My “Go To” Structured Interview

My “Go To” Structured Interview

by Jeanne Knutzen | April 29, 2014

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PACE Staffing InterviewMost of our interviews at PACE Staffing Network are structured in a customized way.  We review what our clients have agreed should be the key screening requirements and write out a list of list of questions we  ask each candidate in order to identify the specific candidates who best fit our client’s hiring criteria.  We use structured interviews not only because they are the most legally defensible way to approach the employee selection process, but also because they make it easy to compare one candidate to another –  using there very different answers to the same questions as a way to identify candidates who are the right fit for our client’s needs different from the candidate’s who aren’t.

There are times, however, when this type of customized preparation isn’t possible (or needed). When we aren’t interviewing for a specific job and just want to get to know a candidate better,  job specific questions aren’t possible.  That’s when our recruiters pull out their  “go to” 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 lines of inquiry that make up my personal “go to” interview.  I start each area of exploration with an opening question and a hand full of pre-planned follow up questions that can be adjusted depending on the candidate’s response.

Line of Inquiry #1 – The candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.      

Opening Question…….

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 agree or disagree with your supervisor’s assessments? 

Look For…

…information you can use to better understand the candidates strengths and weaknesses in most work situations. Asking a candidate to talk about their strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of their previous supervisors is a technique our team uses regularly because it is a quick and easy way to get candidates to reveal information about how they have performed in previous jobs “through their supervisor’s eyes.”  If the candidate believes you will be checking their reference, there is a very high correlation between what they tell you a supervisor is likely to report and what they actually report.  

Line of Inquiry #2  –  The candidate’s motivators – their likes and dislikes.

Opening Question…

As you think about the jobs you’ve had in the last 10 years, why did you take each job and why did you leave?      

Follow Up Questions…

Which of your previous jobs did you enjoy most?  Like the least?  Why?     

Was there one or two supervisors you’ve had who you thought was particularly helpful to you in terms of developing your skills or expertise?  In what way? 

What kind of work do you enjoy most?  What do you not like doing?    

Look for…

Patterns or trends in their decisions to take or leave jobs.  Have they made smart choices about how to better themselves?  Do they appear to be pursuing advancement or just taking jobs?

Factors in the candidate’s work history that they seemed to like or dislike the most….what type of jobs or work environments got their best work?  What factors turned them off?

Line of Inquiry #3.   The candidate’s current state – what is important to them now?      

Opening Question…

What is most important for you to accomplish in your next job (change)?      

Follow Up Questions…

How long have you been looking? for what kind of jobs?

Have you been offered jobs that you have chosen not to take?  Why? 

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? What would prompt them to make a job change? What would make them decide to take one job over another?

Summary Observations

Notice that none of these questions are tricky or complicated.  I prefer  using straightforward opening questions and more probing follow up questions to help me  get to the “core” of each candidate quickly.

jeanneAt the PACE Staffing Network, we use a wide variety of behaviorally based structured interview questions to short list a select group of candidates who are the right fit for our client’s hiring profile.   Before we present a candidate to a client we need to know not just what that  candidate “can do”  (their skills, knowledge and work experience) but also what they “want to do” – what type of job or work environment will pull out their best.

For more information on PACE’s candidate assessment systems and how these systems  “make a difference” in your hiring outcomes, you can contact me directly at


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