In The Workplace

I’m the human resource manager of a small bank. You’ve written about unnecessary job interview questions in the past, except that they’re for a different context. Do you mind giving us a list of those questions that I could share to our line supervisors and managers to save them time and allow them to focus only on the skills of job applicants? — September Morn.

A man was driving through a rural area and saw a farmer beside the road feeding three pigs ears of corn directly from the stalk. The man pulled over and told the farmer, “I don’t know if you realize it, but it’s going to take a long time for you to fatten up those pigs.”

The farmer answered: “I don’t know if you realize it, but these pigs don’t have much to do and they like the idea of wasting time eating.”

Unlike the farmer and his three pigs, many of us don’t have the time to waste on asking irrelevant job interview questions. We know our goals — to hire the best and the brightest candidates to fill positions in the organization. Unfortunately, there are good and bad interviewers out there. They vary largely in what they know and don’t know about the best approach to screening job candidates.

This is one real source of frustration about the hiring process. Both the applicants and hiring managers don’t have much time and yet, for some reason the latter keep on asking immaterial questions. Of course, we need one or two small-talk questions to help break the ice and make applicants feel at ease.

Other than that, the interviewer should immediately get down to business to make the most of the time, which should not be more than 45 minutes per applicant.

An interview is key to the job search. You can’t do without asking questions pertinent to the job. Hiring managers must ask questions to determine the fit of a candidate, but not to the point of asking immaterial questions. So, what are these time-waiting job interview questions?

One, what were your positions and dates of employment? This information is already in the applicant’s CV. There’s no point in asking such questions. Besides, you would not invite the applicant for the interview if he does not have a track record.

Two, how did you learn about this vacant job? Unless you’re trying to find out the effectiveness of your job announcements, then better to ditch this question and focus instead on the applicant’s resourcefulness.

Three, what other organizations are you considering? This question betrays the company’s lack of confidence in attracting applicants. Even if they’re close to being hired by another company, you can’t expect them to tell you the truth for fear of disclosing important information.

Four, what are your current salary and benefits? Job applicants will not tell you the truth to avoid jeopardizing their bargaining power. A better approach is to ensure that the salary range for the job is part of the job announcement to instantly remove uninterested parties.

Five, have you ever been denied a salary increase? No applicant in his right mind would be honest enough to admit the truth. What’s the point, anyway? Besides, some organizations have limited capacity and resources to pay above-average salaries.

Six, what is the worst thing about your current employer? Smart applicants would not say anything negative about their past and current employers. What for? That’s because they don’t want to burn any bridges while they still need references.

Last, can we contact your former and current employers? The applicants have no choice. Their contact information is already in the CV and there’s no reason to prevent a future employer from contacting past and current bosses.

Instead, focus on job-related knowledge that is often hard to discern in CVs and employment records. Raise “hands-on” questions to evaluate applicants for depth of experience and relevance to the job.

Some of these are: How would you try to fit in our department? How would you motivate a problem employee? How would you manage a difficult boss? How about a problem customer on a major account? In what form of communication are you most effective?

How would you plan and organize a major project? Describe a situation when you had to make a quick decision. How do you remain effective when faced with difficult tasks? How did you save money for your employers? How would you determine the progress of a special project?

How well do you know this job and how it is different from your current job? What’s the most difficult but successful decision you’ve made? What would you do to improve a situation where there’s no established policy or precedent? How do you interact with people of various personality types?

What do you plan to accomplish during the first month of your employment with us?

In conducting the interview, you must know the difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is the physical use of your ears, while listening — specifically, active listening — requires the use of your mind. The latter is more important for the hiring manager. That’s where you can start taking an intelligent approach in digesting what’s being said by applicants.

Don’t be afraid to ask further questions to validate the answers given. Put yourself in the applicant’s shoes to gauge the potential for a long-term work relationship. You can only do this by not assuming the worst in people.


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