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When it comes to interviewing potential employees, you need to ask the loaded questions.
That's because hiring the right people is central to the continuing growth and success of your business. So you need to use your interview wisely — to identify job skills, target personal strengths and weaknesses, and get a feel for someone's sense of teamwork and cooperation.
But that doesn't mean you have to wallow in a snooze-inducing "Do you work well with others?" spiel. You can interview like an expert — and get information you ask for, and "undercover" feedback that plays a key role in hiring decisions.
Give some thought to the following six interview questions, all of which reveal more about the interviewee than you might think — or, for that matter, more than they might want you to know.
1. If you stayed with your current company, what would be your next move?
This is a great opener that elicits information on several levels. Not only can you get a sense of what the applicant expects — and in turn, how that jibes with the position you're looking to fill — but you might also tap into an underlying reason why the applicant wants to move on. "If the applicant says he wants to be a manager but the person above him has been there for 25 years, you can move on with the interview. But, if he says that he would hope to be promoted in six months, why would he leave that job? You may then get to the real reason why he wants to leave the company," notes Paul Falcone, author of "The Hiring and Firing Question and Answer Book."
2. What makes you stand out from others?
Another provocative query, great in part because most people get a little uncomfortable boosting themselves. Taking on that question in a reasoned manner may indicate someone with a good amount of self-esteem and some courage. By contrast, a tepid self-description can suggest a lack of gumption, something that's a handicap if you're looking to fill a challenging sales position. By the same token, an applicant who launches into a half-hour filibuster of why the Earth and several major planets revolve at his command may have an ego surplus, one that could devastate a business built around close teamwork.
3. Tell me your greatest accomplishment.
An ideal follow-up to question #2, an applicant who can recall a particularly satisfying project — and talk about it in a balanced, comprehensive fashion — indicates an employee who has a knack for hanging onto important details. But the question can also hint at an applicant who's good at thinking on her feet — again, most of us feel weird talking about ourselves. If someone can piece together a provocative anecdote on the fly, they likely will be mentally nimble on demand. As Falcone notes, "Even the receptionist who says she used sticky notes that saved several pieces of fax paper a day has a good sense of what she did to distinguish herself from others."
4. Give me an example of a time when you shared a co-worker's achievement with others.
On the surface, you may be trying to gauge how selfless an interviewee might be, how readily he'll put others ahead of himself. True enough, but the answer may also indicate if your potential employee is a strong motivator. Anyone who makes a point to boost an employee might also be trying to pump other employees in the process. That's a skill that's particularly useful for sales and marketing positions. According to Del J. Still, president of Management Development Systems, a Dana Point, Calif.-based company that offers training in interviewing and employee hiring, "These sorts of questions offer you multidimensional analysis, so you get different kinds of information from just one question. In this case, you get a sense of what actions a person took in a particular situation."
5. How many hours a week do you need to work to get your job done?
This question serves as a barometer of an applicant's work ethic and the hours he expects to put in with your company. Follow-up questions can identify whether someone who stays late is putting in extra time or just working inefficiently. A discussion about work hours also can be a telling indicator of how he might ultimately fit in with other employees. "You don't want someone with an 8 to 5 mentality working in a place where everyone usually stays until 7," Falcone says. "By the same token, you don't want someone working until 7 when everybody else is gone by 5. They're only going to resent him."
6. Do you take enough time to make a decision?
Believe it or not, this last question is one you should pose to yourself long before the interview is finished. Although it may hint at a business leader who's able to make sensible choices quickly, it actually refers to the interviewee sitting across from you. Believe it or not, Still says some 95% of all interviewers make a decision whether to hire or not within the first five to nine minutes of an interview. The time remaining is just self-fulfilling prophecy as the interviewer looks for information to justify the decision. Don't make the same knee-jerk mistake: "Take lots of notes during the interview and evaluate him or her later," advises Still. "Don't ever hire on the spot. Withhold your decision until you can review enough information to make a rational decision. If you don't, you might end up putting someone in a job where they're just going to fail."