How to Construct Great Interview Questions

Interviews are possibly the most important thing a manager will do.  Hiring the right people, and keeping the wrong fit out, is one cornerstone of good performance for the whole team.  A poor contributor, or poor attitude, or both will drag down a whole team.  All-stars properly motivated left the whole group. Bad interview technique can also lead to legal exposure if questions drift into non-job-related subjects. I have found that this happens far more out of ignorance and lack of planning than prejudice.

With this in mind here is how to construct interview questions that will keep you legal and focused on the search for great people. Plan your interview questions into two groups:

1. Task-based
2. Probing for Past Performance and Attitudes

Task-Based Questions

You want to know if the candidate can perform the essential functions of the job.  To do that you want to marry the duties of the job with the prepositional phrases from Behavioral Interviewing.  Here's how:

1.  Start with the job description.  If you don't have one, or the one you have is poorly-written and 5 pages long (hey, it happens), write down the 4-6 most important aspects of the job.
2. Apply these Behavior Interviewing phrases in front of each of the most important aspects:
     * Give me an example of a time when you... (insert task)
     * When in your career have you...(same thing)
     * At what former job have you ever...
     * Can you think of a time when you have.....

These leading questions do two things: they avoid the "yes" or "no" answer from the candidate and they give a good indication of whether or not the person has the experience you seek.

Probing Questions

Here you want to know how people think or lead; what they prefer in the type of jobs or supervisors, and where they want their career to go.  These are all legal and will give you an indication of how well the candidate fits the job you have for them.

1. What accomplishments in your career are you most proud of?
2. Without naming names, tell me about the best supervisor you ever worked for? What made them a great supervisor?
3. Without naming names, lets reverse the question.  Tell me about the worst supervisor you ever worked for and why you feel that way about them.
4. Describe a time when you had a really bad problem at work and how did you resolve it?
5. If we called your last employer what would they say about you? (you'll be surprised how much the prospect that you might call will cause a very candid answer)
6. Other than a paycheck, why do you do what you do for a living?  (you are looking for passion)
7. Of course we have other candidates, so tell us why we should hire you?
8. What questions do you have for me? (this will measure preparation which indicates interest)

Together this gives you 12 - 14 great, job-related and legal questions that provide insight into the candidate.  It is easier, always, to know what you can say than to remember all the HR warnings about questions you should not ask.  This list can also be used by a single interviewer or divided into two or three interviews for structured panel interviews.

Please use these with my compliments.  Also, if you are scheduled for an interview with me and are doing research, don't get too comfortable.  I have plenty more.  :-)


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