1. “Can you tell me about yourself?”
This commonly-asked question is designed to be an icebreaker, says David Khadi, Regional Director at Michael Page. “It’s a great question because it lets you get a feel for the individual. It also allows you to weed out those who may be tempted to divulge their whole life story. You are looking for a brief, concise description of who they are and their key qualifications, strengths and skills.”
2. “What attracted you to our company?”
You can gauge the level of enthusiasm the candidate has for your company with this one. It also tests whether the candidate has done their research. At a minimum, they should be able to tell you how long the company has been established and the industry it operates in.
Andrew Brushfield, Director at Robert Half, says this question is also a useful way to find out if the candidate has performed specific research into your company’s culture and values. “Cultural fit is important, and the lack of it is one of the main reasons why an employee decides to leave a company. This is a perfect opportunity to find out if the candidate’s personal values resonate with your company’s mission and values.”
3. “Describe your greatest accomplishment in your previous role.”
This one is ideal for discovering how a candidate’s past performance may contribute to their success at your company, says Michael Simonyi, Senior Consultant at Davidson. He recommends following this with a more detailed line of questioning, using the SMART acronym to help identify the role they played. “This helps to eliminate candidates that may make a great impression and interview well, but don’t necessarily have the substance to back it up.”
SMART can be used like this:
Specific task: “Can you please describe the task/challenge in detail?” – You need to understand exactly what was required to achieve the task or overcome the challenge.
Measurable: “How was your performance in completing the task/challenge measured?” – You want to know ‘what success looked like’.
Action: “What did you do at a practical level to achieve the required outcome?” – This is to determine how the candidate worked with others or in a team. Were they a key, integral member or did they sit on the sidelines?
Result: “What was the result achieved, and how did it compare with the desired outcome?” – Remember, it’s not just about the performance. The experience gained and what the candidate learnt from the task/challenge is equally important.
Timeframe: “How long did the task/challenge take to complete and was this in line with expectations?” – Determine if the candidate can work to a deadline. Is the timeframe aligned with what they would work to in the role at your company?
4. “What are your strengths?”
The answer will help you form a view on if and how the candidate could add value to your company. “To answer this question, a candidate needs to be able to identify two or three of their best attributes,” says Brushfield. “They also need to be able to provide concrete examples of the strengths and articulate how they are relevant to the job they are interviewing for.”
Of course, you could also ask what their weaknesses are. “You’re not looking for clichés such as ‘I’m a perfectionist’, but something that demonstrates self-awareness and a desire for personal development.”
5. “What are your goals for the future?”
Khadi says this question establishes the candidate’s level of ambition and the extent to which they have planned their career. “As well as testing the candidate’s commitment to their career path, it can help you gauge whether or not the candidate is a good long-term prospect for your company. In their answer, look for signs that they want to grow, learn and add value.”
6. “Why do you want to leave your current employer?”
It really goes without saying that it’s important to find this out. Pay close attention to how the answer is framed, says Brushfield. “Candidates should never say anything negative about their current employer, no matter how strongly their feelings are for leaving.”
Khadi agrees that this is an essential question. He recommends looking for positives in the answer, such as signs that the candidate desires more responsibility, a new experience or a challenge, rather than being fed up. “If an employee is a genuine asset to a company, it will try to retain them rather than having to make a new hire. So try to find out why they didn’t get the opportunities they wanted.”
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