Google was infamous for the brain-teasing, often irrelevant questions it liked to ask job applicants. “How many times a day does a clock’s hands overlap?” and “how many golf balls can fit in an airplane?” But in a 2013 New York Times interview, a senior Google executive described the whole approach as “a complete waste of time.” Instead, he said, structured behavioural interviews were more effective, which means questions like “give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.”
If one of the world’s biggest companies has trouble working out how to hire staff, it’s no surprise that at the small to medium business level, there are questions about what employees should be asking applicants. So, what should you ask, and what should you be looking out for (and perhaps avoiding)?
The infallible candidate who criticises former bosses
One type of candidate to look out for in the interview is someone who finds it hard to fault their own behaviour. When asked what their weaknesses are, this person will smile broadly and say that as the ideal candidate for the job they can’t think of any reason why they aren’t a great fit. This approach shows a lack of distinction between confidence and arrogance. Investigate this by asking “you have just been found to have made a mistake, what do you do?” If the candidate replies “well, what have I been accused of?” they probably have a habit of trying to shift the blame and avoiding responsibility.
Another candidate to avoid is one who, when asked why they left a previous job, responds with a criticism of their former employer. Again, this is a form of blame-shifting, but it also shows a complete lack of discretion. Any candidate who feels it is permissible to criticise a manager or business owner in front of a potential employer lacks tact and diplomacy.
The one word answerer and the serial applicant
Candidates who respond in monosyllables may be trying to hide something. Sure, they could be scared, but there is a difference between nerves and caginess. Ask how many job interviews they have been to recently. If they have a long list, it could mean they are unresolved about working for you and are simply shopping around for a nice office.
If a candidate persists with monosyllabic answers, give them a chance to alter their approach – they may not be aware they are doing it. Point out that they are not giving you much feedback, then ask a generic question about their hobbies or where they live. If they remain tight-lipped, it could be time to wrap up the interview.
CVs: Qualifications and core competencies
There are times when a CV is misleading. For example, a candidate who studied law may actually have a core competency based on retail management acquired through job experience. In other words, their formal qualification has little bearing on what they do best. If there is a disjunct between core competencies and qualifications on the CV, ask the candidate about it. Find out what the trigger was that made them move from their qualified area to the zone of their core competencies. This is how you find out what a person’s passions are, and how well they are going to fit into your workplace.
Smoothing out the application process
During the application process, as you are exchanging qualifications, references and personal records with candidates, there may be times when you wish you had a fax machine. While it’s true that not many people own a fax machine, it’s not true that they no longer fax. You can now receive a fax through email using an online faxing technology that links your email client to a virtual fax number. Businesses that know how to fax from a PC have no fax line rental or machine to buy, yet have the convenience of the traditional fax format. Of course, traditional fax machines can still send to your fax-enabled PC, the documents arrive as attachments.
The interview remains the most important phase of hiring because you are interacting face-to-face with someone you may soon have to trust with your livelihood. Learn what to look out for, and increase the chances of getting the right candidate.