Interviewing Potential Employees
January 10, 2011 10:49 PM   Subscribe

Tomorrow I have to interview 15 applicants for a position we opened in our company. It's the first time i've been on the other side. The position is for a new warehouse employee. Not the most mentally demanding position. What are some of the questions I should be asking the applicants?
posted by aadoremus to Work & Money (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps ask about their experience in driving a forklift, in loading or unloading trailers & storage racks, etc.

You may also ask about experience they've had in picking orders, working on tight deadlines, punctuality, etc.

Given that you have 15 applicants to interview in a single day, I can't see you having more than ten minutes or so each, and still have time for your other duties.

Disclaimer - I am not an HR person, nor do I manage a warehouse.
posted by AMSBoethius at 10:56 PM on January 10, 2011

As with doublehappy's examples... since there may not be much to ask about skills, questions that will tell you a bit about the applicants' ethics ("what would you do in x situation that could possibly occur here?"), ability to work with others ("what kind of people would you most like to work with?"), and plans ("where do you see yourself in x amount of time?").
Though a main reason some people might want such a job is the money, a question that gets at other aspects that interest them about the job (e.g. lack of stress, low supervision or lots of direction, schedule fits well with their hobbies, etc.) could be revealing--e.g. "What interests you about this job in contrast to a similar-paying job doing x?"
I also like questions in the "tell me about a time you [had to make a difficult or unpopular decision/ had an ethics quandary / did something small that improved your company / made a customer's/co-worker's day better]" vein.
And of course, the old standard "What questions do you have for me?" shows if they've done background research into the company and if they're familiar with job etiquette.
posted by pavane at 11:17 PM on January 10, 2011

I've interviewed a few people for jobs full of pointless menial taskwork. Oh the fun. This was something I liked to do, because it gave me insight to see if they were thinking or paying attention at all, or if they were going to drone out right away:

Get a pile of books, 10-15 books, the more different, the better. Tell the interviewee to put them in order.

See if they ask the right questions such as the obvious "what order?" A lot of people will skip straight to alphabetical by title or author last name without actually confirming what the hell it is they are supposed to do. I wanted people to do things correctly the first time, and if they didn't know the details I wanted them to ask.

If they ask, have them put the books in some sort of order, say, smallest to largest or number of pages or color, and make sure they do it correctly (attention to detail). Make sure they are handling your books with care.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:23 PM on January 10, 2011 [11 favorites]

Interviewing 15 people for one position? Interviewing is a seriously expensive process, so, no offence, but you're doing it wrong.

I'm in banking, and even for six figure positions with budgetary line item signing authority, we'll shortlist three candidates and see them in person. And that is after HR has screened and prioritised. If nobody that we interview thrills us or if (more entertaining!) they wash themselves out during the face to face, we'll bring another group in, three at a time until we find our candidate. Then, of course, you're at the offer & negotiate phase of the process, but that's for another askme.

I suggest you push more of your candidate screening up the process; its cheaper and more effective to exclude folks before they end up in front of your or other interviewers. If HR is doing their job correctly marginal differences between candidates will be very, very minor.
posted by Mutant at 12:11 AM on January 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

Not that I know anything about banking, but I suspect that the number of qualified-for-interviewing applicants decreases as you go up the salary range, not increases. For a warehouse job the marginal differences between those 15 candidates may already be very minor, or rather, all of them might have different weaknesses that can't be identified by a resume screen alone.
posted by Xany at 12:55 AM on January 11, 2011

Avoid asking hypothetical questions -- enough people will give the "correct" answer that it will barely help you narrow down your candidate list. It's easy to say you'd report seeing a hypothetical colleague steal stock, but it doesn't mean much about whether you'd report an actual colleague stealing stock (because you're afraid he'd assault you, or because he's your drinking buddy, or because you know he has a sick kid at home, etc.).

