10 Key Interview Questions

Most managers are familiar with the standard array of interview questions, such as “What are your strengths/weaknesses?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?” But it takes a greater effort than this to elicit more than stock answers from savvy candidates. Below are 10 thought-provoking questions to ask and a few suggestions for reading between the lines.

What do you know about our company, and why do you want to work here?
A candidate's answer should reveal that he or she has done more research than simply looking up your firm's mission statement on the corporate Web site. Individuals should be able to identify ways in which they can contribute to the organization's goals.

If the candidate is currently unemployed: Why did you leave your last job, and what have you been doing since then?
In today's economy, it's not unusual for highly competent people to find themselves unemployed. Keep an open mind, but try to gather specifics on how a candidate spent this time — pursuing an advanced degree or volunteering in a related field, perhaps.

What were your most significant contributions or accomplishments in your previous position?
This question gives applicants opportunity to think beyond positions held and job duties and to get to the heart of what you're after: bottom-line results. Their answers can give you a sizable hint as to what they may be able to do for your organization. Their responses can also reveal the depth of their understanding of the former employer's business priorities and how their contributions tied to overall departmental or company goals.

What would you have changed about your last job and why?
Don't allow someone to avoid a candid answer; everyone has at least some small example of what could have been done differently.

What type of work environment is the least appealing to you?
This often elicits a more in-depth response than asking what environment is most appealing in an applicant. Determine whether the qualities mentioned apply to the position you're seeking to fill, and look for any pattern in what the interviewee considers negative. For instance, do a number of the examples relate to a particular management style? Relationships with coworkers? Company policy? These may provide insight into the candidate's primary on-the-job challenges.

Tell me about your favorite/least favorite supervisor.
Strong candidates can provide an objective review of any supervisor. An individual with overly derisive comments about a former boss or colleague may not be suited for a team-oriented workplace. An interviee's tact and diplomacy should shine through in his or her response.

How do you think your favorite boss would describe you? What about your least favorite boss?
Look for signs that applicants can see themselves from another point of view — specifically, from a manager's perspective. Evasive replies — such as “I don't know” — may indicate a failure to appreciate or understand the importance of his or her working relationship with supervisors.

Can you tell me about an important decision you made and how you arrived at it?
Notice this is not a hypothetical question — it's prompting for information about a real situation. Consider the person's decision-making style and whether it's a match with your corporate culture. Did the candidate seek the advice of others? Is he or she a creative thinker?

Describe a situation in which you had to deal with a professional disagreement or conflict.
At a time when ethics is a key consideration in the workplace, this question may be especially important. Probe for specifics if responses seem too predictable. They key is to determine whether an applicant is able to make compromises without sacrificing integrity.

What is the most satisfying achievement of your career?
Beyond the accomplishment itself, think about how the candidate views success. Is title and rank most important? Was teamwork a key factor in the situation? Compare this to how you think your current star employees might answer this question.

Excerpted from Salary Guide 2004 by Robert Half Finance & Accounting.
© 2003 Robert Half International. 2004 Salary Guide. Reprinted with permission.

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