Performing hiring interviews - best and worst questions to ask?
July 17, 2018 6:07 AM   Subscribe

I've been performing interviews and hiring for a few years at my job now. I'm not very good at it. Essentially, I ask them a few questions about their experience and then go into a long speech about the company, job requirements, hours, dress code, bore fest. How can I make things more interesting and also get a lot of information?

I'd really like to know:
As an interviewing manager, what questions/wording have you used that seems to gain a lot of helpful information?
What signs do you look for as a definite "NO THANKS"

As the person being interviewed, what has been helpful and engaging to you in the past?
What questions have you been asked that are off putting?

My goal is to have an engaging, not boring interview that has good questions that will give me the most information about the person not only work-wise but also personality wise.

Bonus: I work in the medical field hiring medical office staff.

Of course, I would need to stick with HR approved kind of things. Currently I'm not allowed to ask about children, spouses, illnesses, things like that.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah to Work & Money (20 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Is there some reason you're giving them a long spiel about the job? I feel like it is up to the interviewer to share their vision for the position, but I, as the interviewer should be asking about the specifics. I feel like if you already go over all of that, it makes it a lot harder to gauge their interest.

The interviews that did not leave me with a good impression (regardless of whether I got the job or not) were those where the interviewer had set questions they were going to ask, and there were no deviations based on how I replied. I understand the rationale behind it, but it always felt too corporate.

Basically, I like interviews that are more of a conversation, where the questions are a starting point but not the end all, be all of the interview, and where I have an opportunity to ask more about the position instead of just being outright told everything.
posted by Aranquis at 6:17 AM on July 17, 2018 [5 favorites]

It's pretty standard, but my interview training was rooted in behavioural interviews and using STAR method for assessing answers. I have found it very useful. Bear in mind that if the interviewee is not used to this method, you should allow them some time to come up with an answer and make them feel comfortable to have a little bit of time to think.
posted by like_neon at 6:19 AM on July 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oops posted too soon, here is a list of sample behavioural interview questions.
posted by like_neon at 6:20 AM on July 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I tend to start out with a brief overview of the position and then ask the person to tell me a bit about their background. I find it's really useful to give them some open-ended time before launching into specific questions. You can learn a lot by what they choose to focus on and how they present themselves given the opportunity to do so. You may also be able to note what bit of their resume they're not talking about or what job requirement they haven't touched on, and do some directed follow-up question asking later on in the interview to draw some more information out.

Then I'll work through those HR-mandated STAR-type questions, but try to only use them as a starting point to ask more questions based on the person's answer. It should be a conversation, not a checklist. And then open the floor up for questions. At the end if they haven't already asked, I'll do some high-level stuff about some of the day-to-day basics (hours, a broad idea of the benefits available, where they'd be working if not the building where they're actually interviewing), but I wouldn't typically go into stuff as detailed as dress code unless specifically asked. That seems like something for an offer-is-on-the-table discussion, not the actual interview.

I don't feel like I'm a great interviewer but they tend to go reasonably well and be fairly informative, given the order of events above.

One hot tip that I wouldn't think you'd need to know, but since I had to explain this to some colleagues not that long ago: don't ask the person what their spirit animal is, for the love of god. If you want to throw a silly icebreaker at them to see what their response to something a bit different and light is, fine, although I don't personally find the results terribly useful. But don't ask them about spirit animals, ever, good lord. No, no matter what their race is, or yours. Just don't do it.
posted by Stacey at 6:31 AM on July 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Instead of lecturing them about company history, job duties, and whatnot, turn it around and ask them. Start by asking what they know about your company. This gives them a chance to demonstrate whether they've done any research about you. If they just say "uh, I think you guys are like doctors or something", easy no. Then ask them what they're looking for. This way you can let them disqualify themselves on things like pay or hours (or heck, general professionalism or lack thereof), but you can also interject to clarify how your position fits what they're looking for. In general, the less you the interviewer talk, the better the interviewer will go. Good candidates will be able to shine, and lesser candidates will flame out.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:42 AM on July 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

A few years ago, an interviewer asked me if I'd rather ask permission or forgiveness. I answered, "It depends...," and it led to a good conversation about how the company works (especially approval processes - this was an ad agency). That line of conversation also let me get a better sense for how the hiring manager viewed her relationship with the person she was hiring.
posted by writermcwriterson at 6:54 AM on July 17, 2018

As an interviewing manager, what questions/wording have you used that seems to gain a lot of helpful information?

