When I hold interviews for a job, I’m mostly trying to get a sense of the candidate's personality, and how they would perform at our company. Over a series of hundreds of interviews, I've narrowed down to the 8 most important questions I rely on to determine if candidates are a good fit.
1) What's the Ideal Opportunity You’re Looking For?
I start virtually every interview by asking candidates this question, and I purposely keep it very open ended. Their response will tell you a great deal about them. Are they most concerned about the work environment, salary, roles and responsibilities, titles, all of the above? It’s also a great sales opportunity. Remember, a job candidate is interviewing the company as well. By understanding upfront the aspects of a job that are most important to them, it will help close the candidate when it comes time to present a compelling case of why they should work for us. Conversely, sometimes a candidate will literally say they are looking for a different role or source a major red flag, and you’ll know that they aren’t a fit.
2) What Do You Know About Our Company?
I ask this question to gauge a candidate's preparedness and communication skills. In the information age there’s virtually nothing you can’t learn about a company and its officers. I’m constantly surprised at how UNPREPARED job candidates come for interviews, literally not knowing anything about our company. I want to see how prepared and thorough job candidates are because it’s a habit they’ll carry into their position. In addition, it’s a great test of the candidate's communication skills. If they have a difficult time talking about what the business does or relaying its purpose and product, you may want to take a pause before adding that type of person to your team.
3) What Are You Best At?
High performing professionals have developed very specific skills and strengths. I like candidates to describe what they’re best at to get a sense of how they see themselves and the qualities they value most. It’s also important to make sure their best strengths match the needs of their role. For example, if they consider communication and team building to be what they’re best at, that’s a great fit for a senior hire. I tend to be skeptical of candidates that answer the question very generally, but aren’t able to give specific examples to back it up. For example people will say to me, “I’m a person that just gets things done." Congrats, that’s kind of like saying your best at showing up to work on time… I’ll also use this as an opportunity to ask the opposite, “what are your weaknesses?” Here, I’m really only looking to see that someone can answer the question honestly. I’m immediately suspicious of the candidate who says his/her weaknesses are “they work too hard” or “I’m not sure.”Sometimes for roles that are more specialist in nature (i.e. developers or designers), I’ll ask the candidates to rate their skill level on scale of 1-10. Once again, the number they give is much less important to me than the reasoning and thoughtfulness behind their answer.
4) Tell Me About a Specific Instance Where You Got “Result(s) X” at a Prior Company and How You Did It?
This is one of the most important questions to ask. Basically you want to pull out the key items from your job description and their resume. These are the tasks and goals the candidates are going to be held accountable for at your company. Have the candidate explain in detail how they achieved a meaningful result at their previous company, one that you would want the same outcome for at your company (i.e. “increasing revenue by 20% through email marketing”, or “saving the company 15K a month by negotiating a better deal with vendors”). You want to make sure that candidate isn’t just taking credit for some outcome at their previous company, but rather played a integral role in producing the types of results that you’ll need for your business.
5) How Do You Structure Your Day and What Tasks Take Up Most Your Time?
I tend to find the hardest part of hiring is really trying to predict how well the candidate will approach and execute their responsibilities. I find it helpful for people I’m interviewing to break down for me how they have structured their day at previous companies and what specific tasks tend to take up most of their time. In a small business or start-up, since there are so many different things that we can be working on at any given moment, it's critical to pick candidates that have a sense of knowing intuitively how to work on the “right” things. Titles can also be deceiving. A product manager at my company may be a very different role than a product manager at the previous company. So having a better understanding into the specifics of what the candidate works on, can help ensure you’re finding the right fit for you.
6) What Types of Personalities Do You Have the Most Difficulty Working With?
There is no wrong answer here, everyone has a certain type of personality they don’t like. The key is to make sure of 2 things. First, you want to confirm that the candidate you’re interviewing isn’t the person your team will have difficulty working with. Secondly, you want to make sure that whoever is going to be managing this person doesn’t fit the description of what they’re saying. I tend to be wary of extreme answers on both sides. For example, if a candidate says “I can work perfectly with all types of people,” or on the other hand they go on and on about a specific type of personality they really hate, I usually throw up a red flag and start to ask more probing questions about their personality.
7) What Did You Like Best About Your Last Job / What Did You Like Least?
Here, I’m really testing the character of the candidate. It’s definitely helpful to learn what aspects someone likes best, this relates to the first question I always ask; “what’s the ideal role you’re looking for”. But much more important is the second part of the question. I want to see how people speak about their former (or soon to be) employers. Someone is typically looking for a new job because they were let go or are unhappy with something about their current work environment. The real question for me is how they have internalized that, and do they take any personal responsibility or just blame and talk bad about their former employer. I’m very reticent of any candidate who comes into my office and spends more than a minute taking about the bad aspects of their previous role.
8) What Are Your Interests and Hobbies Outside of Work?
I think this is an important question a lot of folks overlook. Once again, I’m personally not concerned at all with the specifics of their hobbies or interests, and certainly don’t use those answers in any way to judge if the candidate is a good fit for the company. What I do find when I ask this question, the candidate seems to take a deep breath, smile, and start speaking more relaxed, more like how they would converse with a friend at a bar. This is really important because when candidates first show up they often feel like they need to present a very professional side of themselves. And while that’s probably the right starting point, that’s not how they’ll actually be conducting themselves on a daily basis at your office. If I think a candidate is too stiff or nervous, I like to throw this question in to lighten up the mood, as it can help you put the candidate more at ease and thereby give them the best chance of demonstrating their potential value to your company.
Jason Nazar, is the co-founder and CEO of Docstoc. He’s a frequent author and speaker on small businesses topics. You can read more of his posts here on Docstoc and at his blog Jasonnazar.com