Better Questions for Interviews with Employees

Joe Weinlick
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Finding the right candidate for an available position can be time consuming and difficult, particularly if you encounter numerous well-qualified applicants. The interview process can be an illuminating time during which candidates get the opportunity to reveal more about themselves. Intelligent interview tips can show you how to hone your questions to help you pop the right individual into your open personnel slot.

While you're exploring potential interview questions and interview tips, it is vital to remember what not to ask. While well intentioned, some queries can lead to discrimination claims, which can result in serious penalties—for you or for your business as a whole.

Consequently, one of the most important—and least mentioned—interview tips is this: stay away from protected topics such as disability, marital status, and race. As you conduct interviews, questions about a person's marital status, children, country of origin, or religious affiliation are considered highly inappropriate. A particularly important interview tip is to remain aware of the law so you don't embark on a controversial line of questioning.

Other unsuitable topics include a person's citizenship status, age, alcohol and drug consumption habits, and mental health history. In short, questions based on any of these topics can be seen as discriminatory. If you don't have a legitimate employment-related reason to ask a particular question, don't ask the question. However, if a candidate mentions his or her children, disability, marital status, and so forth in the course of an interview, you can listen and absorb the information. Thankfully, there are many open-ended questions you can ask your applicants, all of which are potential conversation starters.

With that in mind, another useful interview tip is to avoid interview questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. If candidates—especially introverted individuals—can answer a question with a single word, you may find yourself doing most of the talking. Interviews in general tend to be high-stress encounters for applicants, many of whom clam up as a result. Open-ended questions get people talking so that you can learn more about them.

Many interview tips focus on professionalism and poise: if you maintain a calm, friendly demeanor, applicants are more likely to open up and tell you about themselves. In general, people enjoy getting to know one another, particularly when they feel comfortable. One genuine smile may have the power to set your nervous applicant at ease and generate a positive atmosphere.

If you're an office-based manager, you might conduct interviews in an empty conference room or at your desk. If you're a livestock manager, you might find yourself walking through the cattle barn, chatting to your candidates as you go. If you take the above interview tips into account, you may find it easier to select a great new employee—no matter where you plan to meet with your applicants.


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