Acing the Applicant Interview Process

Selecting the right candidate for the job is important to your company’s success. So how do you ensure a candidate will be a good fit?

Conduct a thorough interview.

During the interview process, you’ll need to probe deep to gain sufficient insight into a candidate’s potential for organizational fit and impact.

In the beginning, it’s best for your questions not to be too personal, even if what you’re trying to do is “warm up” the conversation. It’s too easy to be swayed or lulled by a candidates’ likeability or charm and lose focus on screening for the existence and pertinence of their skills and experience. Don’t encourage too much personal digression on the candidates’ part either, and take notice if the majority of their “off-script” remarks are about their private lives.

More people are tending to get their social and emotional needs met in the workplace, so candidates’ sense of balance is important; take note if they give you too much information about their iTunes purchases, their parents’ health issues, their grandkids’ accomplishments, or the ups and downs of their marital life.

In addition to probing deeply about relevant work history, here are some sample questions, grouped by category, that can help draw out certain aspects of the candidate’s approach or beliefs that may mesh with, or disrupt, your culture and work environment:

Candidate’s perceptions of the job and environment:
–What do you see as the opportunities and advantages of this job in comparison to your current job? What about the risks and disadvantages?
–What are the greatest strengths you would bring to this job? Would your references give the same answer? What about your subordinates?

Candidate’s ability and propensity to lead:
–Describe your philosophy of leadership? Now describe your own leadership style. Would your subordinates and colleagues agree?
–Describe how you have set goals for others. How did you follow up on their progress and performance in meeting those goals?

Candidate’s resilience and potential for growth:
–What are the areas of development that you have identified for yourself, and why do you think this job will help you get the development you’re looking for? Would your references give the same answer? What about your subordinates?
–Please give an example of a time when something you were trying to do did not work out well — and what you learned from the experience.
–What obstacles do you foresee if you stay in your current job, and how will you overcome them? What would need to change at your current job for you to want to stay there?
–What was the most political situation you faced recently, and how did you handle it?
–How have you changed on the job over the last two or three years?

In our self-esteem-based culture, more managers appear to have inaccurate, although deeply held impressions of their own efficacy. The follow-up questions about others’ perceptions may move some candidates closer to realistic self-appraisal.

Liz Kislik is president of Liz Kislik Associates (, a Rockville Centre, NY-based consultancy.

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