Problematic employees can be costly. One bad apple can not only lower productivity and hurt morale, but also drive you to spend valuable time and resources trying to fix the situation. Sure, an underperforming worker can always be terminated. But doing so could expose you to a lawsuit — and even more trouble.

There’s no magic bullet to completely avoiding such dilemmas. But among the best ways to minimize your odds of employment difficulties is to simply hire better. And when does the hiring process really get going? During job interviews.

It’s here that you get your first look at what could be a great employee — or a costly, ill-advised hire. So a good interviewing process is indeed priceless. Let’s focus on some of the best and worst questions to ask.

Prepare to succeed

An effective interview doesn’t begin with a smile or a handshake; it begins with a well-written and up-to-date job description. Before you even post an opening, be sure the position in question has a description that reads precisely as it should in the here and now.

After you’ve received an adequate number of resumés, sorted through them and set up the interviews, more preparation is necessary. Train your managers and other hiring staff to carefully read over each resumé and:

  • Flag any background or employment gaps,
  • Highlight insufficient or inconsistent responses for further follow-up, and
  • Note likes/dislikes, reasons for leaving previous jobs, and future plans.

All of these things can inspire excellent questions. Prospective interviewers should also look for spelling, word choice and the overall professional appearance of a resumé. Employers generally don’t arrange interviews with those who submit sloppy ones, but if an applicant has a skill set that you really need, maybe you push forward anyway.

On a more positive note, you might receive a resumé that’s particularly creative and different. Be ready to ask the candidate about how he or she came up with the innovative, eye-catching format.

Foundational queries

Remember that updated job description we mentioned earlier? It should serve as the foundation for most, but not necessarily all, of your interview questions.

Develop inquiries that provide vivid insight into whether the candidate has the qualifications, skills and temperament for the position as described. Try to devise open-ended questions beginning with “how,” “what,” “when” and “why” — not leading ones that will elicit brief, rote answers.

A good job interview, however, doesn’t have to leap right into the toughest queries. Understandably, most candidates will arrive with a certain amount of anxiety. So, along with learning how to come up with good questions, interviewers should learn the fine art of casual, friendly small talk to set a productive conversational tone. They should also clarify the parameters of the interview, including what will be covered and whether they’ll be taking notes (usually a good idea).

Danger areas

When it comes to actual questions, start with the candidate’s most recent job and work as far backward as necessary. (For some candidates, this may mean college or trade school. For others, you may need to discuss only their last couple of positions.)

As you’re likely aware, there are many types of questions to approach with extreme caution. Just a few examples include inquiries into:

  • Age and birth date, except to ensure your state’s minimum employment age requirements,
  • Citizenship and country of birth, though you may ask about legal eligibility to work in the United States,
  • Disabilities and illnesses, except, in some cases, to confirm the candidate’s abilities to perform essential job functions, and
  • Arrest record, though you may be able to ask about a criminal conviction if legally relevant to the position.

Questions to completely avoid include those regarding height and weight; marital status and child care arrangements; and race, color or religion. Consult your attorney for the danger areas that most affect your organization.

Positional specifics

Once a candidate’s employment history has been established, you can move into the position-specific questions. Teach interviewers to fully explain the requirements — again, based on the written job description — as well as your company’s philosophies and practices.

Listen carefully for areas of enthusiasm, topics the person shows discomfort about, and how he or she communicates about the skills required for the position. Ask the candidate to describe a situation in which he or she demonstrated a particular skill, trait or behavior.

Also, find out what sort of corporate culture the person prefers. Interviewers should particularly note whether a candidate may be unsuitable for your organization’s distinctive culture.

The compensation question

One evolving area of job interviewing is the compensation question. That is, when do you discuss it and in what detail? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, of course. The right approach will depend on the position and, perhaps, how much competition you’re facing to fill it.

Generally, the trend seems to be to discuss compensation earlier in the interviewing process rather than later. Remember, today’s candidates have access to much more detailed and timely compensation-related data than job seekers of previous decades. They’ll likely walk in with detailed expectations of what they should be paid — and the evidence to back it up!

So, first and foremost, your organization should be prepared by researching typical compensation ranges for the position in question and having these ranges at the ready during interviews. As far as precisely when you should broach the topic, a general rule of thumb in the current hiring environment is during the second interview. But, again, the right answer for your organization may differ. And, as mentioned, a candidate might bring it up during the first interview.

When an interviewer does discuss compensation, he or she shouldn’t restrict the discussion to only salary or wages. Have managers and others involved ready to elucidate on the full range of monetary payment and benefits offered by your organization.

World of difference

Naturally, asking the right questions during job interviews is but one small part of the hiring process. But doing it right can make a world of difference in identifying the individuals who are most likely to contribute positively to your organization. Please contact us at Performance Dimensions Group for assistance specific to your needs.