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Creating and Using Great Interview Questions

Do you feel like you spend too much time interviewing candidates without getting the critical information that you need about their future job performance?

Research shows that structured interviews are 2 – 5 times more effective in predicting future job performance as unstructured interviews.

Creating Great Interview Questions

A good interview question is one that tells you how the candidate will perform in the future. Since the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior in a similar situation, the best interview questions are what we call behavior-based interview questions.

A behavior-based interview question is a) open-ended; b) asks the candidate to provide real-life examples of current or past behavior; and c) drills down for specifics.

For example, if “drive” is a competency critical to job success, a good behavioral question might be:

Describe a situation in which you were effective in achieving an aggressive goal? How did you do it? Who else was involved? How did you work with them to achieve the goal? What were the results?

If “persuasiveness” or “good communication” is a competency critical to job success, you might ask:

Tell me about a time when you successfully persuaded someone to support an unpopular project or idea. What was your approach? Why do you think you succeeded?

An excellent reference containing over 700 categorized, behavior-based interview questions is Victoria A. Hoevemeyer’s book “High-Impact Interview Questions.” For more information, click here.

In summary, candidates who are asked behavior-based interview questions are less likely to provide vague, hypothetical or rehearsed answers.

For tips on using your interview questions effectively, keep reading!

Using Your Interview Questions Effectively

Just as important as the type of interview questions you use is how you structure your interview. Research shows that structured interviews are at least twice as effective in predicting future job performance as unstructured interviews.

How do you create a structured interview? Just follow the guidelines described in interviewing tips #1 and #2 below. For other ideas about running an effective interview, read tips #3 - 7.


In last month’s E-Zine, we talked about how to define the key success competencies for a given job or position. Make sure you have at least one interview question linked to each competency so you don’t overlook getting the critical information you need for a hiring decision.


Each interview will generate its own set of ad lib questions and you’ll find yourself probing differently with each candidate. However, it’s important that you ask each candidate for a position the same basic set of questions and rank candidate responses using the same rating scale.


Early in an interview, candidates are still nervous and will respond more easily to general interview questions. Many interviewers start with a resume review, which most applicants are comfortable with. At the beginning of the interview, your goal is to build rapport with the candidate and make them feel comfortable enough to recall behavioral examples and answer questions more openly.


If you have a favorite interview question that has worked successfully in the past, by all means use it. Just remember not to spend too much time asking questions that aren’t specifically tied to your hiring objectives.


Remember, applicants should be doing 80% of the talking. If you are talking more than 20% of the time, you are giving the applicant too many clues for adapting their behavior during the interview. Marginal candidates, if permitted to talk long enough, will hang themselves.


Not all candidates are familiar with behavior-based interview questions and may find it more difficult to recall real-life situations under pressure. Encourage the candidate to take their time or to come back to questions they find difficult. Don’t make the mistake of confusing verbal fluency with honesty, intelligence or aptitude.


Allow time at the end of the interview for the candidate to ask questions about the job and your organization. Your honest answers to candidate questions will serve you in the long-term since realistic job previews are linked to lower employee turnover. The end of the interview is also a good time to sell your organization to a strong candidate. In today’s tight labor market, it’s important not to overlook this step. A good rule of thumb when selling the job and the position is to remember that today’s A+ job candidates are looking for job variety, autonomy, ownership and important or growing responsibilities.

Combining the right interview questions with a consistent structure and enough air-time for your candidate to thoroughly answer questions can dramatically increase your interview effectiveness. When you’re tempted to gloss over interview questions because you “know this is a great candidate,” just remember “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll probably get what you’ve always gotten”.


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