Behavioural interviewing involves asking questions about a candidate's actual experiences. (Of course, the candidate can make up a story in which he or she looks really good, but it's hard for most people to do that on the spot and make it believable.) Personally, I have a few questions that I liked to ask everyone (like "tell me about a time when you realized you messed up, and what you did about it"), plus a few specific questions based on their CV ("what was it like to be the team lead at X Company?").
posted by neushoorn at 12:59 AM on January 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

But Mutant, I imagine the interview process for a warehouse position is much less expensive than it is for banking, which requires deeper interrogation. In this case, it may even be a one-level process (ie. the person who receives the CVs reads them, shortlists and then carries out the interviews) rather than having HR departments sift, create long lists, pass them to the interviewers, move to short lists, multiple interviews etc. But that said, yes, 15 is a long list, so it might be worth starting by interviewing your six preferred candidates. If you're doing 15, be sure to take a photograph of each of them and plenty of notes, because by the end, I promise you, it'll be one big blur, and you won't have a clue who said what.

I've only interviewed for office jobs rather than warehouse, although that has included relatively low-level positions. You should know already from the CVs that you're only interviewing people with the relevant skills and experience, so you shouldn't need to spend much time asking them about that, above ascertaining that their CV is correct (so maybe a brief technical question or two to check this). The interview process is more about finding out about them personally - as noted above, their ethics and communication skills. Even for a fairly basic position you'll be better off with someone who can follow instructions, talk to his/her colleagues rather than grunt at them etc. My experience was that a lot of these things were very evident within moments of a candidate walking in the room, so the actual answers to the questions were secondary to experience of holding a conversation with them.
posted by penguin pie at 1:06 AM on January 11, 2011

Well, don't make them arrange books, to be sure. Seriously???

Warehouse job! Forklift, math skills, computer tech driven...a smarty hands on guy/gal is your person. ( DO NOT discount the chicks. I will get all sexist and say we are so awesome...I only mean usually but we are so organized, clean, normal...human-like, but ...also, if we XX types apply for the job...we are so not even playing...give us a chance, okay?)

Also (and not to be a...ehem...prickly pear???...,) just because someone needs a warehouse job doesn't mean that need speaks to their education, background or intelligence. Treating people "stupid" will likely get you the worst candidate for the least amount of money...but you get what you pay for.

Reread the first answer. Focus here. If it's an adult, check references personal, don't get caught up in "credit " references. This chick wants to work in a warehouse...she is rad and previous employers think she is determined and trustworthy, hell if she effed up that att bill a couple years ago.

Warehouse job interviews should be about work ethic, time out sick, capacity to prevent damage and injury maybe FIRST, but also good organizational skills, friendly is pretty important, too.

Mostly i would suggest exploring the first three responses, and DEEPLY disregarding answers #4and #5. Let's pretent they were not here.

Also, interviews, make sure you let them...nay, make them ask questions. You will learn more from that than any question you ask.


I have this really fun interview going with a very charismatic guy, maybe 30 minute interview, we are grillin and chillin and I ask, so why this company?"

"I hear you guys make a lot of money."

"Maybe you should be an actor," I say. "I hear they make a lot of money."

I mean, the point is, it's almost painful how easy it is to weed out the ding-dongs.

Be nice, be honest, be 1000% behind your company and hire someone awesome.

I hear folks need jobs.
posted by metasav at 1:18 AM on January 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

Nthing behavioural interviewing. This is how people are trained to interview, because it works. Ask people questions about their experience.

e.g "Tell me about a situation where you where unable to meet a deadline. How did you resolve it?"

"I see you worked at BlahBlah. Tell me how you managed the stock there."

Etc etc. Do use real example that relate to the work the person will actually be doing. Examples that will rarely come up are no good. There's little value in knowing a warehouse employee has great customer service skills.
posted by smoke at 1:37 AM on January 11, 2011

Tell me about a supervisor you worked for that you enjoyed. What about him/ her made you enjoy working for him?

I look for "he let us slide on clocking out" or silliness like that. you are looking for an answer like: "he listened to our suggestions" or "after we got to know each other, he let me direct my own day"...something that prooves they are self-directed, motivated whatever.

Tell me about a time you solved an urgent problem.

