Most times I prepare carefully for an interview – reviewing what a client has told me about a jobs “key requirements” and then writing out a list of questions to ask each candidate, creating a “structured interview.” My company uses structured interviews not only because they are the most legally defensible way to approach the employee selection process, but also to make it easy to compare one candidate to another based on the attributes considered most relevant to job performance. There are times, of course, when this type of preparation isn’t possible (or needed). When there is no specific job in mind and you just want to get to know a candidate, “at their core”—some questions just aren't that relevant. That’s when I, and likely other employee selection professionals, pull out a "go to” structured interview—a set of questions that can be asked of any candidate, regardless of their skills or the type of job they are seeking. There are THREE "areas of inquiry" that make up my personal “go to” structured interview. (Others of you may select different "areas of inquiry"—depending on your typical reasons for generic interviewing.) I tend to go into each of the areas in-depth, rather than skim over certain areas superficially. I start each area with the same opening question and a few pre-planned follow up questions that can be adjusted depending on what the candidate has already revealed about themselves. As students of structured interviews know, one interview question can produce answers to multiple questions, while some pieces of information you want will take 2-3 questions. I Previous Supervisor Assessments of a Job Candidates Work. Start with: When I speak with your previous supervisors about your work, what will they tell me they liked most about how you did your job? Follow Up Questions: What will they tell me were “areas of improvement”—things about your work they would have liked you to change or improve? Will some supervisors see things in you that others didn't or will they all tell me pretty much the same thing? Do you always agree with your supervisor's appraisal of your work? Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your supervisor’s view of your work. What did you do? Look For… …information you can use to better understand the candidates strengths and weaknesses in most work situations. Asking a candidate to self-report through the eyes of their previous supervisors is a technique I use because it tends to reveal not only their self-assessment, but the kind of feedback they have been given by others in a position to evaluate their work. To use that line of questioning effectively, you will need to make sure the candidate knows you will be talking with people who know about their work first hand. You would be amazed how a candidate's answers tend to moderate when they know that you will be verifying their self-report. If the candidate has had several supervisors, I look both for common themes and differences in the assessments they talk about. And yes, candidates who “don’t know” or “can’t predict” what their supervisors might say, are suspect – signaling that they may be hiding something. It may also mean they worked for supervisors who either didn’t take the time to give their employees feedback or they were not paying attention to the feedback given. II. Historical Motivators. Likes. Dislikes. Start with: Are there certain kinds of work environments, supervisors, or work content you know, from past experiences, tend to get your best work? Give me some examples. Follow Up Questions: What situations have you encountered where you knew you were not as motivated to do well in your job as you could have been? What did you do to improve what you didn’t like? Was there a supervisor who you know enjoyed your best work? Describe how they managed you to get the best out of you? What did they do? Was there a supervisor who was particularly difficult for you? What did you do to try to improve your relationship with this supervisor? When you have had to learn on the job, what have you found to be the best way for you to learn? I’d like an example of a situation where you had to learn a lot of information quickly, how you did that? Where you had challenges? What ultimately prompted you to leave your last few jobs? Look for… …those factors in the candidate's work history considered either motivating or de-motivating. Ask them to describe those situations in some detail so you learn something about the types of work conditions that are likely going to get the job candidate's best work. Are they better working alone, or as part of a team? Do they like or try to avoid change? Are they better in faster paced environments with lots going on? Or do they prefer environments where a slower, more analytical approach works best? How quickly and in what ways do they learn what they don’t know? Also important is to learn something about how external factors have impacted employee’s performance. What are the patterns or trends in their decisions to leave jobs? How did they handle situations that were not ideal? What do they consider important workplace issues and how did they address them – proactively, reactively? How have they handled people and situations they can’t control – a difficult boss, change, conflict? III. Candidate’s Current Situation. Start with: What is putting you in a place to be open to a job or career change now? Follow Up Questions: What are the key things you will be looking for in your next job? Employer? What have you uncovered are likely to be the key requirements for jobs like that? What have you done or are you currently doing to prepare yourself to meet these requirements? What in your past jobs has most prepared you for what you want in the future? What types of workplace challenges have you faced and overcome? Look for… …if the candidate is currently working—it is good to know how motivated they are to make a job change. What level of clarity do they have about what they want to do next? How aggressively have they been or are they preparing to pursue their goals? What would prompt them to make a job change? What would prompt them to take one job over another? Summary Observations Notice that none of these lines of questioning or the specific questions themselves are either fancy or tricky. They are straightforward questions that would allow any interviewer to understand the “core” of any candidate quickly. They are also designed to allow the candidate to give honest answers because they are focused on actual behaviors and work experiences, not opinions or speculation. At the PACE Staffing Network, we use a wide variety of behaviorally based interviews or conversations with both candidates and hiring managers to make the right matches between jobs and people. We get to know who candidates are, “at their core,” different than the skills, knowledge and work experience they bring to the job. We also work with hiring managers to clearly identify the “key requirements” of the job they are trying to fill—the real key requirements for job success, based on their history with previous employees and their updated analysis of work content and conditions. Only after doing the careful homework it takes to get at both the core of jobs and job candidates can we hope to put the two together in ways that works long term! A match made only at the level of skills, knowledge and experience is never good enough! For more information on PACE’s candidate assessment systems and how we help employers “make a difference” in their staffing outcomes by better matching jobs and people, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.