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June 20, 2006 10:00 PM   Subscribe

Interview Filter: What are your best interview questions and techniques?

You guys have been so helpful and so right in the past! Specifically, on this question. And guess what? I am interviewing Mr. Trashtalker's replacements now. I'm looking for a senior manager in operations. Other than the standards ("Why did you leave your last job? What do you think you can bring to our team?"), what are your best interview questions and techniques for high-level managers? Thanks in advance!
posted by GIRLesq to Work & Money (21 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
A few traditional questions: What is your strategy for solving problems? Tell us about some specific successes and failures you have had. What do you see as your strongest points as a manager? Weakest? What do you see as our strongest points as a department? Weakest? What would you change here? What would you change about yourself? Describe your ideal job, ideal boss, ideal employee. What have you learned from your present and prior bosses; what have they learned from you?
posted by caddis at 10:08 PM on June 20, 2006

"Without naming any names or giving away any identifying details, please tell me about a time in your working life when everything was falling to pieces. Tell me about the worst professional conflict and situation you've been in. What happened? More importantly, what did you do about it?"

This NEVER fails for me. Can't believe how many times this has been useful. It tells me what the person thinks is a bad situation. Tells me their mindset in dealing with conflict. Usually, the story is a complaint about an inept or incompetent co-worker, or their pet peeves. Is it an honest complaint or are they relishing the opportunity to whine? What did they do? What do they think is a good idea to do in a bad situation.

And finally it tells me two other things. It tells me whether they can identify an opportunity to learn from a bad situation. And can they turn around and communicate the lessons learned to another person.
posted by frogan at 10:10 PM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I studied organizational psychology in grad school (got my master's in it, actually). The consensus 'best practice' technique is called 'Behavior Description Interviewing'. Essentially, you ask questions about past behaviors as opposed to questions focusing on their perception of their traits. Both the examples above would fall into that category. Questions like "Tell me about a time when you dealt with opposing viewpoints of stakeholders, and how you handled it" are much more likely to give you an idea of what to expect than questions like "How do you handle adversity?", because it avoids generalities and focuses them on a specific situation and their actual behavior.

A big company I used to work for used the STAR method to conduct interviews. You start by telling the interviewee that eacj response should describe the Situation (what happened?), the Task (what were you supposed to do?), the Action (what did you do?), and the Result (what ultimately happened?). Again with questions focusing on specific past behaviors, it gave you a decent way to 'grade' specific quesitons.

Of course, interviews aren't really a valid or reliable way to predict future success in a role. But they are a tradition corporate america clings to, so we'll be dealing with them for quite a while.
posted by skechada at 10:45 PM on June 20, 2006 [2 favorites]

I don't have much to add except:

1) I hate the "where do you see yourself in five years?" question. I like to do good work and I also like to see where opportunities take me. I don't make a Soviet-style five year plan. Do with this response what you will (maybe you like five year plans).

2) The above responses are great, but I would pay more attention to the "Action" than the result, in that the reason a person is interviewing with you may be that the organization they currently work with may be sufficiently dysfunctional that they are seeking a change.
posted by lackutrol at 1:26 AM on June 21, 2006

What skechada said, but the other side of that is to think before the interview about what behaviours you want the person to perform, and also what would meet your criteria for being good at those behaviours. After that the questions just fall out naturally.

eg if the person has to work with suppliers (say) and you want them to be able to resolve disputes then you just ask something like "tell me about a time when you had a problem with a supplier. What did you do?" Let them talk for a bit, and keep pressing them if you feel they're being woolly about what they specifically did, as opposed to what they were "involved in".

