Ideas for tests + questions for job candidate interviews?
April 3, 2016 9:56 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite ways to verify specific skills/qualities of job candidates in the interview process?

I'm looking for ideas as to how we can test in the interview process for the core skills/competencies that we plan to hire for, which are: excellent reading comprehension skills, ability to read and assimilate written information quickly, logic skills, ability to type quickly and accurately, and ability to write and communicate in writing clearly.

For typing, I realize we can have the person sit down in front of us and type. Note that the open positions range from entry level to management. For reading comprehension and logic, what are your ideas of tests we could offer? We'd like to trust people's assessments of their own abilities or what their employment history might indicate, but our experience is that those can be exaggerated in the interview process.

Then there's the "softer" qualities: a curious and open mind, inclination towards fairness and balance, a calm response to a challenge or crises, a positive outlook on life. These qualities seem best investigated via interview questions. What are your favorite interview questions to assess this category of qualities when hiring for a management position?
posted by grayber to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
As for the test, you could let the candidates summarize board game rules. Pick a rule book of one of the recent releases (I suggest some kind of Euro game like the recent "Camel Up" (rules can be downloaded there after a quick registration)), they usually have like 8 - 12 pages with lots of illustration so the text could be read fairly quickly. Ask them to summarize the game's setting, the game itself rules-wise, and to provide three questions and answers, which would be used in a FAQ-section (note: some rule books already have those, so remove them if necessary). Instead of a summary you can also let them write a soliciation / sales sheet for the game based on the rules (if the job has anything related to sales). See here for an example [PDF].
posted by KMB at 10:47 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I use behavior or experiential interview techniques to get at the softer qualities, which typically take the form of “tell me about a time when…” questions. I’m looking for specifics, and want to hear about actual things that happened and how the candidate dealt with them. In your case, I’d ask questions about times when a candidate was surprised by something, forced to learn quickly, or dropped into a challenging situation.

For the other stuff, I’d watch them actually do it. In the tech and design worlds where I work, pair-coding interviews are a common approach that has an interviewer work side-by-side with a candidate solving a problem together. I’ve experienced interviews like this with pen-and-paper design problems, and led interviews like this with whiteboard system design exercises. A goal here is to watch their working process and evaluate it for discipline and good mise en place. Another goal is to find the outside edges of the candidate’s knowledge, the point at which they say “I don’t know.” This must be done in a way that does not make them feel like they are failing, particularly for candidates who might already be prone to impostor syndrome!

A third style I often use is to ask a candidate for a tour of something they’ve done before. In your case that might be a previous writing project. You want to ask them to explain their choices, constraints, and alternatives so you can observe their level of understanding and introspection about their own work product.
posted by migurski at 11:00 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I interviewed for a trading position, the interviewer gave me a brief description of some sort of world scenario and asked me what I would consider and think about in analyzing what would happen to the price of gold if that scenario came to pass. He never asked me what I thought would happen to the price of gold, just what I would consider and think about in assessing it. It turned into a nice 20 minute discussion about all the items that I would have to consider and act upon in about 5 seconds of real time. At the end of the discussion he did casually ask which way I thought it would go and while we differed in opinion on that, he told me he liked my thought process. I got the job.

So, in your case, I would give them a reading comprehension test, I would give them a logic test and I would create a theoretical scenario that you think will mirror a real world on job issue that they will be facing and ask them to detail the thought process of what they would consider and incorporate in their response.

If you want specific skill sets, test those sets rather than ask questions and hope you guess right. If you want to test their ability to assimilate information quickly, give them some information, a lot of it, and then ask a question about it.

We would all like to trust that a candidate will give us an honest answer in an interview. I happen to think they all do or at least intend to. What is where some things get lost in translation is in each of our perceptions of our own abilities. So, ultimately you will need to make your own assessment of the candidate's skill set, not rely on theirs.
posted by AugustWest at 11:29 AM on April 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

All those hard skills are testable (to at least an approximation, disregarding test anxiety, etc.) by giving them an excerpt from an SAT or LSAT or something and a time limit in a pre-interview session. Your management-level personality questions... well that's kind of controversial whether or not personality is even testable. Best you can really do is give them some tricky hypotheticals with no clear right answer. Then, like AugustWest says, it's more about them explaining their thought process than the answer they reach.

I'm sure you've had some situations in your company history that were not cut and dried, some decisions to make where management had to have a group head-scratching in the conference room for hours. You could ask them one of those - here's the problem, what are your concerns? Before you made a decision, what additional information would you a) absolutely need, and b) ideally consider if available. After you provide some, but not all, of that information to their questioning, ask them for a decision (which should make them uncomfortable, like it does in real life.)

THEN, you could ask them to write a brief point paper summarizing the problem and justifying their decision to test their memory/comprehension of what you told them, thought process, and written communication skills.

And grade relative to other candidates. Nobody is going to be objectively fantastic at this coming in cold like that.
posted by ctmf at 12:03 PM on April 3, 2016

give them some tricky hypotheticals with no clear right answer.

e.g., So let's say you're working one day, and a bunch of rando guys decide to start camping in one of the buildings.
posted by ctmf at 12:16 PM on April 3, 2016

I think it's near impossible to get a clear picture of specific skills from the interviewee. I think you need a third party reference or testing for a specific skill that you are looking for. I've found that the most skilled applicants tend to be more critical of their skills and those that think highly of themselves tend to not always be as realistic. That doesn't apply to everyone, it's just a general observation.

I love to interview applicants and the one question I always ask is, "Tell me about yourself?" or, "What do you like to do outside work?" I'm looking for interests and an excitement about something. I don't really care what it is. I've found that applicants that get excited about something or have outside interests or hobbies make great employees. I'm not sure why, it could just be a natural curiosity, but that line of questioning works for me. I approach an interview trying to get to know a interviewee on a personal level. You'd be surprised what you find out once you both open up and get comfortable.
posted by iscavenger at 12:55 PM on April 3, 2016

You must have specific work tasks in mind-- can you assign a short version of one of those tasks? You could ask candidates to create a handout or a couple of slides summarizing an article, or ask them to follow the instructions in a software tutorial to create a small file, for example.
posted by yarntheory at 6:48 PM on April 3, 2016

We give actual hypotheticals from work situations that they will have to deal with.

The current shortlist of candidates we're interviewing right now have two specific questions asked - we scrubbed all personal details from a challenging client email and asked them how they'd respond to the email, and gave them a recent work document and asked them how they'd decide to structure the project based on it. We knew what we'd done in these cases, so it gave us a clear comparison for their answers.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:16 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

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