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5 Common-Thread Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

It is crucial that all involved in the interview process, from hiring decision maker to individual panel members, collectively agree on the role’s success factors.

You can do this by parachuting into the targeted role- or discipline-specific areas, compiling questions that extract a candidate’s knowledge, experience, skills and abilities. As well, by noting the common thread that weaves through ‘all’ roles within a company, you can gather questions applicable for nearly every candidate, regardless of technical requirements.

It is the second example that is the focus of this month’s must-ask interview questions. As such, Bill McCabe, Recruitment Leader, Polyglass USA, shares five questions that your organization can ask of all or most candidates.

1. Describe the details around the biggest positive contribution you’ve had in an organization.  

Bottom Line Value: The candidate should be able to illustrate, through specific examples, their ability to make the department or organization better than when they arrived. For example, suggests McCabe, “Did they streamline a process or reduce costs? Did they lead a team to tangible success?”

More Specifically: “People contributing to the success of an organization is why we hire, retain and promote,” asserts McCabe. “A candidate should be able to articulate simply how they moved the needle in a positive direction in an organization. Look for specific details on projects assigned, obstacles faced, etc., including the actions they took and the end result.”

[Related: 4 Nitty-Gritty Interview Questions to Ask Candidates]

2. Please provide an example of a project or assignment given to you where the goals / deliverables failed to be achieved.  

Bottom Line Value: “We all fail sometimes. HOW we fail now proves how successful we can be in the future,” explains McCabe. 

More Specifically: “Good people, even when working hard and working smart, sometimes fail in their tasks,” McCabe expands. “Sometimes, when assignments are given, they aren’t properly funded, lack ‘champions’ at the top of the organization or are simply poorly executed.  Regardless of the reasons things went sideways, the interviewer can pick up a lot in the response of the candidate.”

A multitude of further findings emanate from the broader question on failure, according to McCabe. For example:

  • Did the candidate own the failure?  
  • Did they learn from it? 
  • What did they do to avoid issues as they occurred? 
  • How did they recalibrate scope or expectations along the way? 
  • Did they get ahead of the issues? 
  • What would they do differently next time? 
  • Do they seem to blame everyone but themselves?
  • Do they appear easily agitated in even discussing it?

[Related: How to Grow an Engaged Workforce: From Applications to Exit Interviews]

3. Tell me about when your relationship with your boss brought out the best in you.  What traits did he/she show that made it such a productive relationship?

Bottom Line Value: “A manager should determine if the management ‘style’ the candidate describes aligns with who they are and how they operate,” suggests McCabe. “A candidate can have excellent experience but putting them in the wrong environment or matched up with a manager that doesn’t compliment them speaks to how engaged or happy this employee will be.”

More Specifically: “If the manager to whom the hire would report is asking this question, they will need to really listen to what the candidate says about the relationship with their boss,” says McCabe.  “Not often are hiring managers given an actual ‘recipe’ of how that candidate is motivated, how they like to partner and how the manager will need to partner with them to make sure they achieve their goals.”

4. Were you able to convince a leader in your organization to make a change, when they were strongly opposed?

Bottom Line Value: This question can highlight two valuable traits—the candidate’s knack for influencing and their skill in working independently, including an ability for having tough discussions without hand-holding. Further, it fortifies the candidate’s potential as a future leader. 

More Specifically: “When someone can influence another, even at a higher level in the organization, it shows they welcome and value change, they aren’t easily intimidated, and they keep a ‘big picture’ perspective in mind,” McCabe expounds.

Moreover, independent employees “free up managers to operate at a more strategic level,” versus running interference between their team and another function’s leader, he concludes.

[Related: 7 Best Hiring Practices for Small Business Owners in 2019]

5. When were you selected for a key project that fell outside the typical scope of your responsibilities?  

Bottom Line Value: “The depth and nature of the project can show the interviewer how much confidence the last organization had in this person,” explains McCabe.

More Specifically: Continues McCabe, “This can also be a window into the relationship this candidate had with their past employer and manager.”

“The interviewer should explore why that person was singled out and selected to lead a critical-path project. Had they succeeded in similar projects in the past?  Did they have the ability to bring large amounts of data together to tell a compelling business story?”

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