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4 Interview Questions That Get to the Heart of a Candidate’s Potential

4 Interview Questions That Get to the Heart of a Candidate’s Potential

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: July 26, 2012

Hiring new employees is an opportunity, but it’s also a huge risk. So perfecting your interviewing skills is critical. But what kind of interview questions are most effective at helping you find an employee with the right skills and experience, and the best fit for your company culture?

The most successful interviews are based on facts, and these are usually best gleaned via the behavioral interview technique. As in life, actions and (in this case) past actions, speak louder than words. You can get a pretty good sense of how anyone is going to react, cope or integrate into your team based on how they’ve done this in the past.

Some of the best recommendations I’ve seen for conducting fact-based, behavioral interviews (and we’re not talking psychoanalysis here) come from Jeff Haden, a bestselling business writer and contributor to Inc. Magazine. Here’s a summary of his favorite behavioral interview questions as published in this article:

1. "Tell me about the last time a customer or co-worker got mad at you."

Interpersonal skills as well as ability to deal with conflict are critical in any small business. The key to this question, Haden explains, is to keep probing so that you find out why the customer or co-worker was mad, what the candidate did in response, and the outcome.

Look out for a candidate who blames the other person and takes no accountability for the conflict on themselves. What you really want to hear is a candidate who admits responsibility for the conflict, but who worked to rectify the situation. This doesn’t mean they are a cause of conflict, but their actions suggest that they learned from the situation, admitted they were wrong and fixed things.

2. “Tell me about the toughest decision you had to make in the last six months."

The goal is here to evaluate the candidate’s reasoning ability, problem solving skills, judgment, and willingness to take informed risks.

If you get no answer – consider it a warning sign!

Other more positive responses may shed light on how the interviewee made a difficult analytical decision based on reasoning or perhaps a difficult interpersonal decision. A really good answer will combine both! As Haden explains: “Making decisions based on data is important, but almost every decision has an impact on people as well. The best candidates naturally weigh all sides of an issue, not just the business or human side exclusively.”

3. "Tell me about a time you knew you were right but still had to follow directions or guidelines."

Clearly, here you are looking to evaluate the candidate’s ability to follow, but also their potential ability to lead. If the candidate went against these directions or guidelines, “because I knew I was right,” then consider that a warning sign. Likewise, note whether they followed directions but then let their performance suffer because they felt wronged or overlooked.

Positives to look for include candidates who did what needed to be done, met deadlines despite everything, and then raised their concerns or issues at an appropriate time and place, with the goal of improving things. Now if they did all this and stayed motivated, while helping motivate others as well, then they deserve a big tick in the box.

4. "Tell me about the last time your workday ended before you were able to get everything done."

Here you’re evaluating commitment, prioritization and communication skills. Pay attention to this warning sign: "I just do what I have to do and get out. I keep telling my boss I can only do so much but he won't listen...”

Things to look for are comments about staying late to finish critical tasks, or prioritizing during the day to stay on top of everything so that nothing is left uncompleted.

Perhaps most important is communicating early on that deadlines were in jeopardy and then staying late or prioritizing accordingly. Surprisingly few employees put their hand up to tell their manager that they’re going to miss a deadline before it’s passed them by.

The Bottom Line

Keep the dialog going and insert follow-up questions (“so what happened next” or “wow, how did you deal with that?”). If candidates are being honest and have experience or facts to back up resume hype, then they should be able to participate fully in this form of interview. If they can’t, potential disconnects between who the candidate says he is and who he really is will be easier to spot.

Concludes Haden: “… great employee(s) will almost always shine during a fact-based interview.”

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About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley