The Secret Weapon to Better Hires − The Structured Interview

By Sue Sodek

Whether in person or on Zoom, having a prepared list of questions for candidate ensures not only will you project a professional image, but also that you’ll gather great information which will help you make a good hiring decision. Structured questions ensure interviews yield in-depth information on how the candidate has behaved in the past, which in turn helps you predict how they will perform in the future. Also, asking the same list of questions of each candidate can help protect you in the event of a legal challenge, which while rare can be extremely costly and damaging to your reputation.

COVID note – if you are hosting in-person interviews, give the candidate a heads up on what to expect. An interview is already anxiety provoking, don’t make them wonder about their safety. Explain that you will be meeting with masks on initially, or if proof of vaccination may be required on hire due to the  nature of the role. Set the standard and reassure the candidate that you value their safety (and your own) from the outset.

Phase One: Set the stage and build rapport

Thank the candidate for taking the time to meet with you. Introduce yourself and your business briefly, with the basics such as your role, how long the business has been in operation, the geographical area you cover or your typical client base. Describe the nature of the job – is it full-time, contract, or temporary? Is overtime expected often? Is the position front facing or behind the scenes? Most of this will already be familiar to them, but it will help set the tone, and hopefully set the candidate at ease.

Now turn it over to them – using a few of the following prompts, get the candidate talking:

Tell me a little about yourself/your qualifications/certifications.

Take me through your resume.

What do you like most about (current/most recent) job? What are the parts of the job you dislike?

Have you taken any courses lately to upgrade your skills/maintain your certifications?

Why are you looking to make a change (if working now)? Why did you leave your last job (if not working)?

Phase Two: Predict the future using samples from the past

Tell the candidate that you are going to ask them to tell you stories of their past work experiences. Let them know you are asking the same series of questions of all candidates, and that you will be taking notes as they speak.

Your goal here is to choose questions that speak to the needs of your vacant role: Are there lots of customer interactions? Ask how they’ve dealt with difficult clients. Tight deadlines? Ask about their time management skills.

Ask each candidate several of the following questions:

Can you tell me about a project you completed that you are proud of? What was the project goal, and was it a success? What did you do to ensure things ran smoothly?

Tell me about a project that didn’t go well. What was the situation and how did you manage it?

Tell me about a time when a job/project ran over time/budget. What caused the overage? What steps did you take when you ran into problems?

This role frequently interacts with our customers. Can you think of a time when you had a difficult customer to work with? What was the situation and how did you handle it?

Teamwork is key to this role. Tell me about a time when you had a project to complete with a team. What was the project and what was your role? How did you contribute to your team’s success?

Tell me about a time when working with a group was a challenge. What was the situation? How did you manage different personalities?

Think of your past supervisors, and tell me about a manager that you responded to well.

Tell me about a time when you had issues with a supervisor. What was the conflict, and how did you go about managing it?

Trouble shooting is a major component of what we do. Can you tell me about a time when you made good use of your problem-solving skills? What was the issue and did you resolve it?

Here at ABC Company, safety is our number one priority. Tell me about a time when you had to make a call about safety in the workplace. What was the issue and what steps did you take?

Like everyone, our business has had to rapidly adapt to COVID19. Tell me about how working has changed for you in the past two years. What changes have you made to ensure the safety of yourself and your clients/colleagues?

Phase Three: Sum up and next steps

Take the time to ask your candidate if they have questions, and answer them as openly and honestly as you are able. Thank them again for their time, give them a time frame when you will be getting back to them, and what the next steps may be (for example, will there be a second interview or a reference check before you proceed).

Once you’ve met with everyone on your list, review your notes and use the evidence you’ve gathered to back up what your gut is probably telling you is the right call. When you have a decision, follow up with each and every person that you’ve spoken with, even if it’s a negative result – they may be a future prospect, or even a potential customer one day.

Sue Sodek has over 20 years of human resource and management experience. She can be reached at [email protected]