Employee screening questions to help you identify ideal candidates

Employee screening questions to help you identify ideal candidates

June 20, 2019 8:43 pm

You’ve probably had the experience of interviewing someone for a position in your organization, liking them, and adding them to your team—only to find out that they’re nothing like you hoped they would be.

The interview can be a crucial tool for revealing who a candidate truly is. And though you may not succeed in reading every candidate correctly as you sit face-to-face with them, asking the right interview questions can help you get to the heart of the matter. We asked the experts to weigh in on the best interview questions for potential hires. Here’s what they said:

Beverly Friedmann

Beverly Friedmann

My name is Beverly and I currently work as a Content Manager for ReviewingThis, and also have years of experience in screening potential candidates for different roles.

Here are some questions that I typically ask to help get a better sense of a prospective employee’s background and ability to perform under pressure (as well as how they would fit into the environment at hand):

  1. Can you tell me about a time where there was a situation with a former position where you had to make a change or pivot?
  2. What types of new software systems or programs would you implement or introduce in our organization?
  3. How could we best help you succeed in this role if you were selected for X position?
  4. What would your former bosses/colleagues want us to know about you? Is this an accurate assessment?
  5. Can you run me through your background briefly in your own words?

Nick H. Kamboj

Nick H. Kamboj

Nick H. Kamboj is the CEO of Aston & James LLC, Aston & James Strategy LLC and Aston & James Publishing LLC, Author and Board Member.

The following questions are what I use during my interviews:

  1. Why did you leave your prior employer? Were you fired? Were there any disagreements that we should be aware of?
  2. Why did you choose your career? Curiosity? Adventure? Financial rewards? Travel?
  3. Why did you choose your undergraduate institution/graduate institution? Intellectual stimulation? Personal growth?
  4. What motivates you? Salary? Goals? Personal Growth?
  5. What professional circumstance was challenging for you and how did you overcome it?
  6. Is there anything else that you would like for us to know in reviewing your candidacy?
  7. How would your previous colleagues describe you personally? Professionally? What words would they use?
  8. Describe the ideal manager that you would like to work for? What qualities do they have? What qualities do you not enjoy in a manager or supervisor?
  9. What are your salary expectations? Are those expectations purely financial or do they also include fringe benefits – insurance, 401K and dental care, number of personal days, PTO, vacation, paternity time, etc?

Reuben Yonatan

Reuben Yonatan

Founder and CEO of GetVOIP

Making a new hire is really important, and a little intimidating for a small business. Even for a large company, new team members can be the difference between sink or swim for a team! As CEO, I need to ensure my company gets new team members who have our company’s best interests in mind. Over the years, I’ve found these three questions very helpful:

  1. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
  • I do not need to hear, “Your company.” What I am looking for is someone who is interested in personal and professional growth. I want honesty!
  1. If I hire you today, what would your first actions in the office tomorrow be?
  • For this question, I’m looking for something different at each experience level:
    • For entry-level hires, I am interested in people excited to grow, who will come in asking questions and ready to learn our systems.
    • For mid-career professionals, I want to see them ready to take on specific tasks (even if they guess incorrectly which ones I’ll assign them), as well as be ready to learn our company-specific processes.
    • For advanced professionals, I want folks ready to take charge. But I still give bonus points for those who express an interest in mutual exchange with other team members – I don’t want someone coming into our office culture believing they already know everything.
  1. What questions do you have for me?
  • I know it is intimidating to be put on the spot, but I would still like a candidate to be able to answer this one. I need to know they put in at least 15 minutes researching us, and considering themselves within our company culture. I would like to see them ask about work-life balance, specific benefits, to meet their team members, etc. – anything that shows they are genuinely interested in signing on with us, not just casually prospecting and willing to take the “best” offer that comes their way.

Yaniv Masjedi

Yaniv Masjedi

CMO at Nextiva

Here is my absolute best employee screening question I’ve developed over years of scaling a marketing team at a 1,000-employee company:

Why us?

Many interviewers hesitate to put candidates on the spot. I don’t mean to say that I turn off the lights and shine a flashlight in their face while I ask this one. With a smile on my face, I genuinely want to know, “Why us?”

I’ve already reviewed a candidate’s resume, and their references will speak to their ability to learn on the job, treat team members with respect, and fulfill their other obligations as a professional. In other words, by the time they’ve reached the interview stage, I know if they have what I need from them. What I want to know is, what do they want from us?

If a candidate can’t explain what they want from this job and our company–and, I’m okay with them taking a minute to think it over–then, I’m not sure there is a place for them at our company. At least be honest and say it’s because we offer a great salary compared to competitors, we’re friendly to immigrants, etc. I want to know what the differentiator is that made them apply to us – or, are they simply looking for any job?

Nate Masterson

Nate Masterson

I am the HR Manager and a certified health expert for Maple Holistics.

When you’re searching for the perfect candidate, first make a list of things that you’re really looking for. You might believe that the position title is self-explanatory, but don’t let that stop you from thinking critically about what skills and qualities would make for the ideal candidate.

Depending on the position, you should consider asking about a client’s flexibility with time and scheduling, what previous experience they have, and why they are passionate about the field. You should also make sure that their values align with those of the company. Lastly, ask them about a few difficult scenarios to see how they would respond. For instance, ask them a question that makes them demonstrate how much value they place on compliance with laws or formal procedures. After all, you want to make sure that you’re hiring someone who values work but will not jeopardize the integrity of the company.