Repeat for each behaviour you want to see.
posted by crocomancer at 1:27 AM on June 21, 2006

"What are you reading that's work-related?"
posted by futility closet at 3:49 AM on June 21, 2006

Pull a Steve Jobs. Ask pointedly "Are you any good?"
posted by Wild_Eep at 4:45 AM on June 21, 2006

I work for a professional services firm. Last summer, I helped create a hiring and interview guide, and ran an interview skills workshop when we were going through a hiring boom. One of my colleagues is the former Director of Admissions at an Ivy League school, and he came up with the following list of potential questions that were included in our guide:

• Describe a time that you were challenged or put under pressure.
• Tell me about a time when you took it upon yourself to accomplish a task on the job, without being asked.
• Which accomplishment on the job gave you more satisfaction than any other?
• How would you handle it if a coworker (or subordinate) was not pulling his or her fair share of the load?
• What was a major obstacle you had to overcome?
• Have you ever had difficulty getting others to accept your ideas? What was your approach? Did it work?
• Tell me about a situation when you had to speak up (be assertive) in order to get a point across that was important to you.
• Describe a recent unpopular decision you made and what the result was.
• What do you do when your schedule is suddenly interrupted? Give an example.
• How do you decide what gets top priority when scheduling your time?

You can follow any of those questions up with:

• How did you deal with it?
• How did you go about achieving it?
• What was the outcome?
• What were you thinking at the time?
• How did it make you feel?
• What did you say or do?
• What are some examples?
• How did you know there was a problem?

I have sat in hour-long interviews at my company where they started with just one of those top questions, and spent the entire hour delving deeper into it with the follow-up questions. You can get an amazing view of a person this way.

My colleague also had some favorite questions that he liked to use, and he shared those with us:

• What is a company you admire? Imagine that you became CEO of that company; what are some of the things you would focus on during your first 30 days in the role? [Helpful for gauging strategic insight.]
• What did you like/dislike about a particular job? What was your favorite job, and why?
• What did you learn from [experience/person]?
• What do you like about yourself?
• If I could give you a golden ticket that entitled you to any job you wanted with no contrainsts, what job would you choose?
• What is the most common misperceptions people have had of you in the past?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:27 AM on June 21, 2006 [3 favorites]

I've had good luck with something like "What should I have asked you that I didn't?", or "What would you have liked me to ask you that I didn't?". It's a question that most people haven't anticipated (and so prepared for), and I've gotten some interesting answers that showed me what the candidate thought was important.
posted by EllenC at 5:35 AM on June 21, 2006

One question I was asked at an interview, which I didn't like much was: "What 3 words would your friends use to best describe you?"

Being fresh out of university, and not having a wealth of experience at being interviewed, I didn't realise that they were fishing for things like "reliable", "team-player", "helpful", "approachable", etc.
My answers? "Beer, hockey and curry" - the three things for which I was well known within my uni peer group.

I got the job, and am still with the same company 8 years later... but at the time I was very miffed that they'd asked a question with such a vague scope. The ones suggested by NMRN above are much better - stick with them! :)
posted by Chunder at 5:42 AM on June 21, 2006

Another vote on behavioural interviews. I've had some training on the STAR system, which is really just a flashy name for asking behavioural questions.
posted by GuyZero at 7:34 AM on June 21, 2006

I've been through a few rounds of big corporate interviews--both as the interviewee and the interviewer. The answers in this thread are all correct--but they're too correct. That is, everyone asks these same questions and you're going to get canned answers. I suppose you probably have multiple people interview your candidates--I beg you, please have at least one person try to talk to the candidate like a real person. Of course, someone needs to ask the questions laid out in this thread just to complete the necessary due diligence. But I think you really learn more about a person--and whether or not they'd fit in at your company--if you have a natural, unplanned conversation.

Here's a good example of what I mean:

futility closet said, "What are you reading that's work-related?"

I actually ask the opposite question--what are you reading that's not work-related? It's a good way to start a conversation about something they're interested in but hadn't planned to talk about, and in some settings it helps separate the one-dimensional candidates from the more dynamic candidates. I'm not saying futility closet's question is a bad one at all. I just use it show how you can go a different direction with your interview.
posted by mullacc at 7:39 AM on June 21, 2006

"Without naming any names or giving away any identifying details, please tell me about a time in your working life when everything was falling to pieces. Tell me about the worst professional conflict and situation you've been in. What happened? More importantly, what did you do about it?"

