What aspects of your job do you consider most crucial?

Why Ask This Question?

This query is a logical follow-up to the previous question. If the former question sets up a broad perspective of a candidate's primary and secondary responsibilities, this add-on forces specific identification of a candidate's key strengths and areas of interest. Once again, if you're hiring someone for a newly created position in your organization, and you're not sure what criteria you'll need in selecting finalists, ask this question of your first interviewees to gain clearer insight into your own needs. It should quickly provide you with concrete data regarding their current work experiences. While you view this question from the perspective that it will help you match those areas the candidate is familiar with to your opening, you should keep in mind that many job seekers are open to and capable of learning additional skills and developing new interests.

Analyzing the Response

Typical applications of this query result in lists of black-and-white specialty areas that either match your needs or fall short of your expectations. For example, when hiring a human resources manager, you may need someone with lots of background in compensation, benefits administration, and employee relations. If the HR manager you're currently evaluating comes from a stronger recruitment and training background, then this candidate's brand of HR management will most likely fail to provide a solution to your specific needs.

As a case in point, when the individual responds to your question regarding what she considers to be the most crucial aspects of her position, she'll initially link her ability to reduce company expenses to reduced costs per hire and a highly trained workforceā€”not to more competitive workers' compensation insurance premiums and reduced 401(k) plan administration fees. Consequently, you should look carefully at the candidate's initial response to identify her comfort zone and her plans for initially attacking the new job.

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. The response that the candidate generates at this juncture will typically get to the heart of her bottom-line responsibilities. Salespeople, for example, will demonstrate whether they are more money-motivated or driven to please customers regardless of the sale. Top producers who define themselves as ''closers'' will say that the most crucial aspect of their position lies in getting the prospect to say yes. You might come back with a retort like this: ''I've found that people who define themselves as closers are often more apt to debate than they are to persuade. Therefore, they're inclined to impress clients rather than try to gain their confidence. They also sometimes have a tendency to talk when they should be listening, and they have a low tolerance for detail that makes them cut far too many corners. Could anyone ever accuse you of having any of those characteristics?''

On the other hand, a salesperson who sees the most crucial aspects of her job as developing long-term relationships with clients might avoid even mentioning closing the sale in her response. Such candidates are willing to get to the sale more slowly in an effort to gain a prospect's confidence and become an informational resource for that customer. Although these are certainly noble intentions, you might question: ''I've found that people who are willing to go slowly in terms of closing the sale sometimes have an inability to distinguish sound sales approaches from ineffective ones. They can waste time on nonworkable leads by trying to win over people who are just price shopping, and there is an inclination to be run ragged by demanding customers. Could anyone ever accuse you of having any of those characteristics?''

The purpose of these retorts is not to discourage an otherwise optimistic candidate who is secure in her style of doing business. Instead, it shows a point-counterpoint reverse strategy for challenging the candidate's beliefs about what she feels are the most crucial aspects of her work.

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