Open-ended is good. "Tell me about working at [most recent job]." "Tell me what attracted you to this field." A great one is "tell me about an accomplishment from a previous job [or from school, if they're newish grads] that you're proud of." (But don't say 'that you're the most proud of,' because that can lead to paralysis as the candidate discards a bunch of perfectly good answers looking for the 'best' example.)

I'm also curious what your overall interview process is like. Most jobs I've applied for will include a phone screening followed by at least one in-person interview, more often two. I wouldn't expect an interviewer to get into the level of detail about the position that you're describing (dress code, etc) until the final interview.

Do please give them the position's salary range up front, though (and don't ask them what they currently make).
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:24 AM on July 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Not by any means an authority in this topic, but what I've found we ended up doing over time...

Telling them we've read their resume (and have it physically on the desk). Give them a brief overview of the role (as they would have already read before coming in) then ask them to briefly go over their career highlights and talk about what experience and skills they have that make them a suitable hire for this role. This basically tests how good they are at doing a 1 minute "elevator pitch" - their career might span a decade, but they need to distill it down to a single minute. This is opening with a test of their communication skills and ability to read the room. (some people barely say anything, some people talk for 10 minutes straight reciting their entire resume)

Then a series of behavioral questions where we fish for insight into their higher order skills - their talent at negotiating, willingness to compromise, deployment of influencing skills. Many people who lack an understanding of those skills will "talk past" those questions and default to saying they overcame the problem by working hard, or deploying their smarts. (eg we ask about a difficult stakeholder, they instead talk about a difficult work issue, we ask about how they handled an impossible deadline, they talk about their commitment to working extra hours)

There's a technical section as well. They're tuned to be difficult enough so maybe 1 in 10 candidates will get to the final solution. It's not a pass / fail filter, doing the exercise is actually another behavioural filter - even for the majority who can't complete the exercise, we want to watch their thought processes and working habits, how they handle working under stress, and most importantly how they handle failure - all very insightful. (some get lost in the weeds and lose the bigger picture, someone started hyperventilating, some give up immediately without bothering to try, some give up too late and waste a lot of time before asking for help)
posted by xdvesper at 7:28 AM on July 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

For one interview I did, the interviewer gave me the questions in advance. She said she wanted real, thoughtful answers and wanted me to be prepared to talk about them. They were behavioral interview questions like, "Tell me about a challenge you overcame in a past job" and "Tell me about a success you had in a past job" etc. Depending on the job, I think giving the candidates a chance to prepare can be really great because if they nail the interview you know that they cared enough to think about the questions and really prepare thoughtful answers (now you know they care and that they know how to prepare and perform professionally). If they give lackluster answers or don't have anything prepared, then you now they didn't prepare and maybe don't care as much about the position.
posted by LKWorking at 7:44 AM on July 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

I would love to see interviewers stop asking people what their greatest weakness is. That is not a good faith question. Also, once, after someone asked me that and I gave the sort of answer that’s recommended in every discussion of that question I’ve ever seen, he then said that what I was describing sounded more like a strength than a weakness. I wish I had had the guts to walk out of the interview, but it was a job I really wanted and would have been good at. Of course, I didn’t get it. Anyway, if you decide to ask bullshit trick questions, don’t be an asshole if you get the kind of answer that deserves.
posted by FencingGal at 7:46 AM on July 17, 2018 [11 favorites]

If you can't or don't feel comfortable providing questions in advance, you can give an in-person interviewee a copy of the questions, to read along or re-read. And for the interviewers, providing a point range can help score individual questions, but it's best if you can first discuss what it looks like to get those points - what is a 5 point answer? A 4 point answer? Do you get one point just for being there, or can someone get a zero? And are the points the only thing to gauge a person, or half of the final "score"?

What kind of candidates do you expect to get? People who are already in the field or people who can learn on the job and can apply related tasks to this work? I ask because I've used questions that open with field-specific questions, then provide an alternative. For example, "Please describe your medical office experience including familiarity with state and federal regulations, policies and procedures. As an alternative, please describe any relevant office experience."

And a few questions to gauge a person's general professional attitudes (or ability to say the right thing):

* Please describe an instance where you were required to administer a policy that you did not agreement with. How did you deal with the situation?

