Making the Interview Count

How to find out what you really need to know in the job interview

by Kathryn Pizzurro

Budget is approved, HR posted the job description, and resumes have been reviewed. Now the interviews begin and just how do you plan to select the right candidate?

Do Your Homework

Your time is valuable, absolutely. But being prepared for an interview makes the next 60 minutes much more productive for both you and the job candidate.

The 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper that was sent before the interview? That’s a resume. Read it. Every Readers’ Digest detail concerning a job candidate’s work history is printed out neatly in front of you. Use it as a kick-starter to the interview conversation, not an outline for what will be covered.

Also, take just a few moments before the interview to pull a plan or an outline together. Nothing complex, but have a few key questions to start the interview, and then listen closely. Hopefully, the candidate’s responses will not only tell you a lot about what you asked, but also lead you to ask follow up questions and probe a bit deeper.

Before the first handshake, be mindful of these two key points that we all have slipped on in the past.

  1. Ask open-ended questions. Short, one or two sentence answers can give you facts, but do little to tell you who a person really is. Create a conversational atmosphere and you’ll pick up more information than any resume could detail.
  2. Listen. How the candidate responds is how they will appear to your clients and customers as well as other employees. First impressions and non-verbal communication say a lot. Just listen for it.

Key Interview Questions


  • Why are you here today?


Is it the opportunity to break into the organization that interests the job candidate? Or is it the challenges of the open position? Are they looking for a shift in career path or is this a specific progression within a plan? How does this position fit in the candidate’s long term plans? Does the candidate even have long-term plans? Have they tried multiple industries with similar responsibilities or held multiple positions within the same industry? How does the candidate see those experiences benefitting the organization as well as fit within his or her career plan?


  • Tell me about challenges you’ve experienced and how you’ve overcome them.


Again, here you’re asking for a story. The details will tell you whether the candidate problem solves with a group or independently. Was a challenge met or perhaps a new opportunity identified?


  • What are some of your greatest successes? Tell me about what you are most proud?


Talk about wide-open. Here you will find what motivates the job candidate. Were the results sales-oriented? Cost-saving? Improved customer service? Brought a team together? You may even get some responses outside of his or her professional experience. Perhaps he or she just ran their first marathon or completed a degree in addition to their full time position. That may tell you a bit about work ethic.


  • Tell me about your favorite boss.


Here is where you may find further insight into how an employee best relates to management.  Watch and listen closely here. It may be your best indicator as to the work environment that particular employee prefers and also another indicator on how the candidate is motivated.


  • Ask the candidate for questions.


Just as you are ready to wrap up, here comes one of the more important questions of the interview – and it’s not coming from you. Ask the candidate if they have any questions and sit back and listen. What they ask, and how they ask it will tell you immediately their mindset. Are they asking about future growth? A particular issue within your related industry and how the company may view this new opportunity? Why the position is open? All these show an interested, engaged and well-prepared interviewee. Which in the end, isn’t that what you are really looking for in an employee?


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