Tell me about a time you worked on a project/ task with little direction. How did you handle it?

What do you think are some of the primary drivers of work place accidents. You are looking for answers that fit into your safety culture. Probably not: "supervisors need to keep me safe" or "accidents just happen sometimes". Something more along the lines of: "people not paying attention or working too fast"

Ask for specific examples. This is hard with people who don't interview much. They want to give very general answers. Ask for specifics.
posted by beachhead2 at 2:24 AM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't personally see the point in behavioral interviewing in a situation like this because the skillset is so low that anyone can cherry-pick a good story. All you'll end up with is the most charismatic candidate. This might be fine if you're casting for a movie, but if the job is menial and something where socialization could be a drawback (people loafing around talking instead of working) I'd concentrate more on 1) are you humble enough to seek direction if you don't know what you're doing, 2) can you eventually learn the job without direction and 3) will you keep doing the job correctly, consistently, without needing constant supervision? The "tell me an incident when…" story-time is just begging for the candidate to waste your time. 15 people? That's a crap-load of stories and in the end you haven't learned much except the applicant's talent at bullshitting.

Give them a sheet of questions with a bunch of simple directions at the top in paragraph form, and in the middle of the paragraph bury a line like, "do not answer any of the questions on page two," and see who catches it. Or put page numbers at the bottom: 1…2…4… and see if anyone asks for page 3. That's real-life attention to detail right there.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:43 AM on January 11, 2011

Depending on your warehouse, products and management system, you should probably ask them about their experience with physical inventory procedures, and inventory control work. A lot of warehouse people are great at order picking, packing, putting up stock, and shipping. But in a tight physical inventory work cycle, or even daily cycle count activities, people who can count stock accurately, do warehouse arithmetic when needed, operate a sample scale, and write out location count cards legibly, or even accurately do basic data entry of cycle counts or inventory location adjustments, are worth their weight in gold.
posted by paulsc at 4:53 AM on January 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Avoid the strategies above that are intentionally confusing to the applicant (arranging books with no further direction, completing a meaningless task with directions that contradict themselves). These things tell the applicant that you like to mess with your employees' heads and make them look stupid. Whoever you hire will remember this and treat you (and the job) accordingly. I would imagine that you give clear, unambiguous directions to your employees, and you need the employees to follow those directions. What's the benefit of screening for people who make up their own directions?
posted by TEA at 5:07 AM on January 11, 2011

I usually ask people if they're ever made a cake or brownies from a box mix. This is a simple set of directions (measuring, pouring, setting the oven, timing the baking) that result in tasty treats if you follow them vaguely correctly. I think that being able to make a cake/brownies from a box is a sort of minimal skill set that you want for almost any job. (I could be very wrong about this for some jobs; go ahead and correct me.)
posted by sciencegeek at 5:32 AM on January 11, 2011

If I were applying for a job, and the interviewer forgot to supply a page of instructions for a task, I'd be wondering at that person's competence.

If I were applying for a job and the interviewer "forgot" a page of instructions, I'd be insulted that the company thought so little of it's applicants.

In an interview, I like to think I'm getting a sense of the place I'm actually going to be working. If I show up for my first shift and the 1/2 hour lunch breaks I've been promised have morphed into eating on your feet, then I'm not a good candidate for the place. And everybody's time has been wasted.

So I'm dropping in to suggest: whatever you ask has to be consistent with what you actually offer to, and expect from, your employees.

So by all means, ask me what I liked best about my last job, or how I handle possibly being late. But if there is only one procedure or timeline for slweting management of my potential lateness, make sure that's connected, directly, with your question.

And if my answers don't match with the actual workplace culture, but line up instead with the mythical workplace you've built in your head, don't hire me, because I and my coworkers will be disappointed. I will wonder why the standard for me is higher than for "them," because the interview, subtly or not, sets the standard for the job.
posted by bilabial at 5:44 AM on January 11, 2011

Oh. And talk to your PR department about interviewing.

In some states/professions it is Very Important that every candidate be asked the same questions.