You know, as an interviewee I absolutely hate questions like that, where you have to say something "bad" about yourself. All it does is put pressure on yourself to lie. No one is going to be totally honest with you, they're either going to embellish or just make shit up. And what if they've never even had a negative work experience? All this question does is gauge how well a person can bullshit (or lie) on their feet (if their not prepared for questions like that)

And secondly, it's damn personal. Bleh. I also hate the "What are your weaknesses" question. Why the hell should I tell you that?

Of course, I work in a technical field, so mainly all anyone needs to ask is "can you do X, Y, and Z" along with possibly quizzing people to prove they know what they say they know. In a non-technical field, just look at their resume.

Trying to do some magical psychological evaluation during an interview is a huge waste of time. No psychological evaluation can work if the interviewee has any motive to be dishonest or 'game' the system, as they certainly do in an interview.

Just look at their work history, actually check their references, and then if they turn out to be assholes just fire them. Duh.
posted by delmoi at 7:52 AM on June 21, 2006

What are you passionate about?
What's 55 x 5? (You'd be surprised how many people have trouble with this)

I also like a lot of NMRN's questions. I'll be using those for our hiring!
posted by junesix at 7:52 AM on June 21, 2006

Also, "What type of 'culture' do you hope to instill in your department"?

With so many companies these days developing a 'culture' for success (think of the working relationships and company culture at Microsoft, Apple, etc.), this is a great one to make sure their business and relationship philosophies are consistent with your company's.
posted by galimatias at 8:03 AM on June 21, 2006

You guys have been so helpful and so right in the past! Specifically, on this question. And guess what? I am interviewing Mr. Trashtalker's replacements now.

If AskMe was helpful, you should go back to that question, post a conclusion and then add the "resolved" tag. People love (and usually deserve) to hear how things turned out, in as much detail as you can provide.
posted by mullacc at 8:07 AM on June 21, 2006

I make a list of specific core competencies that the job needs. Then I come up with a set of questions that will indicate that competency or the lack thereof without asking it directly. For example, if I want to find out what communications skills a person has, I might ask the candidate to tell me about a project that they worked on, what problems they encountered and how they solved them. While they're answering, I turn it into a conversation or finesse them into telling me about all the niggly details. If a candidate can't speak lucidly and in detail about a project that they were intimately familiar with, then we have some serious communication issues.

It's subtle and can be time-consuming, but I find it much more telling than a direct question for competency issues.
posted by plinth at 8:09 AM on June 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

GIRLesq, maybe you want a view of the candidate's personality, life, and enthusiasm. I've had great success with this question (in little college clubs, not senior management, so here's a grain of salt):

It's great to be crazy about something. What are you crazy about?

People really open up, and love to talk about their music or brother or fishing trips or whatever. This question gets people to ditch the self-conscious careful-talking interview thing and just be themselves.
posted by Sfving at 8:18 AM on June 21, 2006

One my favourite interview questions (from an interviewee perspective) was:

"What websites do you visit on a regular basis?"

You could supplement/substitute website with book, film or TV. My answer was only partially self-censored.
posted by toddie at 8:19 AM on June 21, 2006

You know, as an interviewee I absolutely hate questions like that, where you have to say something "bad" about yourself. All it does is put pressure on yourself to lie.

I guess I should have couched that the context would be a bad experience that you have been in, not necessarily of your own making. I'm after the bad situation, and what they did about it. "The customer wanted changes at the last minute ... so we did X, Y and Z." Or even, "I dropped the turkey on the kitchen floor right before service, so we had to scramble to do something."

And what if they've never even had a negative work experience?

You really want to hire someone like that? If an interviewee told me he had never had a negative experience, I would automatically assume either a lie or that this person is completely out of touch.

(if their not prepared for questions like that)

Again, why would you hire someone that's not prepared to answer reasonable interview questions?
posted by frogan at 8:58 AM on June 21, 2006

My colleague asks these two:

1) Imagine two cars that have exactly the same market value, which one would you choose: the Volvo or the Corvette? and

2) How often do you balance your check book?

He liked the interviewee that chose the Corvette and records every transaction in her check book. He perceived the interviewee to be a detail-oriented risk taker.
posted by GarageWine at 9:38 AM on June 21, 2006

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