Mike Sheety

When it comes to actively identify ideal candidates, I always ask a variety of questions. Below is a short list of some questions that I ask.

  1. Why shouldn’t I hire you? This question allows me to see if the candidate is truthful and honest about why I shouldn’t hire them [if] they have a lack of requirements or experience. If they can identify why, it shows me that they are aware of themselves and how they need to grow.
  2. How would your last employer describe you in 3 words? How would your best friend describe you in 3 words? Asking this one allows me to see how they are in different environments. I don’t want an employee who is a clown with their friends and just professional at the workplace. I want someone who can bring their personality to the table but in a professional manner.
  3. Write something on that board. Depending on how the candidate takes this allows me to see how their brain processes information. One candidate may write something on the board such as “hire me,” while another candidate may literally write “something.” The candidate that wrote “something” can follow instructions without extracting further information about what “something” is.
  4. What is the best thing that you can bring to the table? What is one thing you can’t bring to the table?
    A candidate that can identify their weaknesses and strengths is vital. Knowing where they need to improve can ensure they seek assistance or knowledge to fill that gap. When they know what they are good at, they can provide their assistance to someone who lacks in that area.

Richard Pummell

Human Resources Lead at DevelopIntelligence

Employers frequently get caught up in trying to be extremely clever in identifying screening questions that will “catch” applicants in a way that permits them to be screened out of the interview process. Rather than alienate candidates through an interrogatory, I recommend the following two questions:

  1. What are you looking for in a new position? Knowing the key requirements of the position you’re hiring for, ask follow-up questions to see if the candidate is in alignment with your needs. Keep the interaction conversational, and use your knowledge to “tease” additional information from the candidate.
  2. Why are you looking to leave your current position? Really attempt to find out what is driving a change. Is there a financial motive? Are they struggling to get along with their existing team or leadership? Make sure that what they describe isn’t what you have on offer to ensure they’re not making a move into a new situation that is so similar to the old one that they will be looking for a new job within six months.

As with all interviewing, make sure it’s the candidate who does most of the talking. Don’t be afraid to ask, “What else?” when they’re done talking. Ask it a couple of times to make sure you’ve really got their insight on a particular topic. Remember that silence can be your friend. Don’t rush to start talking after they’re done. Allow them some time to continue with new thoughts, as they’re having to form their answers on the fly.

Lastly, don’t over-complicate the situation. The best interviews are those that are warm, conversational and non-threatening. You’ll be surprised at what you will hear!

Jean Paldan

Jean Paldan is the CEO/Founder of Rare Form, a digital marketing firm in downtown Oxford. An American transplant, Jeannie is a mother of three, loves reading sci-fi, and has a video game addiction.

The most valuable question we ask a potential employee is “how do you get along with your family.” We find that people who are willing to disparage their families openly to people is very telling of their personality as a whole. Two candidates come to mind as examples…

Candidate 1. Great on paper, great interview but said straight that he hated his family and didn’t ever talk to them. We didn’t press him, but he told us that they never believed in him, etc. His whole demeanor changed from open and happy to guarded and edgy. We made the mistake of giving him a job. Everyone in the office had problems with him, as he was very hard to work with. After being with us a while, he elaborated on his family and proudly stated he sued his mother.

Candidate 2. Sweet, shy, younger guy just out of university said that he loved his family, but you could tell he was holding something back. He said, ‘Let’s just say that being gay in my household wasn’t easy, but that wasn’t their fault. They are good people with big hearts.” He was one of our best ever hires.

This non-standard question kind of catches people off guard and you get to see a bit more of who they really are as people, if they will be easy to work with, and how they will deal with clients. It’s the last question we ask in every interview, and it’s the most valuable.

Siddhartha Gupta

My name is Siddhartha Gupta, Chief Executive Officer of Mercer-Mettl, a HR technology company and leading talent measurement firm that enables businesses to make precise people decisions in Talent Recruitment, management and training across industry verticals.

  • Two Best and Worst Qualities of your Manager:
    Asking a candidate the best and worst qualities about their previous managers reveals a lot. It lets you know what skills the candidate appreciates more and whether or not the person knows how to handle bad qualities or problem areas. Beyond just problem-solving skills, this question also divulges the honesty, cultural fitment, integrity, and working demeanor of the person.
  • Narrate a Story about a Professional Situation which was very Difficult to Overcome:
    To find the right candidates for your organization, it’s essential to know how would they deal with challenges or problems a new role presents. Ask the candidates to narrate a story about a difficult professional situation and how they overcame the situation, their approach towards challenges, and the kinds of issues they consider challenging.
  • Worst Goof-up and How did you Improve it:
    It’s crucial to ask candidates about any goof-up that happened and the steps taken by them to improve on their mistakes and learn from it. Do they blame someone else for the issue, or organizational lapse, or honestly confess to a problem caused by them, and how they used corrective steps and behavior for the course improvement.

Riley Ramone

Entrepreneur, web technologist and events enthusiast. Riley founded and runs Ticketlab.co.uk, an events ticketing platform designed to help individuals and businesses connect with audiences for any kind of event.

I always ask prospective developers I’m hiring what side or personal projects they’re working on. I tend to find that the most passionate and driven web developers are the ones who don’t just make websites as a job, but they also code in their spare time. It shows they’re capable of independent thinking and problem-solving. It’s also an added layer of experience over and above the list of previous [job responsibilities] they’ve had.