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How to conduct a strong interview

| by Fred Noble

You created the perfect job description, and now it is time to begin the interview process. 


And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. —Luke 11:9


The key to any great interview is focus. If you know what you want, then focus the interview around it.

Regardless of who you are, what position you are hiring for, and the level of the role you are looking for, there are basic questions that need to be answered in any interview. I conduct the beginning of every interview the same way.

Start with the basics. Ask them their full name, their address, their current salary, the exact location where they work, email address, and phone numbers (home, cell, and work). This is very basic information and will give you an opportunity to ghost call their work later in the interview process to see if they work there or if they are making up a story.

Ask, “Are you interviewing with many or only a few companies?” Please know that everyone who comes to you will have multiple resumes sent out to companies/organizations. You will rarely be their first and/or only location that they have sent their resume to. 

Avoid the minefields.Make sure to handle these next questions with care. The goal is to discover whether the person has any criminal activity or uses illegal drugs, but you need to handle these questions without breaking the law. 

You can never ask an interviewee whether they have been arrested or about their arrest record. You can, however, ask if they have every been convicted of a crime. In some cases, certain crimes can preclude you from the job. For example, if you are looking for a children’s ministry leader, you do not want someone convicted of child endangerment. You can also never ask about past drug addictions. You can never ask about addictions of any kind. You can ask them if they are currently using illegal drugs or what illegal drugs they have used in the past six months.

Being careful about what to say and how to say it is the only way to work within the confines of the legal system.

“On a scale of one to 10, how serious are you at finding a new job?” This may seem like a throwaway question, but it isn’t. If the person says to you, “I’d say I am about a five,” then how would that affect your interview? For me, if this person is not sure if they want a new job, then I could be wasting my time moving forward with them. When I am looking to hire, I want only people who are committed.

Take a look at the past. Once I get past the basic information, I start in on their past 10 years of employment. I get the dates they worked at their previous job, the place (along with the address), what position they were hired as and if/when they had any promotions, their current salary and bonus (add perks if you are going to be hiring for an industry that typically has perks), and, if this is a position that manages people, how many people they have managed. This is also an area where you can add job specific details. For example, if you are looking for a restaurant manager that has more than $8 million in annual sales volume experience, then ask what the volume of their current restaurant is. 

Why are you leaving your current position?This will give you an idea of their reasoning. If they say they are looking for more money, don’t hire that person unless they are grossly underpaid at their current job. Look for red flags such as disagreements with owners/supervisors, money, or schedule conflicts.

Ask about their education.Once I have their employment history, I start to ask about education, degrees and colleges/universities. You may not ask them when they graduated, however. It is now illegal to ask that question. It goes toward age discrimination. 

Accomplishments.Next, I like to ask the potential employee to give me two to three accomplishments at the current/most recent place of employment. Going back to the restaurant manager example, did they reduce turnover to a very low percentage or build a strong catering program around community involvement? Get the details. Get numbers. If they improved food cost, find out what their food cost started at and what it ended at. How did they accomplish it? Did they win any awards? Did their company win any awards? You are looking for things that this person can potentially bring to your organization.

Don’t forget the references.I always ask for references up front. I want the names of three people, their phone numbers, emails and relationships to the candidate. Not only are these good people to call to get an idea of the candidate, but they could be potential candidates.

After doing this initial conversation, take time before scheduling the next round of interviews. This is a conversation that can happen on the phone, so it requires minimal investment to make this happen. This is also a good list of basic knock-out questions that determine the person’s work ethic and character. Don’t add too much more to this and you will find that you will reduce your interviewing costs, get stronger candidates, and have less fall outs when you make the hire.

Photo source: istock

Fred Noble

Fred Noble is a recruiter for a hospitality/retail recruiting firm. He is also an elder and leads a pastoral discipleship training ministry at Chesapeake Christian Fellowship in Davidsonville, Md. In his free time, he hangs out with his family and likes to read and write.

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