How can I probe for an applicant's weaknesses?

Ask questions about areas of past jobs that were likely to have caused problems. Find out how the individual handled them. For example:

- What aspects of your previous jobs gave you the most trouble?

- What are some of the disappointments you have had in your last job?

- In what areas did you need help or guidance from your supervisor?

- For what things have your mangers complimented you? Criticized you?

- What did you like most about your past jobs? How about the things you liked least?

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Note how you can begin by asking about positives, then lead into the negatives. From the answers to the negatives, you can identify weak points that may be pertinent to the candidate's ability to do the job.

If you feel that an applicant is holding something back in answer to a question, don't ask further questions. Rather, be quiet. It is difficult for most people to tolerate silence. If you don't respond immediately, the candidate may keep talking. After listening to the applicant's response to the question, wait about five seconds before asking the next question. You will be surprised at how often an applicant fills in the silence with something—positive or negative— that adds to the response.

What kinds of notes should I be taking during an interview and how should I use them?

Begin with job factors. Using the job description as a guide, note the background of the candidate on each item.

Intangibles are more difficult to note. Stay away from vague comments. List specifics. So, instead of observing that Joe is creative, list examples of his creativity in previous jobs. If appearance is a job-related factor, don't write "sloppy" or "rumpled." Those are subjective comments. Note, instead, "clothes unpressed, dog hairs, shoes not shined."

Personality factors may also be important to the final decision. Once again, avoid subjective comments. "Applicant appears to lack self-confidence" is an opinion, but the statement "Applicant looked down at the floor during the entire interview and was hesitant in answering questions" is a fact.

Hold off making these notes until the interview is done. Make your notations after each candidate has left. Give yourself ten to fifteen minutes between interviews to summarize your impressions.

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You write these notes for a purpose: After you have interviewed all the candidates for a job, review your notes to help you make your hiring decision. Compare what you learned to the predetermined criteria. Do you see clear winners at this point? Any clear losers? Organize the information you've gathered into the following stacks:

Winners: These candidates are clearly the best choices for the position. You wouldn't hesitate hiring any one of them.

Potential winners: These candidates are questionable for one reason or another. Maybe their experience isn't as strong as that of other candidates, or perhaps you weren't impressed by their presentation skills. Neither clear winners nor clear losers, you'll likely consider these candidates for hire only after further investigation or if you are unable to hire anyone from your pool of winners.

Losers: These candidates are clearly unacceptable for the position. There is no way that you would consider hiring any of them.

When you have more than one "winner," you may want to conduct a second round of interviews with these candidates. For this round, you may want your own manager to meet with these candidates to gain a fresh perspective.

How can I ensure that individuals hired fit into our corporate culture?

You want to make the right match, and personality type is as important as job specs or experience. Let's assume that you run a very team-oriented group. You don't want to hire someone who takes pride in his or her individualism. Or maybe your company is more individualist and the candidate has worked previously in team-oriented organizations and thought well of the system. By the questions you ask, you need to determine if the individual would feel as satisfied in an environment where individuals work independently and if he or she would be as productive in that environment as he or she was at the previous employer.

The questions you ask will tell you whether you and the applicant will make a good match or a mismatch. Find out what the prospect liked best about his or her previous jobs, what he or she liked least. Describe some of the work and ask the applicant how he or she would approach the work. Describe an assignment done by the previous occupant of the job. Ask the applicant how he or she might have handled the assignment.

Still unsure? Describe your department's culture and ask, outright, how the applicant would feel.

 
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