Most managers do too much talking and too little listening during the interview process.

The interview with the prospect is a two-way sizing up. Naturally, the candidate wants the job, so candidates will give you the answers they believe will maximize their chances. Any applicant who doesn’t do this isn’t bright enough to be hired.

Don’t ask questions that are so difficult the prospect can’t possibly answer them. Here are some questions to avoid that managers who pride themselves on being tough interviewers might ask:

  • Why do you want to work here?
  • What makes you think you’re qualified for this job?
  • Are you interested in this job because of the salary?

Dumb questions like these will make you a rotten interviewer. You must strive to put the prospect at ease so that you can carry on a conversation. Your aim is to get to know the candidate better, and that means not creating a confrontational tone to the interview. Rather, make statements or ask questions that will relax the applicant. Hold the tougher questions—but not the previous three questions—for later in the interview process.

Consider the following sample interview.

Mrs. Smith’s Job Interview

The objective ought to be to find out if the candidate meets the job qualifications and has a good attitude. It makes sense to spend the early part of the interview engaging the applicant in some nonthreatening small talk. Most applicants are nervous. They have a great deal riding on the results.

The goal is to put the person at ease. By not immediately going to the business at hand, you let people know you’re interested in them as a person, apart from the job. It is important that you develop a comfortable relationship during the first stages of the interview. If this person is going to work for you, it’s the beginning of what could be years of daily contact. Even when candidates don’t get the job, they will feel more kindly toward you and your company because you’ve shown a sincere interest in them.

Note: A company has many “publics”: the general public, the customers, the industry it is part of, government agencies with which in interacts, its employees and those who seek employment with the company.

In one case, a woman who was a substantial patron of an upscale department store thought it would be fun to have a part-time job there. She resented the treatment she received when she applied for a job, and vowed never to set foot in the store again.

That cost the store thousands of dollars a year from her purchases alone, not including the purchases all her friends would have made had she not shared her negative experience with them.

When the small talk is over, you might consider using this approach:

“Mrs. Smith, before we start talking specifically about the position you’ve applied for, I’d like to tell you a little about our company. Because, while we’re considering you, you’re also considering us, so we want to answer any questions you may have about our company.” Then go ahead and tell her something about the company. Tell her what your purpose is, but don’t spend too much time on statistics. Talk more about the company’s relationship with its employees. Tell her anything in this area that is unique. You want her to get a feel for the company and its people. The purpose of this discussion is to give her a feel for the company she wishes to be a part of, and it also gives her more opportunity to relax and feel comfortable during the rest of the interview.

We now arrive at the critical point in the interview. You want to ask questions that will give you some clues about this person’s attitude. Most people-oriented managers (and that is most of them) cannot stand a vacuum so if the applicant doesn’t respond promptly, they tend to move in and try to help out. It’s an act of kindness, but in this case, it interferes with obtaining the crucial information you need to make a proper selection.

Questions to Ask and What You Can Learn

Some sample questions to ask during an interview are:

  • What did you like best about your last job?
  • What did you like least about your last job?
  • Tell me about your last manager.

These are sample questions. You might devise some of your own that seem more appropriate for you, but until you do, consider using the ones suggested here.

Let’s examine each question and what “right” and “wrong” answers can tip you off about employee attitude.

First Sample Interview Question

If the answer to the first question— What did you like best about your last job?—mentions items such as the challenges of the job, the fact that the company promotes from within, that the company encourages and assists with educational opportunities, or that self-starters are appreciated, you have indications of someone who has recognized what is important in a sound working environment.

However, if the person’s answer mentions things such as the office being closed every other Friday, which makes for nice long weekends; that the company provides many social activities, including both a bowling and a golf league; and that employees receive a paid vacation the first year with the company, you may have an applicant who is looking for a place to socialize. This person may be a social butterfly, and while there is nothing wrong with enjoying the company of others, that should not be the main reason for seeking the job.

