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The following material, although presented in an abbreviated version, is unique in that it was originally developed to teach executives the process required to fill a new position. In Part I we discussed the critical concepts of preparing the Job Description, the Performance Factors, and the Selection Standards in order to objectively evaluate potential job candidates. With that part of the exercise completed, it is then possible to identify the most important areas to be addressed with all applicants during their interviews to ensure that everyone responds to a base of the same questions.

General Types of Interview Questions
The purpose of an interview is to get the information and impressions that are required to predict an applicant’s probable level of future performance, as well as his/her potential fit (suitability) for the firm’s senior management team. In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of a candidate’s experiences, successes, ability to work on the team, leadership and management skills, motivation level, and job-related skills, interviewers use four primary types (or categories) of questions:

1). Open-Ended Questions - These types of questions require that you speak in-depth about an area of interest or concern to the hiring company, while the interviewer simply sits back and listens. For example: “Tell me about your most important job responsibilities and how they have evolved during your tenure with the company.” These types of broad questions will not only provide a considerable amount of detail about your experiences, successes and failures, but they will also allow the interviewer to gain some insight as to your ability to navigate through difficult, unusual or challenging situations, and your willingness to provide “above and beyond” leadership.
2). Closed-Ended Questions - These questions are used to clarify specific facts that are not completely clear to the interviewer. As such, they will usually elicit a “yes” or “no” type of answer, with perhaps a few additional words to provide a short explanation. For example: “Did you deal directly with the President when you needed authorization for that size expenditure?”
3). Probes - These types of questions are used to cross-check or draw-out more details in order to supplement the information that has already been provided to the interviewer. For example: “You mentioned that the new Executive Vice President was brought in from the outside. Why weren’t you offered the position?”Unlike closed-ended questions, a “yes” or “no” answer will not suffice, as the interviewer wants more specifics in order to clearly understand the situation.
4). Behavioral and Situational Questions - Behavioral questions ask you to reach back into your past so the interviewer can see how your personality came into play when dealing with interpersonal situations. For example, “Describe a time when you confronted your boss because you felt you weren’t getting the proper support.” Conversely, situational questions are used to see how you might handle a specific issue in the future. For example: “How might you deal with a newly hired manager who is suddenly experiencing a morale problem in his/her department?”

(NOTE: While not actually considered a primary type or category of question, many interviewers are masters at the use of mirror statements or echoing. In other words, the interviewer simply repeats or paraphrases something you said, followed by an eye-to-eye stare and silence while waiting for your answer. For example, if you were to say, “I wasn’t very happy with his reaction.” The interviewer might simply echo in a questioning tone, “Weren’t happy”.


Determining the Most Important Questions to be Asked of Every Candidate
Prior to making any contact with potential candidates, the hiring executive must prepare the “job-breaking” questions that are to be asked of each person interviewed based on the Job Description, the Performance Factors, and the Selection Standards. It is only then that the interviewer will be able to evaluate and compare every applicant’s qualifications and potential value to the hiring company in a reasonably objective manner. (NOTE: This process is rarely totally objective, as the interviewer’s judgment will almost always be clouded by the “likeability” and “gut-feeling” factors.)

To accomplish this goal there are six broad areas to be considered, although one or more may be deleted if they do not apply to the particular position. Conversely, one or more other areas may be added should they be required to effectively evaluate each applicant’s potential for success. The basic six areas include (1) Work History, (2) Other Job-Related Factors, (3) Education and Military Experience, (4) Non-Work Experience, (5)Personal Qualities and Traits, and (6) Future Goals and Objectives, and Note the following examples of open-ended questions that might be used in each of these six areas:

1). Work History - The goal is to uncover a number of factors such as key job responsibilities, level of autonomous decision-making authority, “WOW” type accomplishments, leadership abilities, major challenges faced, perceived effectiveness, and any other areas of interest. For example:
  • “Tell me the types of major activities that take up most of your time in your present position in their order of importance.”
  • “Name one single accomplishment in your current position that best typifies your leadership talents and strengths, and tell me why you feel that way.”
2). Other Job-Related Factors - There may be certain aspects of the job that require specific traits or sacrifices on the part of the employee. Or, the interviewer may simply feel that more specific information is needed to get a sense as to the individual’s potential fit for the job and company. For example:
  • “What aspects of our position do you find most interesting? Least interesting? Why?”
  • “What do you think would be the most difficult part of making the transition from your present job to this position?”
3). Education and Military Experience - The emphasis in this area will usually depend on how long ago the applicant graduated from college or was discharged from the military. But if there is a reason to address either of these two areas, several samples of open-ended questions might include:
  • “What was your major area of concentration in school and why did you select it?”
  • “What made you decide to go into the military after graduating from college, and why did you pick your particular MOS (armor, infantry, aviation, engineering, administration, etc.)?”
4). Non-Work Experience - The activities that an individual engages in outside of the workplace may help indicate whether the person prefers solitary or group-type activities, and perhaps even other factors such as energy level and personal leadership qualities. Sample questions include:
  • “What kinds of hobbies or personal activities do you enjoy most outside of work?”
  • “If time and money were of no concern, what is the first thing you would really like to do?”
5). Personal Qualities and Traits - Based on the Selection Standards, it is possible to identify the types of job-related personality factors that are required. These traits might include things such as patience, creativity, perseverance, interpersonal skills, a sense of humor, etc. For example:
  • “Identify one or two personal traits that you would like to improve most at this time.”
  • “What do you think are the most important personal attributes that are absolutely essential to succeed in the position we are attempting to fill?”
6). Future Goals and Objectives - It can be very useful to discover the applicant’s short-range and long-range objectives, and why the applicant feels that way. Very often, the answers can help provide valuable insight concerning the applicant’s ambition and stability. For example:
  • “What would you really like to do on a full-time basis if circumstances permitted and why?”
  • “Where would you like to be in 5 or 10 years from now and why do you feel that way?”
Obviously, many of the questions asked at an interview do not exist until there is a telephone conversation or a face-to-face meeting. But if you consider a position’s key responsibilities, particularly if a Job Description is available, it is generally possible to identify a number of the most important questions that you are likely to be asked at the interview. In essence, you are simply doing a role-reversal exercise with the hiring executive who is attempting to fill the position. This means you must prepare your own version of the Performance Factors and theSelection Standards based on your knowledge of the position and then identify the most probable questions you will be asked.
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