The Art of Interviews: How to Ask the Right Questions for Effective Hiring

by Edgar R. Olivo

Small businesses all across the country and industries are feeling the pinch of a labor shortage as one of the many impacts of the pandemic. This has profound effects on our everyday services, such as delayed A/C repairs, more expensive flights and slower healthcare. Business managers everywhere are finding ways to attract new hires with sign-on bonuses, competitive benefit packages and investing in recruitment marketing. But financial hiring incentives can go only so far for hiring effectively, and first impressions during the interview can matter more during a labor shortage.

Candidates are looking for jobs, and small businesses need to think about how to interview well to improve their chances of developing a good hiring experience. The art of an interview lies in the questioning technique. Gathering information is the key to effective interviewing, and flexibility in your questioning techniques can help. Here are ten questioning techniques that will help a hiring manager know what to ask as the situation demands. Take note, as these conversational techniques can help in many other areas of your professional life as well.

  1. The Closed-Ended Question: If you are trying to create a conversation with a candidate, avoid using closed-ended questions that lead to single-syllable answers like “yes” or “no.” Use these questions when you want a definitive answer such as, “Can you start on Monday?”
  2. The Open-Ended Question: This is the opposite of a closed-ended question. Use open-ended questions when you want to learn more by having a candidate explain more in their responses. Use a question like, “I’m interested in hearing about how you work under pressure to meet deadlines. Can you tell me more?”
  3. The Past-Performance, or Behaviorally Based Question: These questions are based on the premise that a candidate’s past actions can help you predict future behavior. Use questions like, “Tell me about a time when …” or “Give me an example of a situation that …” to learn more about their experience and style.
  4. The Negative-Balance Question: Sometimes a hiring manager will interview a candidate who has all the right answers. To keep your interview objective, try asking questions that challenge the positive assumption. Use a question like “That’s very impressive. Was there ever a time when things did not work out the way you planned?”
  5. The Negative Confirmation Question: On occasions, a candidate may share a response that is disturbing enough to warrant a negative confirmation. When that happens, try to examine their response with questions like, “That’s interesting. Let’s talk about that another time when you had to…” or “And what did you learn from that experience?” This will help you see from a different angle and gauge if your instinct was right.
  6. The Reflexive Question: When a candidate begins to ramble, try using a reflexive question to help take control of the conversation and move to a new area. A reflexive question uses phrases at the end of a statement like: Don’t you? or Didn’t you? For example: “With the time so short, I think it would be best to move on to another area, don’t you?” The candidate’s reflex is to agree, and the conversation progresses in your intended direction.
  7. The Mirror Statement and Silence: Breaks in conversation can help you lead the interview to better information. Using statements like, “Carry on, tell me more” and body language like nodding your head will signal to the candidate you are interested in learning more.
  8. The Loaded Question: A way to learn more about a candidate’s decision-making process is by asking a loaded question or difficult question. The easiest way ask is to provide context to a scenario where two difficult options are considered. Use a question like, “I’m curious to know how you would decide between two approaches …” or “What would be your approach to a situation in which …”
  9. The Leading Question: Leading questions, which are different from loaded questions, allow you to lead the listener toward a specific type of answer, sometimes to reach agreement and then move on to the next topic, and sometimes to begin a series of follow-up questions on the topic. Here is an example of a leading question: “We believe the customer is always right. How do you feel about that?” Their response will naturally agree with your question. Then you can follow-up with more questions like, “So tell me about a time when a customer …”
  10. The Layered Question: With question layering, you have different angles of approach to a topic, each revealing a little more about the skills, the personality, the performance and professional style of your candidate. For example, layering can be as simple as asking questions like, “Can you work well under pressure?” “Tell me about a time you had to work under pressure?” “How difficult was it to meet the deadline?” and “How did you learn about the experience?” You will want to let the candidate answer each question before asking the next one.

Take the time to understand your candidate’s position as the interviewee. Your questioning style can make or break the energy in the room. Learn to develop a questioning style that is aligned to your personal and company values. Polishing this communication technique will help create a more authentic connection between you and your candidate.

EDGAR RAFAEL OLIVO is a bilingual business educator, economic advisor, and contributor for several media outlets. He’s a nonprofit executive who is passionate about education. He is certified in finance and data analytics and holds a business degree from Arizona State University.

Para la versión en español de este artículo, haga clic aquí.

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