* Please describe a difficult situation with a co-worker that in hindsight you would have dealt with differently. Thinking back, what would you have done differently?

* Please describe why you are interested in this job and why you are the best candidate for this position. Describe any other experience you would like us to consider.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:35 AM on July 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's hard to suggest specific behavior-based interview questions for you to use since your choice will depend heavily on what qualities (or competencies) you are looking for in the candidate. Some of my favorite generic questions, though, are:

"As you think over your career to this point, what stands out as your greatest accomplishment - the thing you're proudest of?" - The answer to this question almost always tells me what really motivates the candidate. It could be praise from a respected superior, or being able to do something no one has ever done, or helping a subordinate succeed and gain confidence - the possibilities are endless.

"Tell me why you think you're the best person for this job." - This gives the candidate an opportunity to sell themselves. You'd be surprised how many people blow this question, either by detailing why they want the job or by stumbling around in their answer. But the answer certainly gives you a sense of their poise under fire, their persuasiveness, and their clarity of thinking.
posted by DrGail at 8:49 AM on July 17, 2018

I have rarely been on the interviewing side and am answering as an interviewee.

When you are interviewing people, you have seen their resume and presumably know more or less if they're qualified. In a specialized field, that probably requires some refining, but beyond that, in some sense, you could talk about anything, because you're mostly getting an idea whether you and your colleagues would want to work with them.

Questions where you're looking for a particular answer, like the ever popular "tell me about a time you had a conflict at work and how you handled it" measure one thing: whether people are good at job interviews. Or, to take an even dimmer view of it, whether people are good at googling answers for job interviews. They also demonstrate that your hiring is guided by corporate management trends. I do fine with those questions because I am fine at googling, but they always make me immediately less interested in the job.

I'm with showbiz_liz. Ask open ended questions. Let people tell you about their work experience in a way that lets them show you what they've got.
posted by Smearcase at 12:02 PM on July 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

As an interviewing manager, what questions/wording have you used that seems to gain a lot of helpful information?

I think you should define what "helpful information" is. When interviewing, I'm not particularly interested in the information I get from typical behavioral questions because it has often has nothing to do with the job at hand. For instance, I have zero interest in whether someone is "passionate" about their work (whatever that means). I care (quite a bit) that they are effective at their work, but I recognize for some people a job is a job and nothing more. Further, I view this as an area for unconscious bias to creep in - some people pick the job because it allows them to pay their rent and that's not a bad thing.

I'll ask you a question - what does the job requisition say? If you are asking questions like "[t]ell me about a challenge you overcame in a past job", it's likely you aren't determining the candidate's correlation to any particular requirement in the job requisition. Correspondingly, if the job requisition includes customer service work, a far more relevant and useful question would be about interacting with an upset client or handling a client who has been wronged someone else in the organization other than the interviewer.

I realize this is a bit of a truism, but my honest answer to your question is, "ask the questions that tell you the candidate fulfills the requirements of the requisition".

As the person being interviewed, what has been helpful and engaging to you in the past?

An interview is a mutual transaction (hence, inter). Accepting a job offer is a mutually beneficial transaction for both the candidate and the company. The company is not doing the applicant a favor by hiring the applicant. As an interviewer, if I ever get the sense that the company is more interested in finding out how I can help the company than in determining if the job is a good fit for both parties, I become disinterested in moving forward with the job opening.
posted by saeculorum at 1:06 PM on July 17, 2018

I would also encourage you to develop objective hiring criteria in advance rather than relying on the candidate's answer to broad open behavioral questions. There is quite a bit of evidence indicating that in the absence of objectivity in a hiring process, interviewers view subjective evidence with unconscious bias. In short, interviewers tend to view responses to targeted questions in ways that propagates their bias.

