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How to avoid choosing the wrong candidate for any open position

By Kate Immordino, Ph.D., Rutgers University

If you’re responsible for interviewing potential new employees for your company, you know it’s a time consuming process, but one that you need to get right.  If a new hire doesn’t work out, you are back to the beginning, which means additional time, money, and lost productivity while the position is vacant. Here are four interviewing mistakes and how to fix them before your next candidate interview.

  1. Asking questions when you already have the answers – You have a limited amount of time with each candidate, so don’t use it to repeat what’s on their resume. If the candidate’s resume or job application spells out their major responsibilities, don’t ask them to tell you what they do. Instead, use it as an opportunity to dig deeper into what isn’t covered. Ask, “It says you handle customer service. What are some of the specific activities that includes?” Generic questions get you generic answers. Make sure your questions give you added information. Ask for specifics. For example, “Why do you want to work for this Caterpillar dealership?” Does the answer show that they’ve done their homework about the dealership? Does it reflect your team’s most important values, such as integrity, commitment, and teamwork?
  2. Asking the right questions the wrong way – How you ask questions is as important as what questions you ask. Use behavioral questions to determine whether a candidate has the experience and the mindset you need. For example, if you ask a candidate “What would you say to a difficult customer who wouldn’t take no for an answer?” you’ve invited him/her to predict the answer you want to hear.  Instead, say “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer who wouldn’t take no for an answer.  What did you do, and how successful were you?”  Now you’re asking them to describe an actual situation, and you can judge not only whether they handled it, but whether they learned something from the experience.  Similar questions could be:

What has worked the best for you in converting leads into sales?

Tell me about a time when you were really proud of the service you provided.

What do you do to keep yourself up to date on industry best practices?

How do you keep your technical skills up to date?

  1. Not knowing what answer you want – For every interview question you ask, you should have an answer in mind – one that’s significant to you. Ask yourself the following questions before you interview each candidate:

How would the ideal candidate answer this question?

What would a good candidate say? 

What would an unsatisfactory candidate say?” 

Use those answers to create a scale of best answer to unacceptable answer and rank each candidate based on where his/her answer falls on that scale.  You might even find a candidate whose answer is better than yours – literally off the chart.

  1. Not letting the candidate ask you questions – Ask the candidate what questions he/she has for you. Not only will it help put them at ease, it will give you an additional look into his/her interests and priorities. A question like “How soon can I take vacation days” is very different from “How much direct interaction with customers will I have?”  Neither question is wrong, but each shows a different focus.

The secret to effectively interviewing candidates is planning.  Decide in advance what you plan to ask, and then put each question through this test:

  • What do I want to know from this candidate? In other words, if I ask this question, what will the answer tell me?
  • Why do I want to know it?
  • What answers am I looking for?

With that information in hand, you’ll be ready to conduct an effective interview and find the best candidate for each open position.

About the Author

Dr. Kate Immordino is a member of the faculty of Rutgers School of Business – Camden. Her specialty includes process improvement, organizational development, leadership and human resources. She is an instructor/advisor for the Human Resources Certificate Program at Rutgers School of Business – Camden. She is also the author of the Organizational Assessment and Improvement in the Public Sector workbook, a guide to assessment for government organizations at all levels.

About Rutgers School of Business – Camden Executive Education Human Resources Certificate Program

If you want more insight about being an even more effective HR professional, consider the Rutgers University HR Certificate program. Earn a certificate in Human Resources in the Rutgers University – Camden Executive Education Program. Click here for more information.