In this article we’re going to talk about how to craft strong, insightful questions to ask during your next interview with job candidates – not what those specific questions should be, since that will depend on your particular industry and circumstances, but rather what your questions should be trying to do.
The right questions have three main parts:
Part #1: They ask about a specific situation or event.
Part #2: They ask about a particular action that the candidate took as a result of that situation or event.
Part #3: They ask about the result of that action.
This type of question ensures that you will get a comprehensive understanding of the types of experience your candidates have, how they solve problems or exploit opportunities, and what their track record in those situations has generally been.
This might seem like a lot for one question to accomplish, but it’s not as complicated as all that. Let’s look at a couple examples.
Sample question: “Describe a situation in which you had to work at a very fast pace in order to meet a goal or deadline. Please describe in detail the circumstances surrounding the event, the specific actions and reactions you had, and what happened as a result.”
Yet another sample question!!!!: “Tell me about a time when you felt you needed to take a risk at work, what that risk was, and what happened.”
These types of questions will get you the kind of thoughtful, in-depth answers you’ll need to get the best possible sense of how the candidate might perform as your next employee.
That does not mean every question you ask will follow this format. Candidates might not be able to answer your questions immediately, and so you might need to ask follow-up questions to move them along. But your goal with those follow-up questions should be to move them along the path to providing you with a situation they experienced, an action they took, and the result that came from it. Here’s a fuller example.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me about a time when you had to take on additional or unexpected responsibilities at work. Describe the experience and your reaction to it as thoroughly as possible.
CANDIDATE: Well, we’re often short-staffed where I am now, so I’ve frequently been asked to work overtime.
INTERVIEWER: OK, can you tell me about a specific example?
CANDIDATE: Sure. Uh, last December, for the holidays, we didn’t hire enough seasonal workers for some reason, so several of us were asked to cover the gap. So I worked fourteen-hour days for two weeks straight.
INTERVIEWER: Can you tell me how you reacted to that?
CANDIDATE: Well, I’d be lying if I said I was 100% happy about it, but that’s what’s happens sometimes. So I didn’t complain. I just kept working. I did pull my boss aside though afterwards to tell her that I thought we needed to do a better job of staffing for the holidays next year, and she agreed, so I’m now on a planning committee for that.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you.
In this instance, the interviewer continually prompts the candidate to describe the situation, the action taken, and the result of that action. Whether you’re happy with the answer or not, you at least know something significant about the candidate and they may fit (or not) within your organization. And that, of course, is the goal.
This article was adapted from our “Conducting Exceptional Interviews” video training course. For more information on our video training offerings, please visit here.