questions that matter to you and help you determine if the candidate is the cultural fit. It’s also important to not just go in with a list of questions, but to actively listen and to make the interview conversational through thoughtful follow-up questions based on the candidate’s responses. That being said, here are some questions that could be useful.

Tell me why you took each job and why you left each job.

This allows you to not just identify the candidate’s ambitions and their decision-making processes, but also to get a sense of how they viewed each job and each company they worked for. Does the candidate take responsibility for things that didn’t go well, or do you get a sense of victim mentality? What did the candidate learn from each experience? How did they handle challenges? When the opportunity arises, consider asking the candidate about their last manager. “What did they do particularly well? Which tips would you give them?”. In the same vein, I like asking the candidate if there ever was a time when they just dreaded going to work. Most people would likely answer the question with yes, but what you want to pay attention to is whether the candidate explains how they got through this challenging time in their professional life.

What made you apply for this position?

This is a pretty standard question. Are you getting a standard answer, or do you get the impression that the candidate can clearly identify why your company is where they want to work? You’re not out for flattery, but to the thought that the candidate has given this position. Are they just looking for a job? What’s important to them? If they mention the importance of company culture, ask them to define what the term means to them.

What did you do to prepare for this interview?

This question takes most candidates by surprise, so it allows you to see how quick they are on their feet. If you value resourcefulness and tenacity, you will see how far the candidate went in their preparation for the interview. If they just say “I looked at your website” but can’t really point to anything specific, it can give you a reason for concern. If the candidate read your white papers, signed up for one of your webinars or downloaded a trial of your software, it’s typically a good start.

What would make you realize after 90 days that you made a mistake when you accepted this job?

A variation of this question is: “A year from now, you’re no longer with [your company]. What’s the most likely reason for that?”. This question can reveal how much responsibility the candidate is taking for their own happiness and success. Don’t be afraid to have a frank conversation about deal breakers. I appreciate a candidate who throws the question back at me. Similarly, you can ask “What would make you realize after 90 days that you made the right decision?”

What do you do to get better at your craft?

If you’re passionate about what you do, you want to always get better at your craft. That’s why I often ask this question during interviews, and I’m still surprised at how it can take people off guard. Don’t settle for superficial answers. If someone responds with “I read/listen to books”, ask them about the last book they read and what main insights they gained from it. Inquire which people in the industry they look up to and follow. A thorough answer can really be a gamechanger and shape the rest of the conversation, because a candidate’s degree of dedication to their art reveals a lot about whether they are a fit for your company.

Don’t just go through a standard set of questions, but be thoughtful and intentional. Let the conversation flow naturally, but also be prepared to surprise your candidates with a curveball. You’ll want to find out how prepared the candidate is and how they deal with unexpected scenarios. Ultimately, you’ll want to find out if the candidate is not just qualified for the job but also a cultural fit, so think about the values that are most important to you prior to stepping into the interview.

Keep in mind, a successful interview doesn’t always result in a hire, but instead, it gives clarity to both you and the candidate. And, ideally, each interview will make you a better interviewer.

Stay tuned for next week’s post, in which we will discuss other key factors to a successful interview.

What about you? What questions do you recommend asking?

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