What questions can I ask in an interview?

I have a new position opening at my company. And I’m scared. I’ve heard that if I ask too many personal questions someone can sue me. What do I do?

Growth of a company is the goal of most business owners. It’s a sign of your success and it’s a reward for your hard work. It also comes with complications, one of which is determining who is going to join your team to help you continue prosperous growth. If you’ve recruited candidates and you’re ready to interview them, this is the blog for you!

Where do you begin getting to know a candidate? Well, think about it this way – how do you get to know anyone? You start by asking questions! Unlike your favorite lines at your local watering hole (Hey baby, what’s your sign?) you want to think through your questions ahead of time to make sure they warrant the right answers. Preparing questions that are targeted on the background, experience, and skills of your candidates is essential to having a successful interview. It will also keep you out of the pitfalls of interviewing – like asking questions that verge on being inappropriate or subject to federally protected classes.

How do you know what questions to ask? Use your position description as your guide! You already thought about the type of work that needs to be accomplished by this role and what types of minimum experience and skills the candidate should have to be successful. Try this – if the job needs to perform account reconciliation on a daily basis, then a question that would target the candidates’ experience would be phrased like “Describe for me the process you’ve used to reconcile accounts at your current company.” Seems simple right? It can be that simple! There are volumes of behavioral interviewing tips and tools available on the web. Here are some of my favorites for you: – It’s the Monster for a reason! This site is full of very good advice for employers and candidates. The page below has links to many types of questions.
Want to learn how to build a behavioral interview using the STAR method so you can target Situations, Tasks, Actions & Results? This is a good guide book for you, Interviewing Techniques for Managers written by Carolyn Thompson. Here is the Amazon link for you
If you’re serious about candidate selection and would like to investigate selection tools, check out DDI’s web page that talks about targeted selection. This takes candidate questions and decisions to the next level!

Stick with questions that are targeted to the person’s real experience, real education, and real knowledge. Avoid asking questions that target hypothetical answers. Here’s an example: “Susan, if you were to need to perform account reconciliation on a daily basis, how would you set up your spreadsheet?” You see, the difference? You’re asking Susan to describe how she would do something instead of asking how she’s actually done it in the past.

How do you avoid getting into hot water? Refer to the aforementioned link about protected classes and data. But you can make this easy on yourself. Stay away from personal data that might not directly determine someone’s race, religion, or gender that is protected but still gets to the point. For example, if you want to know if a candidate has children – don’t ask if they have children! It’s irrelevant! What matters is if they are able to be at work on the days needed and on time as needed. So ask a question like, “Are there any foreseeable reasons you would have a problem arriving on time at 8am and leaving at 5pm Monday through Friday?”

What about note taking? Can I take notes or will that get me in trouble? Good questions! Just like what questions you ask, you should be mindful about what you record from the conversation. First of all, don’t record it on a camera or recording device as that breaches a number of privacy laws. If you’re taking handwritten notes or typing notes as someone is speaking, be sure your notes are pertinent to the job qualifications – not on personal appearance, gender, disability, race, or religion. If someone comes across to you as having a difficultly articulating their thoughts, then write that as a note to yourself. But don’t make note of someone appearing to have a disability or is “stupid”. Do you see the difference between those two concepts?

Preparation prior to the interview is key! Spend time ahead of time and the interview will be a much more rewarding experience for you and the candidate. Employee recruitment, selection and on-boarding are topics I’ll cover separately in my other blogs about selection and candidate attraction.