There are a number of ways in which you should shortlist candidates for a final interview. Their application form must demonstrate they have met your criteria in terms of the job description and the person specification. Once you have checked that their qualifications and experience match your requirements, and applied any other requirements of your sector such as disclosure of criminal offences, you will hopefully have a number of people to interview.

You may apply diagnostic testing and organise presentations or work trials, but sooner or later you will be faced with prospective candidates as part of a panel or in a one to one interview. Here, you are aiming to unpick their career history as well, and see if what they have written on their application and CV fits with what you are hearing as part of the interview.

The interview is a two way process, and you are going to be making judgements about each person based on the information gathered to date, but did you know that you can also learn a great deal about someone based on the questions they ask you?

How to spot a winner

You are looking for an individual who really does want to work for you and your organisation. This means they should show that they have done their homework and found out more about the industry you are in. You want to be able to gauge their thought process, which means you will be looking out for questions that go a little further than someone who has just read the information on your website.

Also, remember that even if the following questions come up, make sure that the interviewee has brought them into the conversation in a natural and not a “rehearsed” manner. In the same way that you are keeping an ear out for the right question, it also has to come about in the right way.

1. Who are your main competitors and what are the strengths this company has to enable you to stay on top?

You want to know that they have thought about the sector and its competitors because it shows they have got a good handle on the wider business sector that you operate within. This is an individual who understands the pressures a business comes under and who wants to work with the best of the best. They are looking for more than just the paycheck at the end of the month, but a challenge as well. This question should start to tick your mental list of an employee who will show a bit of resourcefulness.

2. What will my day to day responsibilities be?

This is someone who has considered the post and is prepared to take on responsibility and keen to show that willingness. It highlights an individual who will not just wait to be told or go through the motions, but who understands that at work there will be some accountability. This is also someone who wants to make sure they have got an understanding of the job in hand and are not afraid to ask for clarification. 

3. What further opportunities are there for training or updating my knowledge and skills within the company?

You don’t want someone who has reached what they consider to be their peak, or who is not prepared to acknowledge that they never stop learning. You are looking for an individual who is going to be flexible and open to new opportunities and change. In business, that change happens on a regular basis so if you have a person who actively seeks to learn or relearn new skills or techniques, they are not the sort of employee who will put up barriers to change.

This could be the transformational leader of the future, one who will encourage and enable others around them, and a good person to have on your team. It could also suggest a person who will relish a challenge and who is prepared to go that extra mile so that the company as well as the individual will succeed.

4. How do you manage and/or measure performance in this job role?

The person who asks about the criteria and processes of measuring their performance in the role is someone who takes accountability seriously. They want to know what, when, where and how this takes place, so that they can then assure both themselves and you they are the right person for the job.

They also have an understanding that performance related benefits are to be earned, and again they are someone who will be looking to move forward within your organisation. They want to know that fair and achievable measures are in place so they can do this.

5. How is the organisation structured and where does this role/department fit in?

Potential employees who are keen to understand more about how the company is structured and where the roles they are applying for fit in are people who think holistically. They have an understanding that in business no one works in isolation, and they would be good people to have as part of the team.

This is not someone with the “me, myself and I” approach, and would be worth investing in as an employee. It will also be another tick on your list as they are demonstrating an understanding of structure. You need to employ someone who will respect the management hierarchy and work well with other managers/team leaders in different sectors of the business.

6. Is there opportunity to develop the role / progress further within the organisation?

All businesses should be on the lookout for succession planning. Even if the role you are advertising is not a supervisory or management one, you should be taking the opportunity as part of the interview process to check out the potential of the people in front of you.

It may be that in this job there is no progression opportunities, but if he/she is the right person, you should be putting a marker in the sand to note the possibilities of this individual for the future. This definitely shows someone with supervisory and/or managerial potential so keep an ear out for this type of question.

7. Is there anything you can tell me about the role that is not in the job description/advertisement?

Someone who asks this sort of question is a person who wants to know more about the culture and ethos of the business you are running. They need to be sure they can fit in with the organisation, and that the skills they have listed on their resume would also cover any other requirements of the post. These are individuals who want to check that they have not missed any important information, and they will be picking up information from you so that they can make an informed decision about the post.

This question demonstrates quite a lot about the person’s thought process, and having an employee who wants to know the facts, who double checks that they have not missed anything and who also needs to know they can fit in is going to be a bonus for any employer.

Are you interviewing potential employees? Interviewing someone is as much of an art as being interviewed, and it’s a crucial skill to have if you want the best employees for your organisation. Look out for these questions at your next recruitment drive, and you just might find yourself a winner of an employee. Best of luck!

About the Author

Karen Hoogenbosch is the Director of Animal & Odd-Bod Creators Pty Ltd, a company in Melbourne, Australia, that specialises in high quality custom made corporate mascots and costumes. Having worked with a range of high profile clients and hundreds of community based clubs, Karen knows firsthand how important having a strong and capable team is, and is always looking for the right employees to join her staff. She loves the process of mascot production, from the initial point of contact from a new client right through to the photographing of the finished product and the client’s launch of the mascot!

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