How many hours a week do you find it necessary to work in order to get your job done?

Why Ask This Question?

This is obviously a critical question revolving around your hidden agenda of workplace expectations: If a candidate works 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and you happen to pride yourself on completing your daily tasks by 4:59 p.m., then your business styles don't match. You may very well reason here that overly optimistic candidates can spread themselves too thin by starting more than they could realistically hope to finish. If that's the case, you would probably view that inability to complete work in a timely and consistent manner as poor business judgment.

If you're at a stage in your career, by contrast, where you're working twelve-hour days, and you expect a new hire to keep you company, then the fact that the candidate intends to leave at 5:00 sharp may become an overwhelming obstacle because it shows a lack of dedication to the job.

Analyzing the Response

Good Answers. So what should you expect to hear in a given candidate's response? If someone has after-hour commitments via night school or a second position, then you'll probably get a direct response limiting the person's overtime commitments. In contrast, if the candidate wants your particular position at all costs, you'll most likely hear that she is willing to do whatever it takes to land the position. But what if the candidate isn't sure what your needs are? An astute candidate would probably provide you with a response that avoids limitations and keeps the lines of communication open:

Mr. Employer, I've worked jobs that have required unlimited time commitments on an ongoing basis, and I've worked for companies that looked down on anyone who worked beyond normal business hours. I'm capable of excelling in either type of environment. Which style do you envision for this job?''

In this case, the candidate will have bought herself some time by responding very openly to a closed-end query. She could now take an offensive position to a question that was meant to throw her into a defensive mode. Ideally, along the way you will have gained some valuable insights into this individual's plans for dedication to long office hours. After all, time in the office is often an indicator of future commitment. Remember that certain people live to work while others work to live. Those willing to dedicate long hours and sacrifice personal life for business fall into the ''live to work'' category, which may bode better for your business.

How does your position relate to the overall goals of your department or company?

Why Ask This Question?

This one is self-explanatory. If you're looking for someone who ties individual performance to the bigger picture, then this global query will be your best bet. This question can be used at the clerical or senior management level. The key to its interpretation, moreover, lies in the degree to which the candidate sees his own impact on areas outside of his immediate department.

Analyzing the Response

Let's take an example. Say you're interviewing candidates for a vice president of finance position. When you ask this query to a very progressive career builder (approximately in his mid-thirties, six years of experience with a Big 4 accounting firm before going inside with a client about two years ago, and MBA CPA credentials) you soon learn that this individual actually defines himself by medium-scale victories. In other words, you find out that his brand of vice presidency relies more on a heavy-handed CFO calling all the shots while he implements those decisions: It was the CFO who took the company public. The CFO created the organization's accounting and finance infrastructures. And the CFO does all the road shows presenting the company's stock to Wall Street analysts and brokers.

So you ask yourself, Where does this young vice president of finance actually make the biggest impact on his current company? And you realize that it is as an implementer of someone else's decisions, not as a creator of his own strategic objectives. So, if you're looking for someone with an exceptional track record for the development and design of systems to lead your company's finance function, then the fact that this candidate's brand of finance has more to do with following the chief financial officer's lead will make you steer clear of this hire. It's a classical case of ''able individual—wrong opportunity,'' and this query will hopefully have brought that issue to the surface.

On the other hand, if your CFO wants to maintain a fair amount of control over the corporate finance function, then hiring a lesser-experienced VP of finance who's used to reporting upward for ultimate sign-off on key decisions might be a very logical and prudent choice. Therefore, when assessing candidates' responses regarding how they relate their position to the overall goals of the department or company, gauge the responses with concrete examples of their responsibilities and their ultimate authority to make and enforce decisions.

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