Employee Hiring: Knowing What To Ask

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In an era of increased competition and slimmer margins, one of the most critical components to an organization’s success is people. Hiring the right employees will enable you capture the market and take your company to the next level. Hiring the wrong employee can literally cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Many managers feel that hiring employees tends to be a game of roulette. They think that hiring is a total risk and you never really know how that employee will do.

Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be the case. You can reduce hiring risk by focusing on one key component of the process — the dreaded interview. Interviews are often thought of as time consuming, stressful, and tedious for both the interviewer and interviewee.

As an interviewer, which questions you ask, how you ask them, and who the person is sitting across from you are all moving targets. At times, this whole process is similar to shooting ducks in a carnival game. The interviewer keeps trying to hit the candidate with enough questions to pin them down and get the info they need, while the candidate is focused on going back and forth to give you the answers they think you want to hear.

As recruiters, we interview six to seven candidates each and every day for agronomy businesses. The best questions to flush out high performers have become clear over time. In this process, we find the most valuable and telling question we ask is: “Why do you want to make a change?” This question can be asked in a couple of other ways such as:

•  What circumstances bring you here today?

•  Why do you want to make this career change?

This open-ended question can catch some candidates off-guard and set the interviewer up for a straight and unprepared answer. In fact, the answer we are listening for is as much about timing and pauses as it is about what they say. Some candidates will discuss opportunity for personal growth, passion for your product line, or family reasons. Yet others may list problems with their current employer, their performance, dislike of their direct supervisor, and potential insubordination. Without too much effort, you can get them to reveal both positive and negative character traits.

However, it’s really the pause that we listen for. If you ask the question and the candidate pauses, they are thinking about how they will answer the question. A pause here can mean that they haven’t fully thought out why they want to make a change and may not be fully committed to change. We recommend probing further and asking tough follow up-questions here if there is a pause to determine what’s really motivating them to make a change or if they are really ready to make a change. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions.

The big “red flag” answers are those that include money motivated changes or problems with a direct supervisor. Probe further if an issue with a supervisor or co-worker is the motivator. Is it just this one individual? Or does this person find fault with any supervisor? Do they blame supervisors, and not themselves, for their lack of success?

One of the few reasons we welcome is “the organization has run out of opportunities for me to grow my career.” You as the interviewer will have to verify the lack of opportunity, but a person that is driven to succeed and grow is one that we purposely look for as a top recruit. When we place a candidate like this with our clients, they are consistently among the top performers down the road.

While this answer may potentially point out a great candidate, you need to determine if you can handle them as an employee. Ask yourself the question “can I keep this person challenged and provide them with opportunities to move up if they are successful, or will they feel stuck and look for another career change in two years?”

Now For Some Fun

If you ask ANY candidate to talk about how they approach the market or a customer, they’ll all talk about value, customer service, and getting the job done. They all prepare for those typed questions and have prepared responses. We have a question we’ve used that can ferret out some interesting answers and reveal to the interviewer some interesting perspectives.

That question is: “Is it possible to make too much money?”

To get the best answer, silence is critical. The interviewer cannot say a thing until the candidate answers the question. Money has such an aura. We all want it; it’s why we’re in business. People crave it, and they know it is a powerful tool personally and for our businesses. Let that aura sink in and see what kind of response you get.

This question forces the interviewee to think on their toes. It’s highly unlikely that they have prepared for a question like this and you get a true glimpse at how they approach money. Answers to this question are as wide and varied as the candidates you interview and sometimes you must read between the lines to interpret their response. Many times the candidate will talk personally about money, about customers, or about the entire organization. At any rate, you will certainly get an interesting answer.

There may not be a right or wrong answer here. However, if eyes are considered “the window to the soul,” the answer to this question can be the window to a candidate’s motivation and priorities.

Do You Have Any Questions?

All of us probably use a question similar to: “Do you have any questions for me?” But many interviewers fail to recognize its true potential. It is probably the second most asked question in interviews after “tell me a little bit about yourself,” but far more important when targeting top talent.

Observe them closely. Did they prepare a list of standard questions you can get off the Internet? Did they research the company and/or position enough to have a few targeted questions prepared? Do they just “wing it” and throw an unprepared question at you? Or do they take your question as a sign that the interview is ending and head for the door?

We have found that when this question is asked, interviewers tend to relax and let their guard down. It is at this point that we actually work hardest to listen, and pay close attention to the candidate’s process and thoughts. It’s safe to assume that if they researched the opportunity and prepared questions ahead of time, then they are serious about the opening. It also gives you insight into their ability to prepare and pay attention to details — a skill top salespeople and managers possess. Additionally, if they “wing it” and come up with solid questions without preparation, it’s an indication they think well on their feet. This could also be a sign they don’t have a fear of speaking interpersonally — which is needed to interface with customers.

While these three questions can’t provide you with a hiring guarantee, they will give you a considerable amount of insight into those you meet with and can improve your odds of hiring the right candidates. If used correctly along with an additional group of questions, you will improve your hiring accuracy as a result.

Waschek is a partner in Ag1Source, the largest agricultural recruiting and personnel solutions organization in North America.

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4 comments on “Employee Hiring: Knowing What To Ask

  1. Anonymous

    The link at the end of the article for the interview guide did not work. Is there another way to obtain the information?
    Thank you.

  2. Anonymous

    Ag1Source may have taken the interview guide off their site. I recommend contacting them directly at info@ag1source.com

  3. Anonymous

    The link at the end of the article for the interview guide did not work. Is there another way to obtain the information?
    Thank you.

  4. Anonymous

    Ag1Source may have taken the interview guide off their site. I recommend contacting them directly at info@ag1source.com