Are You Asking Your Job Candidates the Right Interview Questions?
The majority of HR professionals and hiring managers have extensive experience in job interviews, but if you frequently find your new finance and accounting hires failing to live up to their resumes, the issue may lie in the questions you’re asking.
We’re all familiar with the basic questions asked in almost every job interview: What are your strengths and weaknesses? What is this gap in your employment history? How do you respond to criticism?
These questions can provide a solid baseline, but any candidate serious about the role will have scripted answers prepared. This can diminish the impact of these questions, as can the simple fact that they’re not entirely insightful or tailored to the role you’re looking to fill.
Here is a closer look at what makes a great job interview question from the hiring perspective, along with five examples of great interview questions to ask your next batch of candidates.
What makes a great job interview question?
There are some differing perspectives on what makes a great interview question. For several years, brainteaser-style questions were thought to be highly valuable, originating in places like Wall Street and Silicon Valley.
But after years of asking candidates things like, “How would you describe the color yellow?” and, “How many gas stations are in the U.S.?” it was found that the ways in which candidates answer these questions are, in fact, poor indicators of job performance and of cultural fit.
This is largely because such questions do a poor job of simulating the questions and challenges candidates will be faced with in their prospective role – especially for those within the finance and accounting space.
Instead, job interview questions should aim to uncover how a candidate might perform tasks and respond to obstacles relevant to the position they’re vying for. This can be achieved in part by asking them how they’ve responded to certain challenges in the past and by asking them how they would handle certain other challenges in the future.
For example, “Tell me about a frustrating work relationship you’ve had in the past and how you handled it,” or, “How would you respond to a client who was dissatisfied with your work?”
Questions like these more appropriately illustrate scenarios the candidate may face in their new role, and as such, their responses speak more directly to how well they may perform.
The bottom line is that when interviewing candidates, steer clear of overly complicated or “gotcha” questions, instead focusing on those relevant to the role and to the qualities you desire from your new hire.
Five Great Job Interview Questions
Here are some examples of great questions to ask job candidates.
1. “What would you change about your current employer?”
This question accomplishes a few different things, all of which are highly valuable when assessing prospective hires.
First, it can show how the candidate views opportunities within an organization, either on a day-to-day or a big-picture basis.
Second, it can help reveal where a candidate’s priorities lie, whether they are more concerned with organizational improvement (e.g. restructuring departments), cultural improvement (e.g. more team-building events), or a different area entirely.
This question may also reveal a prospect’s dissatisfaction or reasons for leaving a position, which could, in turn, uncover one or multiple red flags that might result in them being a poor fit within your company.
2. “What’s the most interesting project you’ve worked on in the past?”
How a candidate answers this question can help show how passionate they are about their work and can also indicate how interested they may be in the work they’ll be doing in their new role. If they speak to a previous project that even somewhat relates to their prospective job description, there’s a good chance it can result in a good fit.
This can also uncover any personal passions the candidate has that may be closely linked to the work (e.g. I worked as a consultant for a large sporting goods brand, which was interesting and exciting because I love to rock climb). As much as this question can provide insight into their professional interests, it may also open a window into personal pursuits and potential cultural fit.
3. “How do you decide which companies and positions to apply for?”
This question is a slight variation of, “Why do you want this job?” that can lead into additional detail on the candidate’s current and potentially big-picture motivations.
They might say they apply to jobs that appear to be the most flexible and that offer the most generous compensation. Or they might say they apply to jobs and organizations that align with their career goals and that can serve as stepping stones to their greater objectives.
Ultimately, this question can reveal how their career priorities align with those of your business and can help differentiate candidates driven by freedom or compensation from those driven by growth and development. While neither of these is explicitly better than the other, one is undoubtedly better suited for your organization or for a given role that needs to be filled.
4. “What has been your greatest challenge with x technology, and how did you overcome it?”
This is a great chance to see how familiar and proficient a prospective hire is with a specific software platform or application. This is especially helpful in a space like finance and accounting, where many different types of technology are leveraged on a daily basis.
If a candidate is being hired to help a company onboard a new ERP system, their past experience with and understanding of that platform will be critical. This question can show not only that they’re aware of the primary quirks of the tool but that they’re adept at navigating any issues in a timely and effective manner.
5. “Tell me about a time you were dissatisfied with your work and why.”
It’s common for interviewers to ask candidates about a time a client, customer, or superior was dissatisfied with their work, but anyone can react with urgency and sincerity when their performance is under fire from a number of outside voices (and especially when superiors are looped into the conversation).
Asking about a time the candidate was dissatisfied with their own work speaks to the standard they hold themselves to and to the pride they take in their work. If the very act of producing what they recognize as being subpar work leaves a sour taste in an employee’s mouth, they’ll be much more likely to strive for excellence on a regular basis – even when no one is looking.
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FAQs about Asking the Right Interview Questions
Q: Why is asking the right interview questions crucial for the hiring process?
A: Asking the right interview questions allows you to better understand a candidate's skills, experience, and cultural fit for your organization. Effective interview questions help you assess whether a candidate possesses the necessary qualifications and can thrive within your company's environment.
Q: What types of interview questions should I be asking candidates?
A: You should ask a combination of behavioral, situational, and job-specific questions. Behavioral questions inquire about past experiences to predict future behavior, situational questions present hypothetical scenarios to gauge problem-solving abilities, and job-specific questions evaluate technical skills required for the role.
Q: How can I ensure diversity and inclusion through interview questions?
A: To ensure diversity and inclusion, frame your questions to avoid bias and focus on skills and qualifications rather than personal attributes. Additionally, consider asking questions about how candidates have worked in diverse teams or handled various challenges to gauge their ability to thrive in an inclusive workplace.
Q: What are some common mistakes to avoid when asking interview questions?
A: Avoid asking leading questions that prompt a specific answer, as this can bias your evaluation. Also, avoid illegal questions about age, gender, religion, or other protected characteristics. Lastly, don't rely solely on generic questions that don't provide meaningful insights into the candidate's fit for the role.
Q: How can I tailor interview questions to assess soft skills?
A: To evaluate soft skills, design questions that prompt candidates to describe how they've demonstrated qualities like teamwork, communication, adaptability, and leadership in previous roles. For example, you might ask for a specific instance where they resolved a conflict within a team or handled a difficult customer interaction. This approach provides tangible examples of their soft skills in action.
Remember, the goal of asking interview questions is to gather comprehensive information about candidates to make informed hiring decisions. Crafting thoughtful, relevant questions ensures that you accurately evaluate candidates' potential to contribute to your organization's success.