Second Sample Interview Question

Now lees discuss some potential answers to the second question about the items liked least on the last job. If the answer involves things such as being required to work overtime occasionally, being asked to come in on a Saturday, or being expected to give up a Saturday to go to a community college for acquiring skills that will be helpful on the job, (even though the company paid the seminar fee), those are not the answers you want to hear.

However, if the answer mentions that the company had no formal performance appraisal system, that the granting of raises didn’t seem to bear any relationship to quality, or that there wasn’t anything the person really disliked, but just feels there might be better opportunities elsewhere, those are thoughtful “burn no bridges” responses that suggest the candidate may be achievement-oriented and have good judgment.

Third Sample Interview Question

Let’s now move to the third question about the candidate’s last manager. You’ll note that the question is more open-ended. If the applicant really trashes her last supervisor and is generally negative, such as, “I don’t think
I ought to use the kind of language it takes to describe the SOB,” that is a negative answer.

If we assume that the relationship with the last supervisor was terrible, but she answers, “Well, as with many bosses, we had our differences, but I liked and respected her.” That is a diplomatic description of what may have been a bad situation. Job prospects who trash a former company or manager, even if deserved, say more about themselves than about the object of scorn.

There is no way such an approach will advance the candidate’s prospects for the job, so the insightful person will avoid negative comments about past working relationships during an interview.

Questions from Applicants

You may also say to the applicant, ‘ ‘I’ve been asking you all these questions. Do you have any questions you’d like to ask of me?” The questions asked by the prospect during the interview can also provide clues to attitude.

What if questions from the prospect are along these lines?

  • How many holidays do you close for each year?
  • How much vacation do you give the first year?
  • How long do you have to be here to get four weeks’ vacation? ‘
  • What social activities does the company sponsor for the employees?
  • What’s the earliest age you can retire?
  • How many years of service do you need?

Questions along this path indicate someone whose attitude is focused on getting out of work rather than into it. These samples are obvious, and again overdrawn to make the point. Some questions asked by the applicant may
be subtler than this, but are still a tip-off of an undesirable attitude.

The following sample questions asked by applicants reflect a decidedly different attitudinal bent:

  • Are people promoted based on performance?
  • Can an outstanding performer receive a larger salary increase than an average performer?
  • Does the company have regular training programs for the employees, so they can broaden their work skills?

The thought may have entered your mind that the applicant is asking questions he thinks you want to hear. If that is so, it indicates you are not interviewing a dummy. Isn’t an employee who can anticipate what the questions ought to be going to be a better staff member than an applicant who hasn’t a clue?

An important strategy the manager brings to the interview process is silence. When a person does not answer right away, the silence may feel uncomfortable but if you jump in, you are not as likely to get the real answer.

The human resources department probably has oriented you in the types of questions that can and cannot be asked. You need to know the areas that you cannot move into because they are discriminatory, illegal, or both. One forbidden question that comes to mind is, “Do you have to provide childcare for children?” This is one of the topics you cannot broach, and if the applicant asks about work hours, do not consider that a negative question. It may be triggered by a concern about childcare.

Another interview question from an applicant that should not be considered a negative has to do with health insurance. An employee asking about health benefits is showing responsibility. In short, it is the general tenor of questions that indicates an attitude problem. You must use your good judgment about which subjects denote attitude and which indicate responsibility.

As you obtain more experience with the interview process, you will become more skilled at it. In most job interviews, employee attitude is completely ignored. Typically, managers hold applications in their hands and say, “Well, I see you worked for the XYZ Company.” Look that application over before you sit down with the applicant, not for the first time in the presence of the applicant. Then ask the questions that reveal work attitudes.

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I am a Project Management practitioner with more than 5 years experience in hardware and software implementation projects. Also a bit of a geek and a great WordPress enthusiast. I hope you enjoy the content, and I encourage you to share your knowledge with the world.

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