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Find the Right Fit by Asking the Right Interview Questions - with Paul Falcone

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

The interview process has become almost predictable. An employer posts a job description with job requirements and qualifications, resulting in a batch of resume matches from candidates who possess those skills. Next, a short phone screen occurs with the selected matches. Typically, the candidate is asked to walk through their resume, followed by the interviewer giving a brief overview of the role and then wrapping up with the dreaded salary requirements question.

If the phone screen is deemed successful, the candidate will be sent to a few more formal interviews. This could involve questions such as, “Tell me about a time where you led a team, or dealt with failure,” or “Describe your management style,” or “What are three words that describe you?”

These are all fine questions. A prepared candidate can predict most of the potential questions, and will likely have spent time practicing answers to these questions using the STAR format. Even better if their responses incorporate examples relevant to the role and company of interest. This could certainly land them the job, maybe even at or above the salary requirements. Often this can take a few weeks, to a month or more. The new candidate starts. The team is happy to have someone who “passed the test.” But is this person really a fit on a level deeper than just qualifications and answering interview questions pleasantly and with competence?

The right fit between an employee and an employer is so difficult to gauge in a few decentralized interviews. The person seeking the job likely 1) needs a job quickly to pay the bills or is 2) looking for a better option because they’re not happy in their current role. The employer has a role to fill likely because 1) someone that was in that role is no longer there or 2) they created a new position out of need, got approved funding, and are eager to get the work done.

Both the job seeker and employer are juggling priorities of filling the role quickly vs making sure it’s the right fit. But, how can both parties really be sure this is the right fit for the long haul, and not just filling a need quickly?

Most candidates don’t want to rock the boat by asking overly probing questions about work-life balance or promotion timelines because they risk not looking passionate or committed to the role in discussion. So,they stick to the safe questions. Many employers are guided by HR principles and may even have pre-written screening questions of which they need to report back to HR. Questions about personal life and anything outside the job descriptions are usually seen as off-limits.

There is a risk for both the employer and candidate that the fit isn’t guaranteed to be right longer-term. It’s also frustrating, costly and unproductive for the employer. Employee turnover results in potential unemployment costs, fear and uncertainty among current employees, and added time and costs of hiring/onboarding someone else.

Paul Falcone, a renowned expert on effective hiring, performance management, and leadership development, and author of 10 books including the 2019 #1 bestseller in Amazon’s “Best Sellers in Human Resources and Personnel Management,” “Management Skills,” and “Job Interviewing” categories, 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire, sat down to talk with Band of Hands President, Eve Nasby, about how to adjust the interview to ensure the right fit. His approach uses emotional intelligence during the interview. This means, asking questions that get inside candidates' heads and hearts.

Paul states that “even if people are trained to ask the right questions, they aren’t necessarily taking the time to build trust with candidates.” Everyone is busy, and by saying people aren’t taking the TIME to build trust, this isn’t suggesting people need to find more time. Rather, it’s about replacing some of the old, stale questions with more well-thought out, better questions to get to the point of building trust first.

In a typical interview, a candidate sits down, engages in some small talk, then is transitioned right into the interview questions. By going straight into a tennis match of questions and answers, your relationship with the candidate isn’t ready to get a real and honest feel for who they are, what they want, and if it’s a mutual fit on a deeper level.

Paul suggests transitioning in a way that builds trust and encourages vulnerability for both interviewer and the candidate. He says to “Try something like ‘How are you doing with your job search? It’s a tough time, tough market. I feel for you. It’s been a few years since I’ve been in your shoes, but I get it. How is it going?’ Really try to relate to them.”

This approach evokes a feeling of “Before we get into the interview, I want to get a better idea of what’s important to you.” This may throw them off a bit at first because it’s not the norm. But, you’ll see their body language start to relax and open up as you make it more about them than it is about you. Spend the first 5-7 minutes getting to know them and what they’re looking for. This is how you build trust with candidates you’ve just met for the first time.

Some other questions that Paul suggests to get to this mutual state of trust are:

  • What 3 criteria are most important to you in selecting your next job?

  • Tell me about your favorite boss.

Once that initial trust is established, these types of questions will allow you to understand what is really important to the candidate. Taking this a step further, if a candidate responds with, “You know, I don't normally say this in an interview, but…,” then you know that trust is established. It shows they’re comfortable being vulnerable, and you’re getting to know who that person is, not just what they have done or can do.

With the emotionally intelligent interview approach, you can confidently match that person’s personality to your department’s culture. 90% of the people interviewing have the technical skills to do the job. Combining the right skills with the right fit, however, will help retain top talent, build a stronger culture, and overall create a more successful company.

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