Generic Interview Questions Known to Challenge Candidates in the Final Rounds of Hire

SOMETIMESTHE MOST enlightening queries are the simplest. The purpose of this book is to look at various types of questioning techniques to meet the specific demands of particular hiring situations. And although these specific interviewing insights help you define and refine your choices from the broad spectrum of available candidates, it remains critical to balance your approach with some good old-fashioned horse sense'' queries.

The following questions are the ones that register more in a candidate's stomach than in his or her head. That's because they're so broad that they're usually difficult for candidates to put their hands around. Therefore, they make candidates feel a little awkward. After all, when an individual is totally geared up for a big interview, has studied your annual report, and has prepared detailed responses regarding career management successes and failures, it could get a little cumbersome to answer something as seemingly mundane as Why do you want to work here?''

The purpose of the question is not to unnerve the candidate. It is, instead, meant to evaluate the individual's gut responses to seemingly obvious issues. Consequently, no interview preparation book is complete without a look at these generic questioning challenges. These are, after all, the old hard-core interviewing questions that have been used for years by staunch businesspeople who want immediate bottom-line responses. One caveat, though: These questions work best in the final rounds of hire. Only after job candidates have met with a number of potential coworkers and heard several versions of the organization's challenges and focus will they be in a position to address the following broad-based queries.

Why do you want to work here?

Why Ask This Question?

Have you ever heard someone say something along the lines of, ''Well, I really need a job so that I don't lose my house, and you're the closest I've gotten to being hired in the last thirty-seven interviews''? Perhaps you might admire the person's honesty, but you know that such a candid response isn't going to catapult this individual's career to new heights. As a matter of fact, anyone who hints that he or she just can't seem to find work throws up a red flag in even the most empathetic interviewer's mind. After all, if no other employers out there seem to find this person worthy of hire, maybe they're all seeing something that you're not, right?

And desperation to pay bills is never a valid reason for a candidate to accept a job because once the immediacy of the acute financial pain subsides, that candidate will be off again wanting to get back on the fast track—most likely outside of your company! So what should you be listening for in a solid response?

Analyzing the Response

Good Answers. By the time the candidate's gotten through four rounds of meetings with your staff, she'd better have some clear insights into why she wants to come to work for you and what she can contribute. Candidates will typically link their desire to join a particular company to one of three things:

1. The Company—its reputation as a quality employer; its high-profile, brand-name recognition; or the fact that the organization is growing rapidly and perhaps offers a ground-floor opportunity to help the company grow.

2. The Position—its variety, pace, reporting relationships, technical orientation, or scope of authority.

3. The People—a personality match reveals itself via a feeling of acceptance and the fact that the candidate believes she'll fit in and her contributions will be recognized.

Individuals who complement any of these things show respect and admiration for the organization and ultimately reveal a valid desire to join your team. They will have provided an excellent response to an awfully generic query that might have tripped them up had they not given some prior thoughts to why they want to work for you.

Red Flags

On the other hand, you may hear some responses that scare you off from an otherwise successful interview. Candidates should typically articulate what they could do for the company, not what the company could do for them. (Forgive the twist on John F. Kennedy's words!) Consequently, individuals who strictly limit their answers to what they want to get out of the relationship weaken their cases. For example, people who say they want to come to work for you because your benefits are outstanding, you pay higher than your competitors, or because you're known for aggressively promoting from within create a selfish perception about themselves and offer your organization very little initial goodwill.

After all, benefits packages change. Similarly, if a candidate is solely motivated by money, he may end up as recruiter's bait, staying only until a higher-paying position surfaces elsewhere. And if a candidate appears overly interested in being promoted to a higher position before even being hired for the job at hand, then he may have premature assumptions about moving up the ladder after only six months of employment—long before you'll have had the chance to gain some stability and continuity in that position you filled.

There is nothing more irritating than having a recent new hire constantly reminding you that he needs more challenge from a higher position within the company. You'll reason that he shouldn't have accepted your position in the first place if his real intention was to seek higher levels of responsibility. In short, his real reason for leaving his present company will most likely recur at your organization over the long haul.


Note as well that this issue typically surfaces when a prospective new hire prepares to take a significant salary cut by joining your firm. (''Significant,'' in this case, means a greater than 20 percent reduction in salary.) Let's say that an office manager lost her $45,000-a-year job with a Big 4 CPA firm eight months ago and has had a difficult time finding work because everyone tells her she's overqualified and that organizations aren't creating a lot of middle-management, administrative supervisory roles. Well, she doesn't feel that she's overqualified at all. And she certainly doesn't think that anyone else should be attempting to crawl inside her brain to make decisions about her based on what they think she's thinking!

Still, offering this candidate a $30,000-a-year executive secretarial position should throw up some red flags for you. First, although she is probably being very honest and open with herself and you about wanting to get back to work even if it means accepting a position with less money, glamour, and responsibility, human nature predicts that she'll eventually want to get back to her previous salary range and status. But salary and status are only symptoms of the real malady: You could end up hiring someone who has matured (in a business sense) beyond those lesser responsibilities. That's the real problem.

Let's say, for instance, that this candidate was promoted into office management five years ago, leaving behind the tasks associated with hands-on secretarial assignments. If that's the case, she may have stretched her mental rubber band to a salary range, status, and level of responsibility and challenge that your secretarial position simply cannot fulfill. Your job will in essence only provide her with a back-up to put bread on the table. Therefore, her accepting your position may be nothing more than a "been there, done that'' proposition to tide her over for a while. There's definitely not a lot of potential for a long-term successful relationship here.

You may argue that such an otherwise successful worker deserves another chance at building her career again. After all, just because corporate America lost a lot of its midsection in the aftermath of the dot-com bust and September 11 doesn't mean that people like this office manager should be disenfranchised. Indeed, she may be more motivated than most to roll up her sleeves and find new ways of contributing to her next company. These are all very valid issues, and you have to let your conscience be your guide when hiring people whose positions were eliminated through no fault of their own. But such hires deserve extra special consideration lest you become victim of a candidate wanting to park her wagon in your lot for the meantime while exploring options with greater career potential outside your company.

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