©2000 Johanna Rothman
Many of us are in “constant hiring” mode–continually receiving resumes, interviewing people, and deciding on whether to hire various candidates. Are you asking questions that get you informative answers about your candidates?
There are many potential kinds of interview questions and situations: closed, open, hypothetical, meta questions, auditions, and rhetorical questions are some of the most common. Choose your interview questions so that you can assess the candidate's abilities for cultural and technical fit.
1. Closed questions describe the facts: Where are you working now? What is your salary? How many years of C experience do you have?
2. Open behavioral questions help you probe for more information: Tell me about your job now. (I pause and wait for the answers between questions.) What's fun? What's challenging for you? What's difficult? Why? After they tell me about their work, I sometimes follow up with other questions: How is that for you? Would you do the same thing again? What lessons did you learn?
3. Hypothetical questions can be a useful addition to open-ended behavioral questions when you're assessing what people consider when they solve problems: What would you do in x situation? I listen more for the candidate's thought process than I do to the answer.
4. Meta-questions help me when I'm looking for other areas to ask about. What haven't I asked you about that I should have? If I asked you a question for which an honest answer would make you look bad, how would you answer?
5. Auditions are a limited way to watch managers and technical staff in action. The interviewer provides an example situation, and the candidate walks through a solution with the interviewer. For managers, an audition might be having lunch with the potential group. Who does the manager talk to, who is ignored? For technical staff, a presentation about their current project or research is a great audition. Sometimes, you can use your products to explain a current design or implementation, and then ask the candidate to design a change.
6. Rhetorical questions tend to be hypothetical in nature, and may give you another picture of a candidate: Where do you want to be in five years? If you could change just one thing, what would it be? I don't rely on these questionsI've found many candidates use answers they think sound good rather than what they really believe. If I want to know how ambitious a candidate is, I'll ask a behavioral question such as: “When was the last time you decided you wanted a promotion, and what did you do to get it?”
I've found behavior-oriented open-ended questions and auditions to be the best use of limited interview time. One note about these questions: many candidates need time to think through the answers to these questions. Let them. An interview doesn't have to be a rapid-fire interrogation; it can be a collegial conversation.
One of my clients is looking for a QA/Test manager in a startup environment. He uses open-ended behavior-oriented questions such as:
· “Do you ever have to ship projects where you didn't do enough testing?” If the candidate says no, he asks how the candidate knew he/she did enough testing. If the candidate says yes, he asks, “How do you decide what to do?” He's looking for an answer that discusses how to make tradeoffs and how this manager will work with the other product development managers. If the candidate hasn't discussed tradeoffs with his peer product development managers, he doesn't have the experience to manage QA/test in my client's company.
· “We sometimes deal with difficult people.” (My client says this with a wry grin.) “Tell me about a difficult person you've dealt with recently, what was difficult, and what you did.” My client looks for an admission that some people are difficult, and then listens to hear when the candidate lost patience or how the candidate turned the upset person into someone they could deal with.
· “How do you know when you have the right staffing level?” My client is looking for people who analyze the needs of the business and understand when the business environment changes. Sometimes candidates answer this in a closed way with a brief, factual answer. In that case, my client asks how they know they have the right staff.
Part of what you look for in the answers is how the candidate's current job environment is similar to yours and how it's different. If the candidate is currently managing three people and you're looking for a manager of a 20-person department, listen for how the candidate takes this environment into account, or if the candidate has only one answer for a given problem.
Especially in limited time interviews, behavioral questions help you extract useful information about a candidate. Use those questions to know who will fit into your organization and be successful there.