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28 key questions to ask in an interview to get the right candidate

by , 06 July 2016
28 key questions to ask in an interview to get the right candidateSo a vacancy has become available in your company, and you're now looking for someone to fill it. But you don't just want anyone!

Instead, you want the perfect person for the job.

In response to your job advertisement, you will receive a large number of applications which you'll have to go through and short list.

Only once you've done all that will the real work begin...

I'm talking about the interview process, which is arguably the most important part of any recruitment process. This is because interviews help determine if:

· Has the ability to do the job;
· Will be motivated and successful; and if
· Will match the needs of the company.

But in order to ensure all of this, you need to make sure your interviews are as effective as can be. In other words, you must get as much information as possible to determine whether or not the applicant is the right person for the job.

And in order to do just that, there are 28 key questions you should ask the applicant.

Keep reading to find out what they are...

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The A-Z of legal recruitment
Did you know there are 11 legal requirements for recruitment?
Do you know how the Employment Equity Act affects your job advertisement?
Do you know what checks you can legally conduct on an applicant?
Are you sure your employment contract includes the 16 clauses the law says you must have?
If you don't have all of these aspects correct, you'll be on the wrong side of the law when it comes to your recruitment process.


28 key questions to ask for a successful interview…

SECTION A: High School Education

Many say that one's high school lays the foundation for one's education, and that's why it plays an important role in determining whether or not an applicant is the right person for the job.

If you're someone who believes that, then ask the following six questions regarding high school education…

1. What high school did you attend?

NOTE: This is based on the belief that some high schools have better reputations than others.

CAUTION: This is not necessarily absolute, as you can easily get a suitable candidate from a high school with a so-called bad reputation. And that's why you shouldn't place too much weight on this question.
2. When did you start and finish high school?

NOTE: This will indicate whether they failed years. If you notice this, ask them why?
3. What was the highest standard you achieved?

NOTE: This is a classic way of determining ability and/or hard work.
4. If you didn't matriculate, why not?

NOTE: Maybe the reasons were very unfortunate, and that despite it, the applicant continued to be responsible and hard-working.

For example, an applicant's mother might have fallen gravely ill in his matric year. He then dropped out to search for full-time work so that he could provide for her needs, something which he continues to do to this day. This is admirable and is an indicator of commitment and loyalty.
SECTION B: Tertiary Education

Many jobs these days require some kind of tertiary qualification as they are an indicator of ability within a competitive job market.

Ask the applicant the following seven questions…

1. What qualification do you have and why did you study it?
NOTE: This is to see whether the applicant did it simply for a piece of paper or because they were genuinely interested in what they were doing.
In other words, it can show whether or not the applicant has a sense of direction in what he wants.
2. How would you apply your qualification to the job?
NOTE: This can be an opportunity for the applicant to persuade you, especially if you are somewhat sceptical of his qualification's practicality.
3. If you studied A, why are you working as B?
FOR EXAMPLE: If the applicant studied accounting but now works as a secretary, find out why there was a change in direction. Who knows, maybe something happened which you're not aware of. 

4. Did you complete your qualification in the regulation time? In other words, did you have to redo subjects while at university? And if so, how long did it take you to get your qualification? Why did it take so long?
NOTE: This can indicate the applicant's work ethic. For example, if an applicant took six years to complete a three-year degree, this could indicate that they have a poor work ethic, unless, in the off chance, they had really genuine reasons for it.
5If a degree/course wasn't completed, why not?
NOTE: Unless they have a good reason for why this happened, it could indicate that the applicant is easily willing to give up, which means they could, in theory, ditch your company very quickly.
6. Who paid for your studies?
NOTE: Parents paying for studies could potentially mean that the applicant doesn't appreciate what he has received, and that it was expected. This could lead to the applicant having an attitude that life, including jobs like the one he's applying for, is given as a guarantee, and not on hard work, as well as assuming responsibility
If, on the other hand, the applicant had a loan, or worked while studying, it shows that they had to face financial responsibility at a young age.
But if it was a bursary that covered the student, then it's an indicator of hard work.
7. Did you study directly after school?
NOTE: Applicants who studied straight after high school may lack wisdom and maturity when it comes to the 'University of Life'.
For example, an applicant who chose to take a gap year and work may have a greater level of maturity, in the 'real' world than one who didn't.
Remember an applicant's employment history can be an indicator of work ethic and attitude.
Ask the applicant the following eight questions…
1. Did you work while studying?
NOTE: This can indicate responsibility, hard work and determination.
Ask the following questions relating to the applicant's most recent jobs, especially those which are most related to the position you're advertising…
2. What were the functions and duties of the job?
NOTE: This can indicate whether or not the employee has relevant experience for the position you're advertising.
TIP: The perfect thing to say here is:  'Tell me about an average day in the job.'

