7 Key Questions Astute Interviewers Should Ask Potential Candidates

7 Key Astute Questions To Ask Potential Candidates - People Development Network
Christina Lattimer
I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance. I collaborate with leadership experts, managers and HR professionals to help them get their own message and unique services and products to a wide audience.
Christina Lattimer


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Christina Lattimer
Christina Lattimer

Probing Questions can really dig out the best potential candidates for any job.

I was the recruitment campaign manager for a busy organisation in South East London for several years.  At that time, recruitment was a little like painting the Forth Bridge, it was a continuous task.  Not only was it difficult to consistently attract those elusive star potential candidates. But an abundance of jobs and competitive salaries meant people moved on and up pretty quickly.

In those days the recruitment process was relatively simple. It consisted of the potential candidates sending an application in the post and then being invited to face to face interviews.  I was trained in interviewing skills and had to reach a certain standard, you either passed or you were sent home in shame.   I was videoed, given detailed feedback and trained in past behavioural questioning techniques. Simplistically this meant acquiring the knack of helping the candidate enlarge on key specific examples which displayed whether or not they met the criteria we were looking for.

Focus on behaviours

For the majority of jobs, the key criteria consisted of some pretty simple requirements too. For example, what the candidate considered when they made decisions, whether the candidate took the initiative, made a difference, got on with the rest of the team and achieved results. There were more, but you get the picture. Although skill-based criteria also had to be met, the main focus was on behaviours.

I took a break from interviewing for a couple of years, only to find that when I took up the reins again, it had all changed. Competency-based interviewing had become the norm and the candidate expected an entirely different assessment process.

Competency standards

Always open-minded about how to do things better. I embraced the concept and learned all about the intricacy of competency standards, levels of competence, assessments, test and psychometrics.  Pretty complex stuff.  As things have evolved it can be pretty lengthy too.  One set of assessments I was involved in (I didn’t design it, I hasten to add) lasted three days.

Still, if it meant getting the right candidate, then time well spent.  The competency-based assessment was fairer, the new thinking exclaimed because it concentrated on the skillset, mindset and knowledge.  Competency-based interviewing would get the right people in the right job.   Right?

The problem is though; I don’t actually think it did.  When I think back to the type of people I recruited under past behaviour questioning, I hired people who took the initiative, made sound decisions, taking all the information into account.  They dealt with difficult people with skill and were team players.   Very few got through the net that didn’t live up to their promise.  Because when they were expertly questioned in detail about what they did in certain circumstances, it was difficult for them to make it up.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think skill and knowledge is important too. I just think that quite often we choose people simply on qualifications, skills and knowledge and the skill in determining their propensity to behave in certain ways has become a bit of a lost art.

Blended approach

What is really needed is a qualitative combination of both competence and past behaviour.  Then the odds of getting the right candidate has greatly increased by recruiting people with the right skills and the right behaviours.

So when recruiting, employers must, of course, set up the right selection method to get the right skills, competencies and knowledge.

If it were me though, interviewing the potential candidates, I would make a point of knowing the answers to the following questions, and if answered in the right way, I would be pretty sure I had the right person for the job.

1. Why this job? 

Tests, purpose, alignment with your vision and values, and how much they have found out about the job, and why they think it fits them.

2. What is your most significant achievement at work?

Tests, effort, capacity for achievement, as well as an awareness of their ability to make a difference.  It demonstrates their expectations about their contribution, and their ability to deliver results.

3.  How did you contribute value to your team?

Demonstrates an understanding and awareness of being a team player and the way they, as individuals, play a part in making the teamwork.

4. Give me an example of a time when you recognised an improvement in the workplace was needed and what you did about it

Shows their ability to take the initiative, recognise problems and how they take responsibility to put them right – they are part of the solution

5. Give me an example of the most difficult person you’ve encountered at work   and what you did

Demonstrates how they relate to others and their ability to handle difficult people

6. What has been your greatest learning curve at work?

Shows how they recognise and learn from situations or mistakes

7. Give me an example of when you have worked under pressure and what you did to manage the situation

Will show how they manage. If they take responsibility. Are prepared to go the extra mile, and their attitude when the going gets tough.

There is a technique about how to give potential candidates the best opportunity to answer. Such as allowing them time to remember. Reframing questions and prompting them to explore their past.  Additionally, once they have got a specific example, it’s important to get them to talk about what they did, what they said and why.  This takes patience and great listening skills, as well as an ability to ask the same question in different ways.