Interviewing is a delicate balancing act; you want structure and a plan of action, but it’s also really important not to over-script; you should always be prepared to feed off each interviewee’s answer.

However, there are several essential interview questions that you should include, here are some examples:

Why do you want to work for our company?

It may seem like a cliché, but this is one question that every single candidate should have considered in advance. They should have researched the company and taken the time to understand the role, tailoring a satisfactory answer (preferably a brilliantly convincing one) to make sure that they ‘seal the deal’. This can provide insight into their level of preparation, background research and their ability to present themselves and a reasoned argument with this one tried and trusted interview question.

  • Did they take the time to look into your firm?
  • Do they truly understand what you do?
  • Did they just take a quick glance at the ‘About Us’ page?

More impressive candidates will have done their homework.

Of course, just because a candidate is prepared, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best person for the job. But at least they’re passionate.

Describe a time when you exceeded expectations…

This is your candidate’s chance to shine, boasting about that time they won ‘Employee of the Month’ or completely exceeded a sales challenge or KPI. However, this can also give insight into a candidate’s core values.

  • Have they revealed a competitive, ruthless streak that could be perfect for a Sales Executive, but a potential management issue for an Office Manager?
  • Have they focussed on describing working closely with their colleagues to meet and beat the goals set for them as a team?
  • Have they presented themselves as a serial slacker that simply doesn’t understand the meaning of going above and beyond?

Every position is different. You should always assess candidates on the role, rather than your personality preference. Ignore stereotypes; not all salesmen and women are arrogant and not all marketers are “quirky.” Unless there clearly have some sort of glaring personality defect, assess on skill first, personality second. Use your initiative. You need someone who’ll excel at their job, but also get on with the team.

Exceeded Expectations

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Another cliché! But it works! For a company to grow and flourish, you’ll need two types of employees:

  • Creative, innovative and ambitious staff, always seeking to improve and grow.
  • Competent staff that work hard, but are happy and secure in their current position.

If you want an ambitious linchpin for your business, then look out for positive answers that show real commitment to growth and progression. If you want a more laid back candidate, look for uncompetitive answers that show a willingness to settle down into a role.

Tell me about a time when you made a major mistake?

A change from “What is your biggest weakness?” and the standard “I’m a perfectionist” response,’ this could yield a great example of overcoming adversity. Nobody is perfect and everybody makes mistakes; how we react to them is a critical part of the job and can prevent a bad day at the office turning into a real crisis.

  • Red flags include the obvious… refusing to acknowledge any mistakes at all, or trying to focus on blame and deflect it onto others.
  • If the candidate goes to pieces when faced with this question, it’s a fair indication that the same thing will happen when a crisis hits at work.
  • A good response will cover a relevant problem, focusing on the actual issue and how the candidate overcame it to prevent an even bigger drama.

Always look out for the candidate’s level of self-awareness, humility and ability to acknowledge and learn from past mistakes.

Describe a time when you missed a deadline…

People miss deadlines. This pretty harsh question will reveal a number of things about your candidates…

  • Can they cope with pressure? Listen carefully to the response and watch out for anyone who clearly panics, gives up tasks easily, lays the blame on others or runs straight to their Manager at the first sign of trouble.
  • Would they go the extra mile? A great interviewing candidate will show their commitment to completing all of the critical tasks and keeping the relevant people up to date, without upsetting the delicate balance between work and home life. These interviewees will exhibit flexibility, work ethic and time management.
  • Would they go too far? You will want some level of commitment displayed from an employee (you don’t want someone who’s going to head home, leaving the entire company in disarray.) However, you don’t necessarily want someone who’ll put their job above all else, leading to no social life or relaxation and risk of burnout.
  • You might even get a surprise answer, an admission that they do not like working under intense pressure, which may make an easy hiring decision depending on the role on offer.

Cope With Pressure

Describe a time when you dealt with conflict at work…

Is your candidate more of a trouble-maker or a conflict-resolver? One of the most common reasons for new employees failing probation is because of an argument with colleagues (happens a lot more frequently than you would think!) Considering the cost of hiring a new employee and potential damage if this doesn’t work out, you want to be sure your prospective employee can demonstrate a willingness to accept some responsibility and goes about solving issues fairly, sensitively and calmly

Look out for anyone who attempts to scapegoat and badmouth others.

Do you have any questions?

There’s a reason why recruitment guides, blogs and consultants always advise you to end with it.

Look out for:

  • A candidate who’s passionate and committed to taking a role will already have a bank of sincere and investigative questions ready for you. They’re likely to ask things that reveal how well they’d fit into the position, the team and the culture and will attempt to find out more about the depths of the business.
  • Interviewees who prioritise asking about perks like holidays, hours and pay – how interested are they in the job itself?
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