3. What did you like about the position?
NOTE: This could show what their expectations are within a job.
For example, if they say it paid well, then it could indicate that your employee is in it for the money, and is therefore expecting a lot.
4. What did you dislike about the position?
NOTE: Who knows, an area which the employee dislikes could be an area which is considered very important for the advertised vacancy.

5. What was your salary in your previous job?
NOTE: If it's higher than the advertised position, you might find later that the applicant (now employee) won't be satisfied and may leave you soon after being hired.

6. What was your real reason for leaving your previous position?
NOTE: The reason for this must be valid.
TIP:  Answers such like 'for growth' or 'better prospects' should be looked at with caution. If these answers are given, examine them further by asking: 'What growth were you looking for?' and 'What were your expectations?'
If, for example, they have higher pay as their expectations, and you're not prepared to offer higher pay in your company, then you could assume that the applicant, if hired, would soon leave you.  
7. How do you explain this gap in your employment history (if any)?
NOTE: For example, the applicant left a position in April 2014 and their next job was only in July 2014. If this is the case, ask what did they do for those 4 months?
IMPORTANT: Remember that with ever-increasing job competition, jobs are harder to come by, and that's why many applicants may have these 'gaps'. In other words, it can take several months before an employee can land another job.
However, if for example, they just sat around at their friends place in those months and did almost nothing, then you could assume that they have a poor work ethic. But if they waited tables in between as a casual, then it shows they have a good work ethic.
Remember that some applicants won't put casual work on their CV's for a formal position, but instead will put relevant positons that relate to the position they're applying for. And that's why if you want that information, you'll have to get in during the interview session.  
8. What has been your greatest accomplishment in each position?
NOTE: Any achievements within previous positions is indicator of good performance in the workplace.
Keep reading to see what the last nine key questions are for a successful interview…
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Computers represent the future for all, if not most, businesses. And that's why it's so important for your employees to know how to use them effectively and efficiently.
Ask the applicants the following five questions in their interview regarding computer training…

1. What computer packages can you use?
NOTE: This includes packages such as WORD, EXCEL, POWERPOINT, PASTEL etc.
2. What is your level of competency for each?
NOTE: While some employees may know how to use certain computer packages, they may not be specific as to what their competency within them is. That's why you should specifically ask them what it is.
 TIP: Ask them whether their competency is:
  1. Basic;
  2. Intermediate; or
  3. Advanced.
3. How did you learn these packages? Was it…
  1. Self-taught;
  2. Taught via in-house training/on-the-job training; or
  3. Professional training through an institution.
NOTE: While a self-taught applicant can be highly efficient in using various computer packages, the chances are less likely than an applicant who received formal training. 
TIP: If you have the time and resources, and you're really serious about who you hire, why not introduce computer competency tests for all shortlisted applicants to complete.
Finding out the working hours your applicants are willing work is very important, as it could turn out that what they can manage may not be what your company is looking for. This is especially true for when it comes to overtime.
So ask the following question…

1. Do you currently work overtime? If yes, why? And if no, would you be able to in the future if required?
CAUTION: You're not allowed to ask about family commitments, but you can ask: 'Do you have a family support system in place in case we ask you to work overtime?'
What this can do is allow the applicant to let you know if they have children, are married and if they have a support system in place.
Ask questions such as…

1. What do you think are your strongest personality points?
NOTE: You can compare these to what your company is looking for, and see if they're a good match.

2. What are your strongest technical skills? For example, these could be:
·         Preparing PowerPoint presentations;
·         year-end reports,
·         Closing the deal on a sale, etc.
NOTE: This is valuable to compare when checking employment references.
Ask the following question…
1.Are there any areas you'd like to improve on?
NOTE: It could be that an applicant's weakness is a part of the advertised job which is vitally important to its success.
REMEMBER: The fact they have identified weaknesses reveals two important things, namely that they are honest and that they are self-aware. Also, showing that they wish to improve on those areas can indicate motivation.
Ask the following question…
1. What values and ideals do you hold on to in the workplace?
NOTE: You may be looking for certain values in the workplace, and this is a good way to see if your own and the employee's values in the workplace are on par.
2. Have you read up on the company and what it stands for?
NOTE: If they have, it shows that they are interested in what your company is and what they do, which could indicate actual interest.
It can also indicate commitment from the applicant as they believe in what your company stands for and that they don't just see it as another job.
REMEMBER: The foundation of any company is its values, and in order for it to be successful, you must ensure that the ideals and values of your employees match up with the ideals and values of your company.

*Those were 28 key questions to ask applicants for a successful interview.
But if you want to learn of more key questions to ask, simply page over to Chapter R 03: Recruitment – Interviews, in your Practical Guide to Human Resources Management handbook, or click here to order your copy today. 

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