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Sample Interview Questions

Adapted from content excerpted from the American Express® OPEN Small Business Network


It's rare that a job applicant's resume or application paints an accurate portrait of how he or she will fit with your company. Successful hiring is often highly subjective, since you will need to judge more than a person's skills, but also attitude, work habits, and motivation. These are things that can only show up in an interview.

The interview questions below are designed to encourage candidates to talk about themselves, get them to analyze their work habits, strengths and weaknesses, and give you a clear picture of what they can do for your company. You can use them as the basis for your interview script, but you may want to customize them to correspond to your personal interviewing style.

Experience

You are looking for someone with this level of experience/education:

  • No previous experience necessary
  • High school graduate

Use these questions to help you judge a candidate's experience level:

Tell me about a typical day on your current job. What do you like about it? What don't you like?

This question is designed to give you a sense if a candidate will like the day-to-day responsibilities of the position he or she is interviewing for. If you find out that a candidate does not like doing something that would be central to working with your company, then you know he or she won't be a good fit. You'll also get an idea of whether this person possesses any unique skills that can be easily transferred to this new position.

What are three things you do really well? What are three areas where you need help?

Ask these questions to get at a person's strengths and weaknesses. Look for a response that will let you know if a candidate has a realistic view of his or her capabilities.

Who is doing some really innovative things in your field of work?

Use this question to find out how closely candidates follow their industry, and how absorbed they are in their line of work. No business operates in a vacuum, so it's important to understand what other companies are up to. It will give you an idea how open candidates are to innovation, and how closely they pay attention to details. You also might want to ask what publications they read to keep up on their industry to see how closely they follow trends and news that will impact their job.

Why are you ready to leave your current job?

There are a few reasons you want to tackle this subject. You need to be clear that the candidate was not difficult to work with, did not have an attitude problem, or did not have trouble producing. If a person has only been on that job a short while, you need to feel confident that the person won't leave your company just as quickly.

Work Style

You are looking for someone with this kind of work style:

  • Works best in a team
  • Works best alone
  • Generates solutions independently
  • Works without needing directions
  • Accepts direction to get job done

Use these questions to help you judge if a candidate's work style complements the way your company conducts business:

How would you react in a scenario that would require you to work independently?

Scenario-based questions can be very useful for checking a candidate's ability to solve problems creatively and see how he thinks on his feet. They also give you an idea of whether a person's processes complement the way you work. For example, you could ask a prospective bookkeeper: "If I asked you to come up with a way to speed up receivables, how would you tackle a project like that? How would you get started?" Or you could act as a prospective line manager: "How would you motivate someone who isn't doing his job?"

Tell me about a recent project you've completed.

This will help you clearly understand how the candidate approaches problem solving. Ask for measurable outcomes so you can get an idea how they met deadlines and got the project out the door. What was a typical day like? What roadblocks did you run into and how did you get around them? You may need to probe to determine exactly how the candidate accomplished these things within the parameters of his or her job.

When you're working on a group project, what role do you typically play? Why?

Is this person the leader? The note taker? The idea-person? The doubter? The joker? This will give you a window into how they view their own work style, and, when given the opportunity, how they portray themselves.

Tell me about a time you had to make a critical decision, and what went into that process.

Again, you're looking to get at how a person makes decisions. The answer should help you gather information about a person's judgment, willingness to take risks, and decision-making capabilities.

In what situations have you disagreed with your boss? What was the outcome?

A question like this can be used to separate yes-people from those that can enhance your business by asking intelligent questions. Be careful of someone who appears too argumentative or disagrees for the sake of disagreeing. Look for someone who disagreed with a supervisor and had the situation turn out positively.

Temperament

You are looking for someone with these character traits:

  • Low key

These questions will provide you with insight into a person's character traits:

What was the worst manager you ever had like? What about the best manager? Why?

The answer to this question will get at the kind of support a person needs to do his or her job. Rather than asking a hypothetical question, you can get at specific on-the-job experiences.

What is the best environment for you to function in?

Some people thrive in a noisy, chaotic office, while others demand quiet. In addition, many smaller companies operate in a non-traditional environment. Use this question to clarify a prospect's expectations. If you're interviewing candidates with more of a large company background, they might not be ready to give up some of the corporate comforts they've grown used to.

What do you think it will be like to work in a small business?

This question also gets at a prospect's impression of your work environment. It will help you see if they have a realistic idea of what to expect from the job.

Do you have any hobbies?

Don't use what candidates do after work to judge how they would perform on the job. Still, asking about what someone does at leisure can give you some indication of their personality. A person who sky dives every weekend is probably a bit more of a risk taker than a person who knits.

What's the best thing you've ever done in your life? What are you proudest of?

The actual answer to this question is not particularly important. Instead, you want to look at how the person answers. How are they showing you that this is something really great? Do they exude the kind of pride and enthusiasm you would expect?

Work Skills

You are looking for someone with these character traits:

  • Good writer
  • Good speaker
  • Good listener

These questions will provide you with insight into a person's character traits:

What would your best reference say about you? What would a reference you wouldn't give me say about you?

You can phrase this question in a number of ways -- What would your manager say about you? What would the people you manage say about you? This is a way to gauge how honestly people can look at themselves. In general, you're looking to see how introspective a candidate is.

How would you handle a specific challenge?

This is another scenario-based question. Think of a specific challenge you regularly face in your business. For instance, you might ask a sales rep how she would get past a typical rejection. Or you could ask a retail clerk how to deal with an angry customer. In addition to getting a clearer picture of how a candidate solves problems, you might also get some tips on ways to run your business better.

How do you keep yourself organized?

Every type of job -- but especially those in project management -- requires a certain amount of organization. This question will tell you how a person keeps things in order, whether he or she is forgetful, and how the person handles specific responsibilities.

What have you done to make your supervisor's job easier? Is there anything they wouldn't ask you to do?

This may give you a clear idea of what a person regards as his/her primary talents. It also will tell you how various candidates managed their managers, which can be an indication of how they will relate to you.

Will you do an audition for us?

Consider asking top candidates to audition for you so you can determine if they have the correct talents. Do you need someone who can make client presentations? Ask them to prepare a 15-minute presentation on the topic of their choice to illustrate their skills. Looking for someone with stellar phone skills? Interview them by telephone. Don't judge these auditions on content. Instead, focus your evaluation on their ability to demonstrate the skills you need.

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