The 4 Interview Questions That Count

You can conduct a thorough interview with only four core questions. No more dreaming up talking points on the spot. No more planning or writing lists to remember everything you want to cover. The idea here is to take an applicant through their entire work history by asking the same four basic questions about each job.

1. What was your first paying job and what did you learn from it?

Applicants usually have a pat answer about their last job. This question takes most by surprise, and their responses are much more candid. It can also shift the entire tone of the interview because it gives applicants a sense that you’re really interested in them as a person, so they tend to open up more.

Because “who you are now is what you were then,” the answers to this question will give you a great deal of insight into the applicant’s work ethic. For example, a participant in one of my seminars volunteered that he spent two years as a teenage dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant.

When asked what he had learned, he said: “Wet rice is heavy.” While this many not seem like much information, in fact, we’ve learned he has a strong work ethic, can stick with a less than ideal situation, and has a good sense of humor.

2. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being highest, how good are you at (word processing, writing, customer service, supervising, etc.)?

The second question probes an applicant’s skills, talents, and abilities. Ask about those skills and abilities an applicant needs to be successful in the position you are looking to fill. Follow that one up with: “Why did you give yourself that number?” and “What would it take for you to be the next higher number?”

When you come to any part of the applicant’s past experience that is relevant to what you’re looking for, ask the “1-to-10” questions. The answers will provide insight into how quickly that person learns new things, what they perceive as barriers to success and how interested they are in doing (or being) what you need on a routine basis.

3. What will your supervisor at (company name) tell me about your (attitudes you want to hire for)?

Wherever appropriate, ask this third question: For instance: “What will your supervisor at XYZ Co. tell me about your on-the-job safety practices (or dependability, customer service-orientation, honesty, initiative, etc.)?”

The way this question is framed prevents most people from being less than honest when responding because it implies you intend to actually check with their former supervisor. The answers tell you if the applicant has the attitudes you need and understands their importance.

4. What can you tell me about your previous performance?

Past performance is the best indicator of what you can expect in the future, so the last question about each job in the core question set is either: “Tell me about any raises or promotions on that job,” or “Do you have a copy of your last performance appraisal? How were you rated? Do you agree with the ratings given?”

If the applicant seems promising, ask him/her to either send you a copy or bring it to the next interview.


Article written by:Mel Kleiman

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