Raise your hand if you have a list of standard questions you use for every interview. Go ahead, be honest. No one is looking.

Though preparing questions in advance is a good strategy (it sure beats winging it!), it’s much more productive — and revealing — to ask questions specific to the person you’re interviewing.

The reason is simple: Job candidates can tell you anything, and you have no way of qualifying on the spot if they’re just telling you what you want to hear — unless you ask the right questions.

Use Your Application as a Road Map During Interviews

We discussed the importance of having job applications in addition to resumes in the article Job Applications Are a Must: Why a Resume Isn’t Enough to Qualify Candidates. After crafting an application that helps better qualify candidates, the combination of an application and a resume should yield a list of promising candidates.

Because you have the ability to customize your job application, you can target the ideal skills and requirements you truly desire. Use the application to capture the essential information, and then further substantiate written details during the interview. It’s a good idea to walk through the sections of the application during the interview. It’s your chance to ensure that what was provided on the application is verifiable face-to-face.

The objective here is to make sure applicants can articulate their skills, experience and job history in a conversation. Writing it down is one thing; having them express it clearly and confidently during an interview will give you confidence that the application responses are accurate. Candidates who have a difficult time sharing “their story” may indicate responses were exaggerated on the application.

The next step is even more important: further qualifying each interview candidate. What’s missing that you absolutely need to know? Are there holes in a resume that concern you? Trust your gut; write down your concerns, and build a line of questions that will help you get the answers you need. This may require a little more effort on your part, but it will prepare you to target the right person for the job every time.

To prep for the interview, it’s a good idea to develop a list of the top five qualities (see the list below) you want your ideal candidate to possess. Compare those qualities to the information presented on the resume and application. If the answers are there, fantastic. Use your line of questioning during the interview to further confirm those qualities. If you see a few holes, no worries. Just ask questions that lead the interviewees to qualify themselves based on the assets you desire.

This may sound difficult, but it really isn’t. Just be prepared to ask follow-up question after follow-up question until you’re satisfied the candidate meets your expectations.

The key here is to ask several questions instead of asking one and moving on. A classic interview question is, “Tell me a little about yourself.” Though this might help put the candidate (and yourself) at ease, you really won’t learn anything specific to the required skillset you seek. Word to the wise: Establishing rapport with people doesn’t mean they’re going to do a stellar job.

Avoid the most common interview questions. Candidates often will have prepared answers for these, so you won’t gain any real insights.

Candidate Qualities

Choose three to five qualities critical to the position for which you’re hiring. Then customize your interview questions to qualify candidates with these attributes in mind.

  • critical thinker
  • self-starter
  • desire to learn
  • open to travel
  • self-confident
  • team player
  • professional attitude
  • personable
  • analytical
  • flexible
  • able to wear multiple hats
  • management material
  • reliable
  • trustworthy
  • adaptable to change
  • oral communication
  • written communication
  • detail-oriented
  • ability to delegate
  • high energy
  • work independently
  • takes initiative
  • organized
  • resilient

How to Ask the Right Questions

Consistent behavior is what you’re looking for during an interview. And one way to get answers that illustrate employee behavior is to ask questions that tell a story. You lead with a question focused on a desired quality, and then you follow up with questions that encourage them to tell the whole story. Use your application as a guideline during this process, too. You’re looking for skill and experience verification, as well as anecdotal information pertaining to job history and real-life examples of the traits for which you’re hiring.

Beginning of the story:

Ask about a situation (or task, problem, etc.) that provides an opportunity to illustrate the desired quality, experience or job history.

Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead while working for ABC Company.

Middle of the story:

Then ask for specific actions.

What daily responsibilities and activities illustrated those skills or qualities to your manager?

End of the story:

Finally, ask for the results they achieved from those actions.

What were the specific outcomes of that effort?

The beginning/middle/end line of questioning will allow you to determine if the candidate is telling you what you want to hear or sharing actual behavior. Chances are, candidates will have a general response to the first question, but if they struggle with the middle and end, it’s probably an indicator they’re grasping at straws. If you’re not convinced, ask them to provide another example. Interviewees who answer this line of questioning with ease are demonstrating their behavior versus regurgitating pre-rehearsed responses.

Once you get comfortable using this interviewing approach, you’ll realize quickly the difference between candidates who are telling their true story vs. ones who are selling you a story.

Use the Job Application Smart App as a reference when conducting employee interviews. The app lets you customize your job application by selecting optional questions pre-written by the legal and HR experts at ComplyRight. So you can be sure you’re asking about the exact skills and background you’re looking for to fill the job.

  • Asking the right questions will help you better qualify candidates.
  • Determine a list of key attributes you desire in a candidate.
  • Having good rapport with someone doesn’t mean he or she will be a good hire.
  • Determine consistent behavior by asking questions that provide a beginning, middle and end.