And more important, some questions may be absolutely off limits (religion, do you have children, how old are you)

Being unaware of these strictures could land your company in serious trouble.
posted by bilabial at 5:48 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been a warehouse grunt so i feel somewhat qualified to answer this.

Firstly, I agree with the person who said you're wasting your time interviewing that many people. As you said yourself, this job ain't rocket science so you should be able to narrow it down to less than fifteen likely candidates before the interview stage. Go for the ones with relevant experience first. What you need is:

- someone who is fit enough to do some heavy lifting, stacking, unloading, loading and standing up for most of the shift.

- someone who is sharp enough to look at a big order, mentally break it down into components based on size, shape, weight, fragility, number... and stack the order appropriately with those considerations in mind. I worked in a musical equipment warehouse and we had far too many morons who thought it a smart idea to stack 20Kg amps on top of expensive wind instruments and crushable packs of guitar accessories. You do need some intelligence to do this job well. You might want to ask your interviewee how they'd stack/pack a typical order for the products you shift.

- they need to show some sign that they're not lazy. I was a great warehouse grunt because i actually enjoyed getting in the zone and trying to bang out as many orders as i could, as efficiently as I could. It made that shift go faster. Yet I worked with people who just wanted to go hide in the racking somewhere and occasionally cherry-pick the small orders that only had two or three items on them. Maybe show the interviewee a few orders of varying size and complexity and ask which order they'd do them in? It's not so much that there's a correct answer to that - what you're looking for is a sound rationalisation; a sign that they are aware of the factors that might determine order priority; a sign that they're willing to think about it.

- Obviously, if you want forklift people, they need a forklift licence.

- Can the make up a packing box? Do they know their way around a tape gun?

- Get a sense of whether they're looking to stick around or treating this job as a stopgap. A lot of people do. I did. :-)

Finally, if you're anywhere near London, give me the job. I could use it and, as I say, I am awesomely good at it. ;-)
posted by Decani at 6:02 AM on January 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

- Use the job description (you have those, right?) to identify the skills/experience you need and formulate questions from there.

- Ask those who will be working with the new employee what *they* want in a new co-worker. If appropriate, have them participate in the interview process.

- Ask the same questions to all applicants.

- Ask specific, job-related questions. Asking them to sort books or what kind of tree they are is demeaning to you and the candidate.

- If they aren't providing specific examples to answer your questions, probe for further examples.
posted by Twicketface at 6:44 AM on January 11, 2011

Ask the warehouse manager what skills a person in position you're hiring for needs to have. Ask them what questions they would ask if they could interview the candidates themselves. I used to be a warehouse manager, and I frustrated that I couldn't interview candidates myself and that HR ignored my requests about what skills and experience they should be looking for in people they were hiring to work with me.

Warehouse work is not rocket science, but 'not rocket science' does not equal no skills at all. They need basic literacy, math skills (mental arithmetic), conscientiousness, the ability to keep track of multiple tasks simultaneously, good keyboard skills, and the ability to write legibly and quickly. (None of this requires a college degree or anything.)

I'm assuming you're looking somebody that's trainable rather than experienced.

I like Mister Fabulous's book sorting question. Yes, see if they ask you how you want them sorted - by author or title? Ignore the words "A" and "The" the beginning of a title or not. If they don't, don't hire them. Obviously, this indicates basic literacy, but shows a willingness to take some initiative and ask questions. I would not want somebody that does not ask questions in a situation like this working for me. They are going to be learning a new job, and they need to be willing ask questions if they don't understand something.

Ask them to do some simple arithmetic problems involving multiplication and addition in their heads (eg. if I have a bunch cartons stacked 13 to a layer 3 layers high, with two extra cartons on top how many cartons are there?) You could ask the warehouse manager for some simple warehouse-type math problems.

Take a look at the applicants' handwriting on their applications or any other paper work they have fill out.

I like some of the interview questions mentioned above:

"Tell me about a situation where you where unable to meet a deadline. How did you resolve it?"

