There’s a lot at stake when it comes to the questions asked in an interview. Will you accidentally hire a candidate who is a bad fit or overlook a great applicant because of what you asked? That’s why it’s important to find questions that will guide you toward the people who will become your very best.
While it’s common to have multiple layers or stages in the hiring process, it becomes very risky when the people involved use their own interview approach. Let’s take a closer look at popular types of interview questions and break down the pros and cons of using each type to screen and interview your candidates.
These questions often start by reviewing a candidate’s resume or application and comparing it to a job description for specific skills or experience. At best, a set of questions is prepared ahead of time-based on a clear set of expectations. But too often, questions are constructed on the fly, during a phone screen or interview.
Example resume-based question: I see you did X for Company Y. Can you tell me more about that?
Taking a closer look, there are some pros and cons to using these types of questions in your interview process:
Pros: Resume-based questions encourage the candidate to give examples that confirm they are familiar with the job or position. It can document their technical knowledge or demonstrate the past experiences they bring to your school or organization at the screening level.
Cons: Unless you have a clear purpose or strategy with your questions, what you learn may not add much clarity to the candidate’s value. Without clear guidelines, it will be difficult to decide if an applicant’s response was good compared to the next person. A very talented but inexperienced applicant can be overlooked without a way to screen on talent as well.
Resumes are helpful to screen applicants on a KSA checklist (Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities) to see if they are qualified for the position. They can help identify a specific area to clarify in a screening call and confirm if the applicant is worth interviewing as a candidate. Once fully screened, it is helpful to focus on actual performance and professional qualities that go beyond a resume’s filtered past experiences.
More detailed questions about a candidate’s skills can help you decide if they have the abilities necessary for their success in a role. While this might start with their resume or with your job description, it should go beyond that to give you a deeper look at how they apply their technical knowledge.
These questions can be helpful to understand whether or not the candidate meets the specifications of the role and has the core skills and knowledge to become a top performer in your organization.
Example skills-based question: An employee provides the HR department with a PFA document. What steps would you take to protect this employee?
Pros: These questions help you go deeper and listen for specific evidence that they possess the professional understanding you want and how it will influence their day-to-day work.
Cons: If you hire solely based on technical skills and experience, you might hire a candidate who knows what to do but doesn’t possess the necessary personal attributes to succeed in your organization. While it’s important to hire someone who has the skills to do the job well, ensure you consider additional factors like the candidate’s motivations and values.
Skills-based questions are especially important if you want to hire a candidate who can step in and do the job with limited training required beyond learning normal details unique to the job. It will be important to go past what you know about a candidate’s skills to a deeper understanding of what it’s like to work with them every day.
Behavioral or Situational Questions
Beyond proving that an applicant has the skills necessary for success in a role, behavioral questions dig deeper into their motivations to analyze how they act in specific situations. These types of questions look to analyze how the applicant thinks and processes challenges.
Example Behavioral Question: Give an example of a goal you didn’t meet and how you handled it.
The response can provide context to a specific situation that a candidate might encounter in the role and show their thought process. It gives a glimpse into what they value or how they prioritize their actions.
Pros: The interviewer might hear an example that shows the candidate has handled a similar or identical situation to one they might face in the role.
Cons: Without a response guide or training, it’s difficult to recognize a truly quality answer to these questions. In this case, interviewers will rely on their own judgment to discern if the answer is a good fit for the position and school. Even if the interviewee does understand and use the STAR response format (Situation, Task, Action, Result), candidates can quickly fall into a formulaic pattern that may not fully reflect their actual talent.
Open-ended Questions or from a Question Bank
These types of questions are frequently found in interviews (and in a quick Google search for “interview questions”). Starting an interview with a question like, “Tell us about yourself…” opens the floor to the candidate but leaves something to be desired when it comes to clarity in the hiring process.
Example open-ended question: What are your greatest professional strengths?
Pros: You may believe these questions have been tested, are legally safe, and would provide valuable insight into a candidate.
Cons: If it’s common, it’s not quality. Many candidates have prepared responses for many of these often vague questions. It’s easy to look online and find similar lists of questions, with examples of how to respond. You want to understand what your candidate truly value, not hear a response they’ve rehearsed. Again, these types of questions rarely describe a “good response” to guide your listening.
As you look to find the applicant who will become your very best, don’t leave the decision in the hands of vague, open-ended interview questions or online resources. Open-ended questions can start the conversation flowing, but more specific questions and criteria can offer a better alternative as you look to make the best choice for your school and district.
Know the answer to your questions.
While there are some best practices when it comes to the types of questions you ask, that’s not typically the issue: it’s the lack of knowledge about what a correct answer sounds like. Do your interviewers know what they’re looking for? Or is the “right answer” subjective to who hears it and their past experiences? Ensure that you measure specific talents (and preferred answers) evenly by studying top performers and creating a scoring method to clearly separate excellent from average. In the end, can you describe specific reasons why you hired one candidate over another?
Hiring is too serious to develop a set of questions on the fly or from an online question bank, especially without any clear answers. The best hiring process uses a combination of these questions to identify well-rounded candidates. Find the right balance with different types of questions that paint a clear picture of a candidate, from their experience and skills to their motivations and consistent behaviors. Your best hiring decisions will come when you have clarity at each stage in the process.