Career Advice, Interviews

Smarter Interview Questions For Employers

Dear Liz,

I’m a call center manager in a small but busy company. I’m completely on my own when it comes to hiring. I have to place the job ad, screen resumes and interview people. I’m pretty much relying on my gut right now. What are some good interview questions I can ask the call center rep candidates to help weed out the people who couldn’t hack our high-volume environment?




Dear Marty,

Let’s start with what we know about the call center job. It’s busy, and your reps have to keep a smile in their voices while they talk to person after person during the day. They have to explain sometimes complicated solutions to people who may not be totally focused on the call, or may not be the brightest people in the history of mankind for that matter. They have to learn your new products and keep on top of other product issues. That’s a lot to ask for! We want to construct interview questions that will show you a person’s intellectual flexibility, and his or her emotional intelligence. A sense of humor wouldn’t be a bad thing, either!

Here are some interview questions that may work well for you, Marty:

Can you share with me what you imagine this call center agent job to be like? What do you think are the most important parts of the job, based on whatever you’ve read and heard and your own experience with call centers?

The candidate’s answer to this question will let you know how tuned-in he or she is. People who come to interviews for call center jobs had better have a good idea of what they’re walking into. If the candidate doesn’t get the volume, the pace, the high level of urgency (people who’ve been sitting in a telephone queue want their questions answered NOW, as you know) and the need for kid-glove customer service, he or she is not your guy (or gal).

As you think about working in our call center, what do you think you’d need from me, your manager, in order to be successful?

Here again, we’re checking to see whether the candidate has put him- or herself mentally into the job. If s/he has, the answer will be something like “I’ll need training, of course. I’ll need a way to find out what’s changing in the product mix, pricing, delivery or whatever else can change from day-to-day. I’ll need to understand the technology you use and I’ll need to know how to escalate a customer call to my manager if I can’t handle it. I’ll need to know the rules of the road, when I can take time off for instance, and I’ll need continuing training over time so that I can stay on top of the products. I’d love to also know the career path, and what it will take for me to get to whatever the next step in the organization is.” This imaginary candidate is on the ball. He or she has thought through what life on the job will be like, enough to be able to tell you what he or she will need to thrive. A candidate who’s done this kind of thinking could reasonably be expected to show the same initiative on the phones with your customers. If you ask this question and the candidate says, “I don’t really know — I guess I’ll need a desk and a phone,” e.g., you may want to keep looking.

What do you expect the biggest challenges or frustrations on this job to be?

This is about as close to a go/no-go question as you can get. If the candidate says “I haven’t really thought about it,” you’re taking a big risk extending an offer. If the candidate says, “Well, avoiding boredom could be one challenge, and keeping up with the volume of calls without ripping someone’s head off could be another one” you’ve got someone who has already thought through the most likely, daily scenarios on the job. This person has done more than just dash off a resume and send it to you. He or she has done the mental research to imagine what could be challenging on the job, and perhaps has developed some strategies for surmounting those challenges. (That could be your next question: “How do you think you can surmount those challenges?”)

Good luck with the interviewing, Marty, and good luck on your budding HR-not-by-choice career, too!