Four Critical Questions to Ask at Every Interview



With the list of ‘questions we aren’t supposed to ask’ seemingly getting longer by the minute, these days it’s getting tougher and tougher for people who hire other people to conduct even the most rudimentary of job interviews. HR professionals and hiring managers have their work cut out for them, to be sure, but they are only hiring for one company. Imagine interviewing and hiring for dozens of different companies with dozens of unique expectations, cultures, job descriptions, and work environments.

That’s what those of us in the staffing industry do every single day, and it’s certainly not even close to being easy! As staffing professionals, we’d love to peek into a crystal ball and find out about that previous back injury our workers’ compensation policy is getting ready to ‘buy,’ that broken down vehicle that’s about to cause a severe attendance issue, or those drug-related arrests that are likely to pose a huge problem down the road. We mean well. We’d just like to know if we’re making a good hire.

Since no such crystal ball exists (sadly), and since asking these and other questions could get us into hot water with enough governmental agencies to keep our lawyers working for years (hey, at least someone would be working, right?), it’s far better to ask questions that will (hopefully) help us make good hires and stay legal. The desire to protect ourselves, and especially our clients, while at the same time staying on the right side of the law certainly presents a difficult challenge, but it’s far from insurmountable.

Sometimes it just comes down to knowing the right questions to ask!

Here are four key questions staffing professionals (and yes, HR professionals too!) should ask every interviewee. Their answer will go a long way toward determining whether you place them on an assignment with your client or politely send them to the agency down the street!

1.) Describe a safety issue you were faced with at a previous employer. How did you handle it? On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is workplace safety to you?

As anyone with a workers’ comp mod knows, safety is job one. Granted, interviewees probably aren’t going to tell you one of their hobbies is ‘conveyor belt surfing’ or playing ‘chicken’ with the forklift driver, but any variation on this line of questioning will give you a pretty decent idea of how they approach workplace safety and/or whether they’ve even thought about it. At the very least, it will give you an opportunity to stress the importance of safety should you offer them an assignment.

2.) Have you ever been asked to do something you didn’t want to do at work? How did you handle it?

This question speaks to the flexibility of your interviewee. You want to hire someone who is a team player, who is willing to do anything to get the job done. If they are too good to mop up a floor on occasion if asked, even if that’s not a part of their job description, they are probably ‘too good’ to send to your client.

3.) Describe a time where you have handled a difficult situation with a co-worker.

The last thing you want to do is hire a hot-head who can’t get along with co-workers or supervisors at your client facility. A question like this will give you some insight on your interviewee’s approach to conflict resolution. If that approach involves brass knuckles, knives, or guns, feel free to take a pass.

4.) What do you consider an acceptable reason to call out of work?

In any employment situation, but especially for temporary and/or screen-to-hire employees entering entry-level jobs, attendance is absolutely critical. Of course, since applicants will generally tell you what they think you want to hear, you have to take answers to all these questions with a grain of salt – but, if their ‘acceptable reasons’ for calling out of work include weekly veterinary appointments for their diabetic cat or ‘oversleeping’ after a long night of World of Warcraft, it’s probably OK to weed those folks out.

Those are four important areas to delve into, but there are definitely more. Feel free to share some other important questions, and the reasoning behind them, in the comment section. I think we can all agree that the key is to ask open ended questions that allow the interviewee to talk about themselves and their past job-related situations. Getting a handle on that will give you a pretty good idea at how they will handle a job for you.


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