Are there any specific questions that should become a staple of every interview?

Yes, but that s only a recommendation, not a requirement. In other words, it s up to you to employ a core of key questions for all applicant interviews. Of course, you re not legally obligated to ask all the same questions to all job applicants to make sure that you re being fair in the evaluation process. The more consistent your questions are, however, the more accurate your objective evaluations will be. In addition, a core of questions will build your confidence and ensure that you re covering all the key issues related to an applicant s suitability.

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Okay, so what are the questions? That s actually up to you. You ve probably been asked questions as a job candidate yourself that impressed you. Maybe you've read interviewing books like my 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire to generate ideas. (Okay, so that was a free plug!) Overall, though, you might want to ensure that you've got five or six questions that you can pull out of your pocket during every interview to objectively qualify individuals who want to join your company.

The questions that follow are only suggestions. They are particularly popular among employers, and that might encourage you to add them to your portfolio of interviewing questions:

Tell me about your greatest accomplishment at your current company/in your career. And if you wouldn't mind, please link that achievement to increased revenues, decreased expenses, or saved time.

That s pretty straightforward. Employees are hired to do one of those three things for their companies: Those with P&L responsibility—line managers—are paid to increase revenues. Staff managers in finance, information technology, or human resources come up with ideas to decrease costs. And anyone and everyone, from receptionists to limo drivers to chefs, is responsible for saving time. Remember that people tend to be hesitant about sharing their achievements for fear of appearing to brag. This question is a good indicator of one s ability to see oneself as a provider of workplace solutions; it's also an accurate indicator of one's self-esteem.

What would your most respected critic say of your job performance? How would that relate to the grade you received on your last performance evaluation?

This is a challenging question because it forces an on-the-spot self-assessment. In addition, it can be easily verified should you ask the candidate for copies of a recent performance review. Beware of rehearsed answers like, ''I tend to have difficulty delegating work to others or ''I tend to be too critical of myself. Those rejoinders come straight out of job-finding books or Internet advice columns. When you're faced with a superficial response, say, ''Nice try, Sam, but that's not real enough. Be more critical and more specific: What's a real weakness that we ll need to be aware of so that we can give you added support from day one?

Once you've identified the real answer, be sure to run that same question by a former supervisor during a reference check: ''Sam said his real weakness lies in his listening skills. He sometimes apparently misses important points because he s two steps ahead of himself during meetings, and he s not actively listening to what s being said. Have you as his supervisor ever found that to be the case?'' That's the best way to customize a reference check.

What would you add to your background to make you more qualified for this position?

No candidate is perfectly qualified for a position. As a matter of fact, it's usually a mistake to hire ''perfect'' candidates because you'll get the most productivity out of people who are enjoying a learning curve. People who rank themselves technically as an eight out of ten will often produce more effectively than those who rank themselves as tens, because tens have been there and done that. The new job that you're offering represents a continuation of skills already learned and repeated. As a result, you might want to ask, ''How would you rank yourself on a scale of one to ten in terms of your qualifications for this job?'' That query may provide some insights that you otherwise may have missed.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I know, that's one of the oldest questions in the book. And it's not really a fair question because candidates lose if they answer it: If, for example, a candidate interviewing for a financial analyst position says that five years from now, he wants to be the CFO, that may appear to be unrealistic and quixotic. On the other hand, if he says, ''Five years from now I'd be happy being a financial analyst,'' then he's a meatball. After all, doesn't he have any career aspirations at all?

The best response is no response at all. A candidate who punts that question might respond, ''It's hard to say where I'll be five years from now. What's important to me is that I'm given an opportunity to assume as much responsibility as you'd be willing to give me. After five years, you can decide where I'll be able to make the greatest impact.'' Bravo—good answer!

What three or four criteria would you use in selecting your next job/ company?

It's important to understand what drives people to leave their current positions. Focus them on what they want in the future, not what their problems were in the past. This will help you decide whether your company s opportunity will meet their career needs and be their next logical move in progression.

The top answers you'll find when asking this question are:

- An opportunity for growth and advancement

- An open and communicative working relationship with the boss

- Recognition and reward that are commensurate with achievements

- Creative, rewarding work and the freedom to work independently

- Job stability

- Salary and bonus opportunities

What s important is not only the content of their answer but also the order of their answers. The values they place on their next job will be directly proportionate to their frustrations at their current company. It s an insightful exercise from an employer s perspective, but candidates like it as well. After all, it really shows that you re focused on their needs as well as on your company s needs.

At what point salary-wise would you accept a position, and at what point would you reject it?

This question is often saved for the final rounds of interview at the pre-offer stage, but it need not be. Although some employers choose to avoid salary discussions until the eleventh hour and then magically draw back the curtain to reveal the salary offer, others prefer to discuss salary expectations up front in the initial interview. Either way is fine, although you may find that you'll save yourself a lot of time by discussing salary right up front. At whatever point you choose to address this topic, remember that it s the sine qua non of employment offers. Make it a staple of your interview so that you have a handle on this critical topic when it's time to select finalists and ultimately make an offer.

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