The solution to this is objective pre-established criteria for what you're looking for. If you ask generic questions, you're going to get generic answers, which makes it quite difficult to allow objective comparison between candidates. Without that objectivity, interviewers resort to "feel", which ultimately ends up biased.
Transparent criteria for hiring and promotion—criteria that are as objective and explicit as possible—reduce bias by ensuring that all employees are held to the same standards. Subjective criteria allow bias to be hidden because the standard by which evaluations are made is unclear.  Furthermore, transparency facilitates accountability by making it easier for organizations to monitor the distribution of rewards by race and gender.  - Gender and Racial Bias in Hiring
If that's not enough for you, I'll note that subjective criteria have a decent chance of getting your organization sued.
posted by saeculorum at 1:28 PM on July 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

If the job involves teams of people who either explicitly handle different tasks or who self-regulate into different specialties, ask them how they fit into that spectrum of tasks. For me, that's often the timeline of a project, from idea germination through concept engineering, prototyping, testing, and into refinement and finalization. Useful for identifying someone who has a good vs poor concept of everything that the big-scale process involves, and for matching their preferences and experience with your needs, eg screening out the perfectionists from a rough-prototype group, or even just hearing somebody get eloquent/enthusiastic about their subset of choice can be really illuminating.
posted by aimedwander at 1:34 PM on July 17, 2018

Please don't ask What's your biggest weakness. It's annoying and just, please don't.

Ask basics as needed and machine gun them (go through quickly)
- do you have a valid driver's license?
- can you lift 50 pounds?

Are you able to travel?etc.

Provide the job desc.
Explain the hiring process: This is a preliminary interview. We expect to bring in 2 - 4 candidates to meet the supervisor and 2 key team members. We expect to contact those people by (date).
Here is your parking validation.

For the questions - Keep a list of questions. Some should call for short answers. Some should call for judgement and/or examples.
What have done when you have a difficult co-worker because getting along with staff is hella useful.
The position requires widget encumbering; have you encumbered widgets? How long do you think it would take you to get certified?
What's the easiest and what's the most fun in your current job?
What's what's the most difficult and what's the least fun in your current job?
How have you handled (this typical problem) in the past?

And, please, contact people to say No thanks. I just interviewed and got along great with someone, then nuthin. It's rude and if I ever have a chance to smudge their reputation, I will.
posted by theora55 at 4:03 PM on July 17, 2018

I have a good track record for hiring, and I think it's partly luck, but also I like to think I'm a good interviewer. Here's the general outline of interviews I run:

- Intros, then I give them an overview of the interview.
- Very brief overview of employer and role (VERY brief - they've read the job decscription).
- My questions for them (more on this in a sec)
- Their questions for me
- Talk about next steps.

As for questions: it can be really easy to get into a rut with questions. So I would suggest starting from scratch. Think through what you want to know, and build new questions around that. I am also a really big fan of experiential questions where you ask them to tell you about a time that they did something they'd need to do in this job/dealt with a specific kind of challenge/solved a problem. Or hypothetical questions that deal with the kinds of things they'd be doing in the job. These kinds of questions are where you get to see how people think and what's important to them/what they care about, which is useful.

One other thing: don't just go down your list of questions. Ask follow-ups, and probe if you're not getting quite the information you want. For instance, let's say you ask them to talk about a time they dealt with a difficult coworker and they just say something like "My coworker was being short with me in front of our patients, so I talked to her and it was OK" you could follow up by asking what they said to the coworker, how the coworker responded, whether or not it was just one conversation or if they had to talk a few times, etc. If you do this right, this can make things more conversational (not like an interrogation) and give you the valuable information you need to make a decision.

Finally, I really recommend reading Ask A Manager. The blogger also wrote the excellent book Managing to Change the World. It's written for managers of nonprofit organizations, but it has really great advice on hiring that would be useful for any sector.
posted by lunasol at 10:57 PM on July 17, 2018

I'm in the UK public sector and we do competency-based interviews. So, "tell me about a time when you have..." and "how would you...?"

Questions that are difficult but give interesting answers are things like 'Tell me about a time when something went wrong, what did you do and what was the outcome." (for more senior positions, when it was someone else's/in your team's fault), "what do you think are the main challenges in this role and how would you go about addressing them?" or for a more junior post, "how would you go about changing or improving something in our workplace?"
posted by plonkee at 11:41 AM on July 18, 2018

In my opinion, no need to ask generic open-ended questions. If you are hiring someone with experience, tell them what the job is and ask them how they would do it. How they did it in the past.

If they are new, ask them some aspects of the job and have them explain how they would do them, or if they would enjoy it.

In both cases, tell them about specific aspects of company culture to make sure they are a cultural fit.

Look for cues that they are going to be able to do the job and be interested in it.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:56 PM on July 18, 2018

« Older Design my hidden litter box   |   Computer games to help develop maths fluency? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.