Verify Then Trust

How to Conduct Interviews: Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Hiring Managers are not Asking the Right Questions During the Interview

Building a team is one of the most important aspects of running a business. The employees who keep things operating at a company can make or break its success. That is why it is so important to make sure anyone you bring on board is trustworthy and productive. Problem employees have been shown to cost businesses both time and money. Parting ways with those staff members can also cost you.

But how can managers ensure they are hiring someone who will not just stick around, but who will also perform honestly and to the best of their abilities?

Unfortunately, it is not always easy for hiring managers to spot potentially problematic applicants at first glance. Many applicants with a poor attitude or negative job history know how to present themselves well on paper. That can also extend to the interview, where it’s easy to sweep past infractions under the rug. And the truth is, many hiring managers are not asking the right questions while the interview is underway.

Too many interviewers focus primarily on skills and experience during their face-to-face meeting with a candidate. Of course, it makes sense to confirm the candidate you are speaking with is capable of doing the job in question. Many interviewers go wrong, however, when they fail to mix behavioral questions in. And when an applicant’s character is not taken into consideration, it can be detrimental for the company. After all, the most skilled employee in the world can still lose customers if they are rude, distracted, or just blatantly uninvested.

Dr. Andrew Neiner, Ph.D., Director of Research and Analysis at Verensics, reminds us of the Human Resources adage: “We hire people for their technical skills and fire them for their people skills.”

So, how can managers begin evaluating candidates’ “people skills” long before reaching the firing phase?

Know What Characteristics You’re Searching For

The first thing hiring companies should determine, before even entering the interview stage, is what characteristics it values most in its team members.

“Knowing the purpose of the interview and what you are trying to accomplish will lead you to the right questions,” Ken Jackson, Ph.D., Director of Assessment and Development at Verensics, explains.

The desired characteristics will depend on the job and company, but some are universal. Traits managers may want to assess candidates for include:

  • Positive attitude
  • Team player
  • Trustworthy
  • Communicative
  • Dependable

Unfortunately, managers can’t just ask applicants upfront if they’re trustworthy or a team player. At best, they’ll overestimate their positive attributes. At worst, a candidate will have a history of poor behavior, which could include lying—and what’s to prevent them from lying to the interviewer?

Instead, employers need to strategically come up with behavioral questions to ask applicants. These type of interview questions will give a more accurate picture of how candidates will perform once obtaining a position. If an interviewee is caught off guard, they also may reveal more than intended. This eliminates the issue of candidates carefully constructing a persona during the hiring process, then quickly dropping it once getting the role.

Preparing questions that measure character in advance is half the battle. In fact, Dr. Dr. Neiner emphasizes how much more effective structured, planned-out interviews are.

“Research has consistently demonstrated that structured interviews are more valid than unstructured interviews,” he says. “However, both managers and job applicants prefer unstructured interviews—managers feel that unstructured interviews give them more control and job applicants believe unstructured interviews are easier.”

If given the choice, hiring managers should always choose the structured route. But how can they know which questions to ask?

Which Questions Should Managers Ask?

When it comes to asking behavioral questions, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Certain qualities will be more important for some roles than for others. However, there are resources available online that will give managers ideas.

Some examples of behavioral questions to ask include:

  • What does “integrity” mean to you? Has your integrity ever been tested at a job?
  • What’s a challenging situation you’ve been through at work and how did you handle it?
  • Tell me about a time you failed and how you handled that.
  • Tell me a time you needed to use conflict resolution and how it played out.

Indeed has a whole list of behavior-based questions for the purpose of assessing job applicants. When putting together a list, one thing companies should note is that some inquiries are illegal. It’s important to make sure any questions you come up with remain on the side of legality and professionalism.

Having a candidate ask questions of their own can also reveal their values and priorities. For example, an interviewee showing more interest in time off or salary than the desired role could be a red flag.

“The questions asked by job applicants are at least as important as those asked by the interviewer,” Dr. Neiner explains.

Evaluating Answers

Knowing how to evaluate the answers given to behavioral questions is just as important as asking them. Although some applicants may raise obvious red flags during the interview, others may drop more subtle ones.

“The issue is not what questions to ask regarding character, it is how to evaluate the answers,” Dr. Jackson advises.

In many cases, how you assess a candidate’s answers will depend on the desired characteristics outlined earlier in the process. Listen for statements or parts of the story that demonstrate the positive qualities required to hire someone. Likewise, take note of any inconsistencies in a response or anything that sets off alarm bells.

Taking notes can help keep track of these things so that the hiring team can review the candidate’s answers after the fact. If multiple people feel that an answer to a behavioral question was off in some way, it most likely was. At that point, it is not worth the risk of hiring that candidate. After all, the success of your business is not something you should gamble with—especially when there are other candidates out there!

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