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Professional interview questions

By JAMES COAKES Published 6th Oct 2014
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Although most interviews require asking specific questions that are tailored to the industry and the job itself, there are many good general questions are applicable in most industries, and that provide some valuable insights. The best interview questions are the ones that provide details you won’t find on a candidate’s resume, and that tell you about their thought processes and character traits, as well as their skills and experience.

What do you know about the company? Most candidates will regurgitate what they quickly researched on the company website. The stand-out candidates go a step further and look for current information about the company's activity and performance, or information that's relevant to the position they're applying for, such as new product lines or advertising campaigns.

What kind of contribution do you think you can make to our company? Again, this question will easily highlight those candidates who have put in the necessary preparation, and can give a specific answer with concrete examples, rather than vague generalisations.

Why should we hire you? It's a standard interview question for a reason - it's easily one of the most valuable. This is where you invite candidates to tell you exactly what makes them different from the rest, and it's where they should demonstrate that they have a unique combination of skills, experience, and personality that's particularly valuable to the company and the job they're applying for.

What will your most recent supervisor tell me is your strength and your greatest weakness? Asking candidates to give you their own impressions of their best and worst job skills is useful in some ways, but it's not necessarily going to give you a straightforward answer, since there's always the temptation to tell you what they think you want to hear. Whether or not you get a straightforward answer is telling in itself, but to get the facts, mentioning a supervisor, manager, or boss is one way to ensure that a candidate will provide an honest response.

An alternative strategy is to first ask the candidate to talk about their strengths and weaknesses, and then ask them what they think their most recent supervisor would say in response to the same question.

What task or project is your most significant career accomplishment? This is a hugely powerful question, not so much because of the question itself, but because of the possibilities it opens up in terms off follow-up questions. For example, follow-up questions might include:

What was your role in the company and on the project?

Who did you work with on the project and what were their roles?

What resources did you have?

What additional resources would have been useful?

What was the biggest problem you faced, and how did you solve it?

What mistakes did you make, and how did you fix them? Can you now think of any way those mistakes could have been prevented?

What metrics were used to measure success, and what results did you achieve?

It's important to have a structured interview strategy so that candidates can be properly compared and so the process gets the best information out of them. These questions will fill a typical interview, in fact if answered properly the interviewer will need to keep the pace up to get everything covered. 

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206 weeks ago, by John
Isn't there argument that the interviewer subconsciously makes up their mind about the candidate within the first 20 seconds or so, and that therefore the ensuing process is often about seeking evidence to support this gut decision?
206 weeks ago, by James
I think that may be a natural behaviour. The best interviewers must be able to reserve judgement as much as possible.
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