Hiring Tip: Ask About the Candidate, Don't Talk About the Position

If someone applies to work for you, you don't have to try to sell them in the interview.
Hiring Tip: Ask About the Candidate, Don't Talk About the Position
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Guest Writer
Co-Founder and COO of After School
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As the COO and a co-founder of After School, a large part of my job is making hiring decisions. It’s one of many responsibilities, but there’s nothing more important to the success of our company than the strength of our team, which makes every interview an opportunity to improve our business.

When we first started to grow our team (back in 2011), we asked about a prospect’s work history, how they felt they would fit in with our team and how they would solve specific problems. But, we weren’t listening and asking to really get to know them as a person. We didn’t understand whether their wants, needs, skills and passion fit our company and available position.

Over time, we adapted our interview process to get to know the candidate and learn what they wanted out of a job instead of trying to sell them on the position we had available. Here are some of the most important questions we ask:

1. What’s your dream job?

Asking someone about their dream job helps test the potential fit right at the start and lets you know what they want out of a job.

2. What do you like to do for fun?

Not all questions in an interview need to be directly related to the position you’re hiring for. Our team takes regular activity breaks together, and although we work hard, we have fun together as well.

3. What did you like and dislike about your last job?

Asking what someone loved and hated about their last job is pretty simple, but it provides great insight into what type of job fits with their skillset and preferences.

4. What was the culture like at your last job?

We place a lot of importance in our culture. Similar to how learning the likes and dislikes of a potential new hire provides insight into someone's preferences, asking about the culture at their previous workplace gives us insight into how that company operates and what aspects of that culture attracted them to our opening.

5. What would you have changed about the company you worked for last?

Anyone can point out what they like and dislike about a job, but it takes someone with problem-solving skills to provide a plan to fix what’s wrong around them. This question also helps us improve our company by understanding what potential employees disliked about their previous workplace.

These questions all focus on the prospect, not the opening, and hopefully dig into their work ethic, work preferences and goals -- knowing more about each candidate makes it more likely you'll pick the right one.

For example, we offer flexible work hours, meaning we let night owls crush it when they are at their best, but certain positions come with responsibilities that require a candidate to be available during specific times of the day. If someone says they want to come in at ten and leave work at four every single day when applying for a position that requires them to be flexible and work at night when necessary, they probably aren’t the right fit for this position. It's not a deal-breaker, but it's another piece of information that helps our decision making.

When it comes to receiving important information for any area of your business, you need to embrace the mindset of a reporter or detective. The smallest clue can give your business an advantage, and the best way to do this is through listening. Listen to what your employees are telling you -- whether it’s ideas, concerns or their thoughts. Understanding your employees and knowing who they are as people will allow you to run your company more efficiently.

Before your next interview, create a list of five questions you think will reveal the right and wrong candidate based on how a prospective hire will respond. These will be tweaked based on the position you’re hiring for and as you start seeing the results. So, listen carefully and ask good questions before you worry about the message you’re sending by speaking.

What you learn and what you say afterwards will be more than worth the wait.


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