In The Workplace

I was a participant in your employee engagement webinar organized by a state university. At the event, I remember you discussing outdated approaches in interviewing job applicants. Could you elaborate? — Rainbow Connection.

There are many potential job interview questions you can find on the internet. The trouble is that you can’t tell how necessary they really are. What’s the point of asking “tell me something about yourself” in the first few minutes of an interview. From experience, I consider such a question a time waster.

Why do hiring managers ask such questions? “It lets them ease into the actual interview,” leadership development coach Alina Campos says. In other words, such question is designed as an ice-breaker.

I disagree. An ice-breaker must cover neutral topics. Today’s interviewers whether they’re inexperienced or seasoned, are busier than ever. Even if the interview is done online, interviewers may have to spend considerable time to do the process justice, and to be fair with other applicants.

Fairness would require that a question asked of the first candidate be asked of all other applicants. That’s where trouble starts to multiply. Standard questions can be Googled by applicants, who are likely to give you a memorized answer.

So, why bother with typical interview questions where “idea;” answers can be searched and memorized? There is an argument for using such questions as icebreakers, though my preference is for neutral questions about the traffic or the result of last night’s ball game, to ensure that the applicant is put at ease.

Another line of questioning I would consider ineffective would be to ask the applicant about strengths and weaknesses. Hiring managers must avoid questions like these, which waste valuable time. Your rule should be, if your interview questions and their answers can be found on the internet, then don’t bother to use them.

Try asking how applicants would handle specific job situations that are unique to your organization. The process of formulating such questions begins with an inventory of current workplace issues. Test the applicant for unrehearsed answers. Be consistent and fair by asking situational questions of all candidates, such as:

1) How would you handle an angry customer in front of your colleagues?

2) Describe a situation where you were commended by your boss.

3) What one skill can you apply to turn in an excellent performance?

4) What would you consider to be the critical problems faced by someone who will take on this job? What answers would you offer?

5) How do you handle pressure?

6) What made you unsuccessful in your past or current job?

7) Describe a toxic management style you have encountered and how would you resolve it?

8) Describe incidents where your boss rejected your ideas.

9) Have you ever made a decision contrary to management policy?

10) Describe a “life or limb” crisis that you have handled.

11) What innovative idea have you succeeded in getting your boss to accept?

12) Describe a difficult job that you mastered to the point where it became easy.

13) How would you handle a senior colleague in your team who behaves in a toxic manner?

14) Describe how you prepare for a major project?

15) What are the top three things you will do on your first day?

16) How would you handle a colleague who doesn’t want to cooperate?

17) What aspect of this job is least interesting for you? Why?

18) Describe a major project and how well you handled.

19) How would you know if you’re doing an excellent job?

20) How would you motivate an average-performing worker?

I’m sure you can create your own questions by incorporating key elements of the job and imagining how an ideal employee would resolve any situations that are likely to occur. That means reviewing the job description and performance standards to come up with pertinent questions.

The interviewer’s job is to control the flow of the interview without being talkative. Instead, give every applicant ample time and allow them to give clear answers with suitable illustrations. If you can’t understand their answers or if the applicants are beating around the bush, be firm about the time you gave them to expound.

My rule of thumb is to give every applicant not more than one hour for an online interview. As soon as you’ve decided on your shortlist of three candidates, invite them for a face-to-face interview so you can better appreciate their demeanor when you ask a different set of situational questions.

Be friendly to all applicants, and

configure your questions to best bring out what an applicant brings to the table.


Have a chat with Rey Elbo via Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter or send your workplace questions to or via