Effective Interview Questioning Techniques


10 Apr, 2018

Structured Recruitment Interviews

Many small business owners struggle with running job interviews for vacancies with their business. They “wing it” and end up with bad hires and headaches down the track.

To improve the quality of your recruitment interviews, we recommend using structured interview processes.

One of the first steps in structured recruitment interviews is working out the questions you are going to ask. These questions should be directly linked back to the duties of the position. You need to ask each candidate the same basic set of questions so that you can compare answers.

Of course, you can prompt for more information, but the basic questions should be the same.

You also need to work out the sort of answers you would expect to see from a great candidate. This can seem like overkill, but it makes it easier to compare candidates after a long day of interviews!

Looking for more interview tips? Check out this post.

A few tips on effective questions

  1. All questions must comply with anti-discrimination legislation. This means you can’t ask questions about things such as age, marital status, if they have a disability, if they are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, if they are gay, if they are union members, their childcare arrangements or their religious beliefs. This is similar to the issues identified when advertising your vacancies – so stay on the right side of the law!
  2. Make sure you are not directly or indirectly discriminating with your questions. Do you really need a “bloke” for the role if it involves heavy work? Gender is not a good predictor of strength – some of the weediest people I have met have been blokes, and the strongest people who can bench-press better than everyone in the gym are women.
  3. Check your questions give you the information you need. If you ask, “Can you use Microsoft Word” – you will get a Yes/No response. If you ask, “Tell me how you would go about setting up a mail merge letter to my database”, and you will get a better idea of their skill level.
  4. Consider giving candidates the core questions 15 minutes before they come in for an interview. Remember, you want your candidates to be the best they can be. In most jobs, people don’t have to answer off the top of their heads all day every day. People have time to think. By allowing people the chance to see and think about the main questions before the interview, you allow introverted people the chance to shine. Interviews traditionally favour extroverted people, which means that you are missing out on at least half of the population.

Ask Open Questions

When asking questions, you generally want to keep the person talking. Do this by asking open questions.

  • “Do you know about our company?” is a closed question. “What do you know about our company?” is an open question
  • Do you know how to use an angle grinder?” is a closed question. “How do you use an angle grinder to cut a concrete block?” is an open question

Use closed questions when you only need a yes/no answer such as “Do you have a forklift license?”

Ask Probing Questions

Probing questions are when you want to learn more about what a person believes or thinks.

  • “Why are you leaving your current position?”
  • “What do you think makes a great plumber?”

Ask Behavioural Questions

Behavioural questions try to work out how someone will behave in a certain situation.

  • “Imagine you are confronted by an angry customer who yells that your electrician left stripped wires scattered across their house, causing their grandchild to end up at the doctor’s with a piece of wire in their foot. What would you do?”
  • “Before the end of your shift, you have to re-pot 30 plants and sweep the floor. The phone is ringing, and there are three people lined up to pay for plants. What do you do in what order and why?”

Some examples of great probing questions

What was your favourite task/role/project in the past 12 months and why? What made it so special? What made it successful? What did you do to make it work so well?  These are great questions as it helps you to find their patterns of success. You get to learn what will motivate your team member and helps you work out if your workplace has the factors that will help them be successful.

What was your biggest work mistake/regret of the past 12 months and what did you learn from it? This question often helps identify areas you need to keep an eye on in the future. For example, was there a personality type they couldn’t work with? Were they having problems with time management or trouble with their balancing work and life?  You get a heads up of potential problem areas before the person starts in your business.

How do you like to be recognised/rewarded for a great job? Don’t just talk the first answer the person gives you. Dig a bit deeper and don’t accept “money” as the only answer. Some people like to be praised in front of others. For other people, public praise is a punishment, and they would prefer to sink into the floor. How does this person like to hear/know they have done a great job? This helps you work out if it will be possible to motivate the person within your role.

What is your future dream role? This question, if asked correctly, can help you with employee retention. I had one team member whose dream was to run their own business. By committing to help teach them basics of budgeting, planning and a few other skills that they would need in their business, I retained an exceptional employee for another two years, rather than losing their skills and experience. By having this open conversation, I was also able then to grow a more junior employee to fill the role when the employee moved on.

Everybody stresses differently. Some people go quiet; some yell a lot, some eat chocolate. How would I tell you are stressed? This question gives you a heads up on how to manage the candidate in the workplace. If your candidate is a yeller and thrower, and your team is very quiet and reserved, then the candidate may not be the best cultural fit.

Tell me about your favourite boss: What made them so good? What did they do to manage you that you really enjoyed? This question helps weed out the people that like LOOOONNNNGGG chats with the manager every day, or who need micromanagement to blow their nose.

Part of being an effective manager is knowing the right questions to ask your team. Take the time to plan structured interview questions that probe a bit deeper with your recruitment candidates, and you will increase the quality of your hires.


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HR Author and Lecturer with over 25 years' experience in human resources and workplace relations in Australia. Lead Author of Instant HR Policies & Procedures, NDIS Direct Employment HR Manual, and Employee Performance Reviews: Tips, Templates and Tactics.

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