Surviving HR: Conducting Interviews Part 1

Now that you have your handful of decent resumes its time to reach out to applicants and schedule interviews.  I generally email applicants to set up interviews rather than calling them.  This may seem unprofessional, and for some job positions it most likely is, but for the type of positions I hire for I find that an email asking for an interview is the best first step.  Unless I am in love with an applicant’s resume my initial interview will be over the phone.  This saves everyone a lot of time and effort wasted on the wrong candidate.  I find that people are more at ease over the phone than in person.  This gives me a sense of who the person is when they are not dressed up in their interview clothes and overly nervous.

I generally follow the same parameters for all interviews and naturally let the conversation flow how it may.  I will spend more time talking to those applicants I like because I want to get to know them and I am usually looking for further cues to if they are a fit or not.  I will also go more in depth with the job, the company, and who my other staff is when I have a good feeling about an applicant.

Here is a general list of the types of things I ask applicants during the initial interview, my reasons why, and what I am looking (and not looking) for in terms of their answers.

Tell me a little bit about yourself?
The obvious ice breaker to get the conversation started.
What I AM looking for – Insight to their hobbies, what makes them tick, what kind of life they live, all in a positive and up beat tone.
What I am NOT looking for – Too much personal information that really just should not be shared in an interview, a generally negative attitude or demeanor, or comments like “I don’t know”, “I don’t do much”.  A person with drive should be able to talk about themselves in a positive way when asked.

Tell me about your most recent position?
I leave this question very short because I want to see how much information they give without my prying.
What I AM looking for – A positive description of what they did, what they liked and disliked, what they learned, what they were responsible for. I will do follow up questions based on what they say, but I want to see if they elaborate on their own.
What I am NOT looking for – Negative talk about the position, managers, coworkers, or the company as a whole.  People leave jobs for a reason, but how a candidate presents that reason is very telling on the type of person and employee they are.

What attracted you to this position?
This question can be an applicants time to shine or it can cause them to stick their foot in their mouth.
What I AM looking for – Something positive about the position and the company, generally based on their pre-interview research. When an applicant points out a specific thing in your job post or on your company’s website that sparked interest you know they are excited.
What I am NOT looking for – Some of my favorite answers: “It looks like a cool place to work”, “I’m just looking for a job”, or “I don’t know”.

Tell me about a time when you…?
Some things you could ask are about times when they struggled in a position and how they handled it, or to tell you about a time where they failed at something. The point is to ask something negative and receive an honest answer in a positive way.
What I AM looking for –  An honest, positive answer, followed by what they learned from the situation.  We have all failed or handled things in a way we are not proud of, its how you handle the situation and what you take away from it that matters.
What I am NOT looking for – Blank stares… I find that those people who have no examples don’t see the value in admitting and learning from their mistakes.  In my experience these people are know-it-alls and will argue anyone in a position of authority over them.

What other jobs are you interviewing for?
This is a test question to see if the applicant is serious about this position or just hoping to get a job.
What I AM looking for – Basically any answer that tells me they really want the position. I also like to know what my competition is so I know how fast I need to make a decision if I have an applicant I really like.
What I am NOT looking for – Any answer that tells me they really don’t care about my position and are just blindly applying to any position they can land an interview for.  You would be surprised at how many people slip and say that they already have another position or admit that my position is their second choice.

What are some of your go to interview questions? What are your red flags for potentially bad employees?

3 thoughts on “Surviving HR: Conducting Interviews Part 1

  1. Hello Amber! Such a good and relevant blog for both the interviewer and applicant, so thank you. You did a great job listing your questions and detailing out what you expect from each question. Below are my generic interview questions that I ask new applicants. Keep in mind though, that depending on the position, I have other more specific questions that I ask.
    1. Describe what you know about the company and role you are applying for?
    Looking to see what they know and if they researched the company
    2. Why do you want this job?
    Similar to your question, and tying into career goals
    3. Why should we hire you?
    Looking for ways they differentiate themselves
    4. What are your career goals?
    Looking to see if they are forward thinking
    5. Describe your biggest challenge (either professional or personal) and how you overcame it?
    Similar to your question, looking for experience
    6. How do you handle success / failure?
    Looking for specific examples (experience)
    7. How do you work with other people?
    Looking for collaborative behavior
    8. What is your favorite joke?
    Looking for sense of humor

    You would think that these questions are standard, and that the applicants would be prepared to answer. However, most of the time this is not the case. The questions that stump applications are numbers 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8. I am flexible with number 8, but if they cannot get through the others, the applicant will be flagged and get a negative review.


    1. Thanks for the comment Michael. I definitely use a lot of the same questions you posted. I agree that people give you blank stares to some pretty basic questions! I have been adding in “what do you know about our company” to see how many do their research. Its surprising to me how many don’t even bother to look us up online, it just makes me realize they really don’t want to work for us, they just want to work anywhere.

      Liked by 1 person

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