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Feature Article of Saturday, 11 August 2012

Columnist: Fekpe, Charles Kofi

7 Interview Questions To Get Best Candidates

By Charles Kofi FEKPE

I like asking questions. It’s one of only three things I am very good at, so believe me when I say there are some questions that make people think twice before they tell the truth and thrice before they lie. Asking questions got me into the audit profession, then the forensic accounting profession. It led me into philosophy and better still; it is what gives me a 90% success rate in the calibre of people I recruit. In this article, I’d like to share 7 very simple questions which impact on how you conduct interviews. In fact, you may have come across all the questions before, but understanding how the answer to them affects a decision about a candidate is what makes all the difference.

You do need to remember that recruitment can be a very expensive exercise and so an effort needs to be made to make it as successful as possible. Although there are new fancy approaches to recruitment such as aptitude tests, behavioural and cognitive based interviews etc. I still maintain that a one-on-one interview still gives out a lot about the candidate you are looking to recruit. Remember, the recruitment is for the organisation, not for you as a person. There are times I have had to recruit people I personally didn’t take a liking to, but they were perfect for the organisation and where it was heading. The two important things to always look out for are Culture and Expectations. Every organisation has its own culture and its own expectations of its employees – and so does every potential candidate that you interview. The whole objective of an interview process is to try and answer the two basic questions (a) does the organisation’s culture and that of the candidate make a good fit? (b) Do the organisation and candidate’s expectations in conflict or aligned? Anything more than this – you are not running an interview.

What Are You Bringing To This Organisation?
This is the one question that will make a lot of candidates feel deflated and defeated. Fortunately however, it is the one question that will enable you as interviewer see the candidate’s confidence and display a clear understanding of who you are looking to find and whether they fit into that understanding. When you start hearing generic answers like “I am hardworking” or “I am a team player” etc., then recognize the candidate either doesn’t know what it is you are looking for or hasn’t assessed what s/he is capable of. It is a question that will also test the candidate’s ability to apply those experiences she has which are useful for the organisation’s current state, or if s/he is dynamic and understands trends in business, they may mention skills, experiences etc. that may not be useful now but soon will be in the future direction of industry or the organisation itself. Finally, it tells you point-blank if the candidate can sell. If they can sell themselves, they can sell anything.

How Did You Find Out About This Role/Job?
This question is quite deceptive. To the candidate, it is a straightforward question and nothing to lie about (no sense in doing so), but to the interviewer it provides tremendous insight. Depending also on how you advertised, a candidate who learn about the job by word of mouth or in social circles or through colleagues are likely to have strong relationship building skills; learning from a niche publication rather than the widely public newspaper may indicate that s/he is very discerning or focused; on the other hand any indication that it was referred to them by someone in the organisation is likely to mean that they have already been investigating the organisation or at least have been talking to someone about it.

How Long Were You In Your Last Job For And Why Did You Leave?
We all know this question. But I must warn you not to make a decision on one of the two. Always make a decision on both. If the candidate has left all their previous jobs under two years and mostly because of conflict with someone, then surely you need to ask more questions because all those people can’t be so impossible to work with. It also the kind of question you must be sure to ask for specifics and not the general well known answers “I was looking for more or better opportunities” – well what opportunities were they looking for that their former employer didn’t provide. Chances are that your organisation may also not provide it.

What Is It About This Organisation That Attracted You?
This question will help you pick up a few things; firstly whether the candidate by themselves has assessed the culture of the organisation as matching their personal cultures and for which reason they want to be there. It will also tell you whether they have at all done any work trying to understand your organisation or they are just looking for somewhere to work for now; you will also be able to find out by asking this question what are the levels and parameters on which the candidate feel connected to the organisation – and if any of those parameters happen to be your organisation’s top cultures or values or principles, then you can be sure, with some degree of certainty, the candidate will feel at home there.

Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?
This question should really answer two concerns for any employer – (a) how long is the candidate likely to stick around in employment for me to recoup my initial investments in them? (b) is our organisation in the picture of his/her future, and if not, what shall we do? As an employer, you have the unique advantage of knowing what the organisation’s plan for the future is, where you are heading, how you want to get there etc.; the candidate doesn’t. For this reason, it is easier for you to take whatever the candidate says and assess whether his/her plans for the next 5 years fall close or at least parallel to those of the organisation. What you shouldn’t attempt to do is to employ a candidate and then get him/her (by whatever means) to readjust their future plans to fit the direction of the organisation simply because s/he has passed on all the other interview questions except this one; or merely because you have taken to liking him/her. Don’t do it.

What Has Been Your Most Recent Achievement And When Was It?
Achievers (if they ever become achievers) live literally on achievements no matter how small or big. That’s how you tell the difference between those who merely claim to be achievers and those who are actual achievers – the latter always have something to back it. There’s another angle to it – whether small or big, achievers still recognize what an achievement is. Non-achievers on the other hand, even when they do achieve, don’t recognize it as such. Every organisation sets out to be successful, to achieve. If such an organisation is intent on continuing in its success, it will do the wise thing of making success or achievement part of its culture. What you want in a candidate is someone, who also has a developed or even budding personal culture of achievements, no matter how small. Following on, if you recruit a candidate who cannot identify his own personal achievements (even though they may have a few) – you can be sure they May find it hard identifying team or organisational successes.

What Was The Last Thing You Failed In And How Did You Take It?
Fact about business is that things don’t always go as planned – not always. Unfortunately however, not everybody can deal with failure. And for people like that, it not only takes a long while to shake off the failure and move on to the next stage (mind you, business doesn’t seat and wait for you to recover), it is also contagious. With this question, you can attempt to peek into the candidate’s tendency towards failure – do they learn their lesson, dust themselves and face the next music or do they lie there in the mud of failure, throw a tantrum and pull everybody else with them into the mud? It also will give you some insight into the candidate’s attitude to risk. Is s/he a risk taker at all? s/he doesn’t need to be the type who is happy to take all the risk in the world (that in itself is very dangerous) but they must be at least appear to be willing to take some risk – if not, you can be sure s/he is not the kind of candidate you should expect to help the organisation find, explore or try new opportunities – remember, opportunities in business have to be sought for and it takes some minimum risk of wanting to get out of one’s comfort zone in search of new ways of doing things.

Conclusion
It will be hypocrisy on my part to claim that these questions are full-prof to land the best and most excellent candidates 100% every time. None such exists. But I am certain that helping you understand why you should ask such questions helps get the best out of an interview process. All the best with your next interview.

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