Interview questions for a temporary position
December 28, 2010 1:42 PM   Subscribe

What questions could I ask in an interview to determine if someone will be a good fit for a temporary data entry position?

To provide some context, I work at a small biotech company. We need someone to help with data entry related to clinical studies we are performing, with possible additional data/administrative tasks as they come up. I would be the manager for the temp employee, and have been given the primary responsibility of hiring somebody. However, I have no experience in this role, and am nervous about this process, especially after my first try failed.

A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed a candidate that seemed from her resume to be a good fit. I looked up some advice on what questions to ask, and thought I did ok as an interviewer, except that I was incredibly nervous. But, the candidate seemed personable and experienced with the type of work we needed her to do, so we hired her.

She started last week. Due to various circumstances, after some time to show her around, provide an overview of the work, and give her a spreadsheet to work on, I was out of the office for several hours. During that time, she contacted the agency to say she wasn't comfortable in the role, so she left.

I don't know any more about why she didn't feel comfortable with the role, which makes it hard to know what (or who!) to blame. Possible reasons she left: inter-company miscommunication that led to computer log-in issues (in other words, a somewhat disorganized office structure), insufficient direction from me (especially when I wasn't present), repetitive data entry job with little interpersonal interaction, some technical vocabulary related to our data collection, a better position came along.

So, I'm trying to figure out how to not repeat this experience. What are some questions I can ask a new candidate to filter for someone who will be ok with this job and stick with it for more than one day?
posted by dormouse to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I hire for a much more technical position, but with some grunt work elements. I have made a pre-hire take home test I give the candidates. Everyone I hire get's 100% on it, and it serves two purposes:

1) Let's me know who can actually do what the job requires
2) Let's the candidate become very familiar the main nuts and bolts of what they will be doing in the position even before starting. It weeds out a lot of the folks I used to have bail 2 weeks into the job.

See if you can come up with a good short analog (1 hour tops) that shows them what they would be doing and lets you see if they have the skills to do it.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:46 PM on December 28, 2010

Best answer: I think that the best thing to do here might be to outline what happened in the past and ask the candidates if that was a situation they thought they could work with (obviously, you can't screen out "better opportunity than short-term temp work comes along").

A lot of people who excel at focused repetitive tasks like data entry are uncomfortable with any level of disorganization or confusion, so I think it would be wise to stress both aspects of the role in the interview ("This is a straightforward task and, like lots of data entry projects, it's quite repetitive; on the other hand, because of the way our work environment is set up, we need someone who's comfortable with improvising a bit if things go wrong for a bit").

As for the technical vocabulary, think about putting together a glossary for the new hire--it may save you time in the long run.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:50 PM on December 28, 2010

bottlebrushtree, I would never do a take-home test for a temporary data entry position! If dormouse does that, he's quite likely to alienate the majority of good candidates. For a permanent job, an unpaid tryout might make sense to the majority of candidates, but someone with strong skills who's looking for low-level office work is likely to be pissed off by being asked to do any such thing.

Unpaid tryouts are really out of keeping with the culture of interviews for office temp work. It's much more likely to turn off experienced folks because of its incongruity than it is to be a useful filter. (Yes, even an hour of your own time is an imposition when you're interviewing for a low-level temp job.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:55 PM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Leaving a newbie on her own without supervision "for several hours" may have given her pause, but given that you have no idea what really went wrong with the last hire, I wouldn't spend too much on trying to guess. Give any new candidates a job description that outlines their duties and the lets them know that the work is repetative and that they will be working with little personal interaction. That will eliminate some candidates, and attract others. When setting up the interview, let them know there will also be a ten or fifteen minute trial test of data entry or spreadsheet work. That's very common, and it shoould tell you what you need to know.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 2:20 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Aside from the interview process, there are some other issues you could address:

You might try, instead, to have the first day consist of many small-batch assignments, and as each one is completed, you can give & get feedback about how it went.

You, as her primary contact, should probably have either not left the office, or assigned someone else to look after her, so she'd have some reassurance that she was doing the work correctly or at least on the right track.

Also, do you have an info-sheet available, with details about the who-where-when of how a typical workday goes? Not knowing when/where she could take breaks, not knowing when/where to go to lunch, and being isolated can be very uncomfortable.
posted by ChefJoAnna at 2:44 PM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

You, as her primary contact, should probably have either not left the office, or assigned someone else to look after her, so she'd have some reassurance that she was doing the work correctly or at least on the right track.

