Paul Falcone is an HR consultant and author of 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire. He’s written the definitive guide to asking great questions and evaluating a candidate’s responses.
He provides several questions that are best deployed at the beginning of an interview. He recommends going beyond the classic “Tell me about yourself.” This ubiquitous opener can be confusing for a candidate. It leaves him or her to guess how to mix personal and professional information. It’s hard to decide where to start. A candidate can wind up providing too much information (“I’m a cancer survivor” or “Proud mom to three beautiful children”). As an interviewer, you want to help candidates stay focused on professional accomplishments.
Falcone suggests starting with this opening question instead: “Walk me through your progression in your career, leading up to how you landed in your current role at your present company.” This question helps the candidate list accomplishments he’s proud of and provide some detail on his current role. You may also gain insight into why he’s in the market for a new job. “Our division recently got a new manager, and he’s made some big changes in our sales goals.” Or “I’ve been in the same role for five years, and I’m looking for a new challenge, which doesn’t look likely at my current company.”
This also gives the interviewer a chance to review the resume in real time, refresh= your memory on the candidate’s experience, and make some notes on what you want to go into more deeply. You’ll also get a chance to see how the candidate’s mind works, especially if you ask them for a brief overview. Does she get bogged down in details? Does he keep talking even when your body language indicates he’s gone on too long? This first impression of communication skills and emotional intelligence can give you valuable insight into how well they’ll connect with customers and team members.
The culmination of this opening narrative is, of course, “Why are you considering leaving your current job?” Falcone says that the answer to this question is critical – you’ve got a chance to decide whether this will be a good match. “…their reason for leaving must be fulfilled by joining your organization. Otherwise, it may appear that they’re running from a problem or simply making a change for change’s sake,” he writes.
The second part of the question is for asking why the candidate is here, at your company, interviewing for this job. It’s a chance to show how she thinks about her own career development. A chance to show what she knows about the industry and your company. Falcone says you can also gauge a candidate’s level of excitement about the job. Is he motivated by the opportunity? Or just looking to escape his current situation?
Falcone says that “candidates are typically drawn first to companies rather than to jobs. Not to take away from the significance of the role they’re about to play, most candidates will feel more motivated by the organization they’re about to join than by the specific role they’ll play in it.” Their answers might provide insight into your brand as an employer. In addition, they can help you see patterns in what motivates workers of a specific generational cohort.
If you get these early questions right, Falcone says, “You’ve gotten through to the true essence of who this person is and what she wants to be. It’s now up to you to decide whether you want her to join your team. Interestingly enough, you’ve done this all without the help of personality tests and assessments aimed at getting candidates’ true sentiments about themselves, their work, and the relationships with those around them.” Not a bad start to an interview.
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Check out Part 4 of our Better Interviewing Series here.