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3 Revealing Interview Questions to Ask a Job Candidate

Robin Reshwan

Interviewing a well-spoken job seeker makes it tough to discern whether her pleasant interview personality actually represents the type of employee she will be six months or a year later.

Effective interviewers need to have several questions in their arsenal to dig deeper than pleasant conversation. Here are three questions you can ask to pick a candidate who is more likely to make a great long-term employee.

1. "How would you handle this situation?" Describe a business scenario and ask the candidate to role-play how he would handle it. This works best if you start by documenting work situations that separated successful employees from those who struggled. Think of customer pet peeves -- those things that would make a customer stop working with your company -- or business operations that are costly when not handled well. For example, a customer calls to complain about receiving the wrong order, or critical shipping details are not entered into your customer database, resulting in costly delays.

Select problems that require general skills required for the role, not those requiring detailed knowledge of your company. Ideal scenarios allow you to assess one or more of the following skills: decision-making, detail orientation, ability to probe for more information, escalation or deescalation of conflicts, integrity, improvisation, listening, leadership and more.

It is helpful to ask the candidate to role-play with you. Most of us are excellent at explaining how something should be handled but struggle with actually doing it. For example, would you hire a hairdresser who can tell you about a great hairstyle but can't cut someone's hair? The same is true for work. Use common business problems to gauge true talent.

2. "If not this, then what?" Skilled interviewees should be able to explain why they want the job. However, a better question is "If you are not hired for this role, what will you do next?" It is a less expected question, so you are more likely to get a genuine answer. While there is not one "right" response, there are a lot of wrong ones.

If the candidate says, "Uh, I don't know. I haven't thought about that," you have insight into lack of preparation and planning. An answer of "I am mainly interviewing for operations/administrative roles" when you are hiring for a sales career, gives you insight into a lack of commitment to your profession. You may even be so lucky as to catch, "Well this job is really pretty far away from my house, so most likely I will pursue things close to my home." You may have just dodged a flight risk.

The key here is to get an unrehearsed answer, so that you can verify whether it aligns with what works well for your business. For example, a candidate discusses how she has researched three of the top firms in your industry and would like to pursue a role with one of the other two if not selected by you. She has a good sense of your business, is discerning and committed to building a career with the right company.

A candidate who replies that he would like to learn more about what skills he's missing displays comfort with being coached. Another applicant may explain that, while your role is an ideal match for her ability to work with children, she would pursue two or three other roles that would accomplish that same goal. This person has a strong sense of herself and what she values. In each scenario, the answers are different, but the maturity, self-knowledge and professional awareness typically correlate with a serious employee who is pursuing the role for the right reasons.

3. "Describe what you think this role is about and why it is important to our company." I have been interviewing and hiring people for more than 25 years. In general, my natural style is to explain things to people. I probably spent the first 15 years of my career telling prospective employees about the role, its value, my goals for the hire and more.

I assumed that what I knew was mirrored by the employee because I was so great at describing everything -- or so I thought. Boy, was I surprised when I asked a candidate in a second interview to describe the job and why it mattered to our company. Yikes. It was probably the same shock that some teachers feel when their students take a standardized test.

To make sure that you are hiring the right person, check that you are on the same page. If your candidate can't express that the key aspects of your opening are the ability to react quickly, take care of clients and communicate flawlessly, you are both likely to be frustrated later. If someone has researched your company ahead of time, discussed the job description and interviewed at least once, he should be able to accurately discuss the position and its impact. A job seeker who struggles with this is less likely to succeed in the rapid learning environment of a new job. Or he is just not committed enough to invest the energy to learn it.

In general, job seekers who invest energy into excelling during the career search phase often perform better than those who take the process lightly or carelessly. Committed job seekers are more likely to appreciate the right opportunity when it comes along and feel more successful and valued at work.

Of course, we all know that happy employees are less likely to leave. By adding a few additional questions to the interview process, managers have the opportunity to take a deeper look into a candidate's knowledge and instincts. It's a simple way to get high-impact hiring results.

Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.

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