Absolutely this. No matter how smart or experienced a person you hire for this job, there still needs to be someone around to answer questions and deal with issues that arise. Nobody is going to feel comfortable "winging it" on their first day in a new company.

I've worked a ton of temp jobs and I'm pretty comfortable hitting the ground running on a new assignment, but there are always questions that come up that need to be answered so I don't wind up wasting x number of hours doing the assignment wrong.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:08 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Totally what Serene Empress Dork said.

Also this really jumped out at me: with possible additional data/administrative tasks as they come up

I've temped a lot. What would really help in an interview for a job like this is that you be completely honest about what the temp's duties will include. If you are going to leave her alone without instruction sometimes and don't expect her to do anything she isn't already trained to do on those occasions, tell her that's going to happen. If you expect her to already know certain specifics of your industry, make sure she does. (I find that management types are often so wrapped up in their own job that they don't realize general office workers will need some extra instruction or time to learn that stuff.) If the job might expand to include tasks that were not on the original description that you gave to the agency (and which the agency probably only repeated half of to the temp) tell her what those tasks might be. The worst thing is when you accept something like a data-entry temp position because you're looking for something no-pressure or behind the scenes, and then are asked to handle the front desk or do something very stressful and time sensitive.

I'm telling you what to tell her, more than what to ask her, because in my experience most temps are temping for a reason (need something easy while going to school at night, want to get experience in new field, looking for a perm job, etc.) and will self-select if they're the right fit for the job. The more you can tell her about it, the more she'll know if it's what she wants to do and can do, and if the environment of your office will work for her, or not. Maybe this is obvious - I'm just saying it because I've found in over 10 years of doing this that interviewers can be incredibly vague. Sometimes it's because they themselves don't know what the job will ential. If that's true, be honest about that.

And yes I know temps can be guys too. I just used "her" because I was thinking of myself in that interview chair!
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:01 PM on December 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Re: Interviewing skills: I think most novice or uncomfortable interviewers talk way too much. Make sure the subject of your interview does most of the talking. Ask the types of questions that will encourage this.

I make a list of qualities I want the person to have, then write questions related to those qualities:

You want someone who is a self-starter?
"Tell me about a job where you proposed a project, had it approved and completed it."

You want someone who takes direction well?
"Tell me about a task where you were given complicated directions. How did you succeed, or if you did not, what did you learn from the experience?"

You are afraid the person will get bored?
"What do you do to keep from getting bored on a job?"

I'm sure your interviewing skills were not the reason your temp left, but I hope this helps.
posted by Agatha at 4:27 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have interviewed for data entry posts three times and each time have asked the candidates to complete an exercise on our database (with no access to real data). I've written up the process and asked them to work through it - there are no catches or tests, apart from the ability to follow instructions. I was over-ruled once when a candidate did badly on the exercise but well on the interview, and that person left within a couple of weeks. They do the exercise in the office before the interview, so they can ask any questions about the system in the interview if they want to.

As bottlebrushtree says, it's a chance for the candidates to see what the work's like, as well as giving you a chance to assess them.

Questions - I have asked "how do you check your work?" and the answers usually give a sense of how the person thinks about the task and whether they are a careful inputter.
posted by paduasoy at 5:44 AM on December 29, 2010

Response by poster: Firstly, thank you all for your input. It was really valuable to hear from people who have been on both sides of this situation.

I know that not being available on her first day was bad. I tried to mitigate it as much as possible, but will make sure to not repeat in the future. However, that is the nature of our company, which is why Sidhedevil's advice to be really clear about the unpredictability of the job makes so much sense.

Similarly, what DestinationUnknown said about being as clear as possible about what the job will entail, or what it might entail, is really helpful. Especially since I am in that camp of not being too sure myself...

Agatha's advice about thinking of questions that really address the qualities we are looking for is so valuable, even beyond this particular situation.

Finally, I do like the idea of having a candidate do a trial with our data, but as there is someone coming in today, it will have to wait. I wouldn't want to spring it on someone without warning.
posted by dormouse at 9:00 AM on December 30, 2010

dormouse, wondering how it went?
posted by paduasoy at 2:30 PM on January 10, 2011

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