"tell me about a time when you realized you messed up, and what you did about it"

I think questions like "What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?" are useless. The answer to "why do want to work for us?" is "because I need a job." Just skip it. Concentrate on how well they can do the job.

Ask some friendly questions too, of course.

Some of this (maybe a lot) is going to depend on the type of warehouse operation you have and what role the manager needs them to fill. Talk to the warehouse manager and ask them what they need.
posted by nangar at 7:20 AM on January 11, 2011

Mostly good advice so far. I manage a warehouse. Ask them the specific questions that pertain to their physical ability to do the job. Hopefully they're spelled out in the job description: ex. "can lift 50 lbs; can stand all day," etc. Do NOT assume they're fit because they look fit. People with horrible physical conditions sometimes look fine sitting in a chair. Then you hire them and it's like "Oh, I can't lift anything."

Also, while you do not want to give them some bullshit confusing task, I'm a firm believer in giving them a simple task to do that requires no prior training, and make them do it. Ask them simple math problems, couched as word problems. They should be reasonably simple, ex: "You have 33 boxes in inventory and you need to pull 12 for an order. How many are left?"

You'll be amazed how many people can't answer, or want a calculator, or take 20 minutes to answer.

If your job involves PC use (many warehouse functions at my shop do), get them on a keyboard and make them do something simple that anyone with a PC background should be able to do (open a web browser, type in a KNOWN website, fill out a mail form. This shows their ability with using a mouse, keyboard, etc. We all assume everyone under a certain age was born knowing how to use a computer. Not always the case.

The behavioral interview questions are all right for determining attitude, honesty, etc., but I'm a believer in having them do simple things during the interview, after hiring a few ding-dongs with a great attitude earlier on in my career.
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:10 AM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

A few people above have hit on this, but the best way to ask questions in this kind of interview is to say, "Tell me about a time you..."

It allows the interviewee to tell you a story, from which you can determine relevance, communication skills, prioritizing skills, listening comprehension, and of course, whatever lesson the story imparts.

Now imagine some of the stories you tell about your employees when you go home, the best and the worst. Put the lesson into question form, and ask away:

"Tell me about a time you really rose to the occasion."
"Tell me about a time when you disagreed with what your boss told you to do, and what happened."
"Tell me about a time you showed leadership skills."
"Tell me about a time you were bored at work, and what you did."
"Tell me about a time you really messed up, but fixed it."
posted by juniperesque at 9:42 AM on January 11, 2011

Can you get someone(s) from the new hire's future work group in on the interview? They know the work, know why the last person got fired/quit (if applicable), and know the departmental culture. If the warehouse is seriously dysfunctional, you might want to lead the process pretty firmly, but you still want the future coworkers on board.

When I've done hiring for administrative-type jobs, people from the work group were always included and there was a list of say 10-15 questions from which the interviewers would choose, round robin.
posted by momus_window at 9:47 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I always ask people to evaluate their current or most recent previous supervisor AS a supervisor. You can learn a lot about people based on their expectations of their boss.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:28 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ask about occupational pet peeves. Ideally, first. You don't have to look for a wrong answer here, but you have an idea about this work culture and this can give you a lot of insight about whether the applicant will fit in with everyone else. "I don't like being micromanaged." "I don't like when there aren't defined processes." "I don't like when people respond to emails with phone calls."

Find out what kind of menial boring work the applicant minds less. "Would you rather do something boring like counting and sorting every screw in our warehouse or spend all day trying to locate an issue of Sports Illustrated from 2009 that might or might not exist?" (Basically would you rather do something repetitive all day with visible steady progress or do something with constant and repeated failure with no progress but then sometimes you get a payoff. Adjust examples to suit the job.)

And I'm with everyone else who says 15 people is too many. Make sure you take very very thorough notes during and after the interviews because you are going to have a lot of trouble remembering details for 15 people.
posted by oreofuchi at 12:00 PM on January 11, 2011

Nthing the idea of questions in the form "tell us about a time when...". People open up when they start talking about things which really happened, not just hypotheticals.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:24 PM on January 11, 2011

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