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Hiring the Right Fit: Interview Questions

There are three types of interview questions: Standard, Behavioral and Situational. Using a combination of these questions is often the key to a successful interview technique. The following provides details on interview questioning that can be beneficial for new hiring managers and a good review for experienced professionals.

Standard Interview Questions

Asking standard questions is the most common way to conduct an interview. These types of questions are used for basic data gathering and to obtain general knowledge about a candidate. The answers that you will receive from asking standard questions typically do not give in-depth information about how past performance might predict future performance, however.

Examples:

  • "Tell me about yourself."
  • "What are your strengths/weaknesses?"
  • "Why do you feel you will be a good fit for this position?"
  • "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

Behavioral-Based Interview Questions

Behavioral-based questions are an excellent method for learning how a candidate will fit in at your company and are becoming more and more popular with today's hiring managers. This type of question requires the candidate to relate to past jobs or experiences.

Questions focused on past job behavior, and not the person, are by far the best predictors of future job performance. Behavioral-based questions are designed to determine if the candidate has the desired skills to be successful in the role based on their account of past behavior on the job. Answers to these questions will indicate skills and abilities, as opposed to personality traits. Behavioral questions explore education and cumulative work experience, as well as intellectual capacity, attitudes and soft skills. These questions should be open-ended, requiring more than a simple "yes", "no", or one-word response. Following are a few examples of poorly structured behavioral questions:

  • "Tell me what you believe your best qualities are."
  • "Do you like working in a team?"
  • "Can you create pivot tables in Excel?"

Examples of effective behavioral questions:

  • "Give me an example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree."
  • "Tell me about a time when you coached an underperformer to become an exceptional employee. What were your biggest challenges/rewards in doing so?"
  • "Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an irate customer. How did you resolve the issue?"
  • "Describe a project or task that required close attention to details in order to keep the project on track. How did these matters come to your attention? How did you handle them?"

Successful candidates' answers should take the interviewer through a detailed account as to how a particular situation was handled. Hiring managers should look for a "STAR Response." Responses should consist of specific details about the Situation>Task>Action>Results.

Situational Interview Questions

Situational questions are very similar to behavioral questions; however, they are future-oriented. These questions ask job applicants to imagine a set of circumstances and then describe how they would respond in that situation. These questions allow candidates to give a hypothetical response as to how they may behave. Use situational questions when hiring for a position that is entry-level or does not require a lot of work experience. These questions allow respondents who have had no or limited relevant work experience to be able to provide insightful responses.

When thinking of situational questions to ask, keep in mind that behavioral questions can be easily converted to situational questions:

Example: "You have been asked to conform to a policy with which you do not agree. Not only do you have to conform to the policy, but you have to direct your team to follow it as well. How would you handle this situation?"

Constructing appropriate questions

The construction of appropriate questions is an important part of interview preparation for the employer. Hiring managers should review the position description, paying special attention to the required (vital) knowledge, skills and abilities of the job, as well as the preferred (nice to have) qualifications of the successful candidate. Write questions for each of these chosen knowledge, skills or abilities, making sure each question is relevant to the job, behavior- or situation-based (asking for specific examples of past or predicted behavior), open-ended, and non-discriminatory. Use a good blend of standard, behavioral, and situational questions. Keep the interview questions focused on practical, job-related skills and information. The questions should be reviewed ahead of time by everyone participating in the interviewing process. Determine the sequence in which the questions will be asked to help with the flow of the interview.

After the Interview

Go back and examine each candidate's answers and score them against a guide that makes it easy for you to evaluate them as objectively as possible. Since there is not an exact answer for behavioral-based or situational questions or other information you received in the interview, you can develop a set of flexible guidelines for what the ideal responses would be. Having guidelines makes it easier for you to fairly consider each candidate's response and ultimately select the candidate that best fits your company's needs. Typically a point system works well where the "score" for each question is tallied for a total number of points. Review the top-scoring two or three candidates and discuss any notes the members of the interviewing team may have made about the candidates that should be considered as a decision to hire is being made. For additional information, contact agcareers@agcareers.com