Staff Search Process: Developing Interview Questions

Staff Search Process: Developing Interview Questions

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Can you tell me a little about yourself professionally?

A confident candidate can give a brief summary of his strengths, significant achievements, and career goals.  Your primary job is to make sure that the answers are consistent with the applicant's resume. A rambling answer with few specifics could indicate a poorly focused or incompetent candidate.

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What do you know about UNI, and why do you want to work here?

What you're looking for here are answers that indicate the candidate has done more than simply download everything on the Internet that relates to UNI and has also given some thought to how he can make a contribution.  You can generally assume that a candidate who can't answer this question is not terribly interested in your organization.

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What interests you about this job, and what skills and strengths can you bring to it?

The answer is yet another way to gauge how much interest the candidate has in the job. The stronger candidates would be able to correlate their skills with specific job requirements.  They will answer the question in the context of contributions they could make to the department. This question is also another way of asking the candidate about his or her 

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What interests you about this job, and what skills and strengths can you bring to it?

strengths and, by omission, weaknesses, since most people will answer in the context of their own talents and skills.

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Can you tell me a little about your current job?

Strong candidates should be able to give you a short and precise summary of duties and responsibilities, which you can then check against information on the application/resume.  Be wary of the candidates who badmouth or blame their employers. If they're not loyal to their current employer, how can you expect them to be loyal to you?

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I see that you've been unemployed for the past _ months. Why did you leave your last job, and what have you been doing since then?

Generally speaking, people don't leave jobs voluntarily without another one waiting in the wings, but it happens. And in these days of downsizing and mergers, for highly competent people to find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own is not really unusual.  Keep an open mind, but try to get specific, factual answers 

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I see that you've been unemployed for the past _ months. Why did you leave your last job, and what have you been doing since then?

that you can verify later. Candidates with a spotty employment history, at the very least, ought to be able to account for all extended periods of unemployment and to demonstrate whether they used that time productively – getting an advanced degree, for example.

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What would you describe as your greatest strengths as an employee?

What are your greatest weaknesses? These questions are two of the well-publicized "killer questions," so you want to be careful not to take the answers at face value. Look for specifics, not rhetoric.  Then probe to see how those "strengths" contributed to specific accomplishments that the candidate's application/resume mentions.

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What would you describe as your greatest strengths as an employee?

Be cautious of candidates who say they have "no weaknesses." Well-prepared candidates should be able to present weaknesses and describe what they've done to strengthen them.

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Who was your best supervisor ever and why?

Who was the worst, and looking back, what could you have done to make that relationship better? These two are more penetrating questions than you may think.  Among other things, the answers give you insight into how the candidate views and responds to supervision. A reflective, responsible answer to the second part of the 

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Who was your best supervisor ever and why?

question could indicate a loyal employee capable of rising above an unpleasant supervisory situation and/or learning from past mistakes, both highly desirable qualities.  A bitter, critical answer may indicate someone who holds grudges or simply can't get along with certain personality types. In today's team-oriented workplace, you want 

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Who was your best supervisor ever and why?

employees who try to minimize these clashes and not use them as excuses.

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How do you think that "best supervisor" would describe you?

What about that worst supervisor? You are probing here to uncover whether the candidate's attitude toward work and supervision is a good match for the job and your workplace culture. You're also looking for some sign that candidates can see themselves as others view them and can deal with points-of-view other than their own. 

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How do you think that "best supervisor" would describe you?

And you're likely to elicit relatively honest answers, because the questions suggest that you may compare the candidate's answers to actual responses from former bosses. Evasive, dishonest, or insufficient answers (such as "I do not know") could indicate someone with a poor attitude toward supervision.

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What do you think has been your single greatest achievement on the job? What was your worst failure?

You're looking here for specific, verifiable accomplishments. If the candidate answers with vague generalities, probe. Evasiveness is a worrisome sign.  The first half of the question is a gift – if the candidate does not take it, something's wrong. The candidate should present failures as "things that I could have done differently," not as

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What do you think has been your single greatest achievement on the job? What was your worst failure?

"the world is against me" or "it was Joe's fault." How did the candidate's achievement help the company achieve its goals? Listen to how the candidate speaks. Is it "I" or "we"? You should also check these answers against the application/resume, along with information from references and past employers.

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What sort of things do you think your current (last) employer could do to be more successful?

This one is a great "big picture" question. You're probing to find out whether the candidate has a clear understanding of his current or last employer's missions and goals and whether he thinks in terms of those goals.  Candidates who can't answer this question well are demonstrating a lack of depth and interest which can quite 

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What sort of things do you think your current (last) employer could do to be more successful?

likely carry over into your organization. Sometimes the answer to this question also reveals hidden bitterness or anger at an employer.

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Can you describe a typical day at work in your last position?

Strong candidates can give you specific details that you can later verify, but the main point of this question is to see how the applicant's current (or most recent) routine compares with the requirements of the job in question.  How interviewees describe their duties can prove highly revealing. Do you sense any real enthusiasm or interest? 

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Can you describe a typical day at work in your last position?

Do the details match the information you already have? You're looking for enthusiasm and some indication that the candidate connects his current duties with organizational goals.

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What sort of work environment do you prefer? What brings out your best performance?

Probe for specifics. You want to find out whether this person is going to fit into your department. If your organizational culture is collegial and team-centered, you don't want someone who answers, "I like to be left alone to do my work." People rarely, if ever, work at their best in all situations. Candidates who say otherwise are not being honest with themselves or with you.

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Where do you see yourself and your career in three years?

What you're looking for here is a general idea of the candidate's ambitions – or lack thereof – and how realistic they are.  Thoughtful candidates will include the university in these plans. This question can also screen out "time-savers" and drones, as well as those whose career aspirations are unrealistic.

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Can you tell me something about an important decision you made and how you arrived at it?

Notice the intentionally vague aspect of this question. It's not hypothetical. It's real. What you're looking for is the person's decision-making style and how it fits into your organizational culture.  Did the person seek the advice of others (team-centered)? Vary decision-making strategy to fit the particular situation (better), or apply the same set of rules

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Can you tell me something about an important decision you made and how you arrived at it?

no matter what (worse)? Is the person a creative thinker? A risk-taker? This question is an especially important one if you're interviewing a candidate for a middle- or senior-level management position.

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How do you handle conflict? Can you give me an example of how you handled a workplace conflict in the past?

You want candidates who try to be reasonable but nonetheless stand up for what's right. Unfortunately, most candidates say the right things, which is why you want some specifics. Be suspicious if the answer is too predictable. While some people may be naturally easygoing, candidates who say that they never get into conflict situations are either dishonest or delusional.

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