Dig deep with your questions in the interview

After you have asked all the usual questions about experience and content knowledge, it’s time to go deep. An excellent way to do this is to find out what the candidate likes to do outside of work. The answers to that question can give a hiring manager great insight.


An interview story — with a curious beginning

I recently interviewed a candidate via Zoom. While doing our Zoom screening call from the comfort of his couch, this candidate illustrated his preference for exercise shorts over pants. That lack of formality at coffee table-level was a bit off-putting. But he had written an excellent cover letter, so I kept going. After we covered the technical aspects, I asked about his hobbies. It turns out he is a World of Warcraft game player. He shared that he plays 3 nights a week from 7pm to 11pm in a group of 20 that have been playing together for 4 years.


The angels sang!

My ears perked up at this. Great — he knows how to play on a team, has regular hours that he sets aside to do this, and is committed (4 years). Digging deeper, I asked about the types of roles he plays on the team. “I’m a Tank,” he replied, and explained that a Tank has responsibility for coordinating battles, making sure everyone is doing what they need to do — rather like a sergeant major. “I am not the decision maker,” he said, “I’m the implementer. I organize and make things happen.” Hallelujah! I heard angels singing. This was the candidate I was looking for. The informality with interview attire could be coached (he is 24 and new to this type of job search). The mindset is what I was seeking.


What to look for

Look for activities that have sustained themselves over a period of time. Look for a sense of commitment and motivation. Look for examples of sticking with a situation, a can-do approach to the team. Questions you can ask are:


  • What do you like to do outside of work?
  • Tell me more about that. Why do you like it?
  • How long have you been doing that?
  • How does the activity interact with others? Tell me more about that.
  • Where have you volunteered?  Tell me more about that.
  • What are some things that you want to work on next?


You are looking for someone who has enough thoughtfulness to have a plan for where they would like to go in life — beyond the next 5 or 10 years. Experience has taught me that it does not matter how much I might like a candidates’ personable nature. If I see no sign of a plan for the next few years, it indicates too much of an inclination to blow in the wind.


Hire the best person — not the one who will stick around the longest

Always, always, always hire the best person you can for the job. That person might not stay for as long as a less competent candidate. But the work ethic and commitment you will get from a motivated employee will be worth the turnover. Have an open conversation about what the person wants to do after they have outgrown the job. It is perfectly okay to support someone migrating out while together you find and train their replacement.


I hear of too many employers, desperate to fill an open spot, who pick the first warm body that looks like they will fit. Resist the band-aid solution. Resist. Resist. Allow yourself the time to find someone who can bring much more to the role and to your business.




Images courtesy of  Kate Wells


Kate Wells is an experienced small business owner and HR expert. She works as Chief HR Officer for small and startup businesses who need HR expertise without the HR employee overhead. Her greatest joy is in setting employers and employees up for success. Knowledgeable in the ways of business and people, she is a consultant who rolls up her sleeves and gets stuff done while also acting as a trusted sounding board for business owners.  Kate has two adult daughters and a lifetime sweetheart, and she enjoys hiking, road biking, kayaking, reading, jigsaw puzzles, and Seahawks victories. https://www.linkedin.com/in/katewellsmba/




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