The Applicant’s Work Habits: Helpful Interview Questions

It’s important to know what questions you can and cannot legally ask in an interview situation. Here are some of the most popular questions that prove to be helpful when getting to know some one’s work habits before hiring them:

“What are your long-term business goals?”

Let’s be honest: not everyone who comes in for an interview is planning to work at your company for more than a few years, let alone until they retire. But finding out an applicant’s career goals and business aspirations can help you get an idea of how long-term they’re planning for this job to be. They may see a spot with your firm as something to tide them over until they can find a position in their field of study and/or start their own business…or they may see your company as a way to truly break into their “dream” industry. This is also a good place to bring up any opportunities for advancement that your company can provide; the applicant will walk away from their interview confident that a job offer from you can help them climb the corporate ladder and achieve their goals.

“What do you think is important to have in a work environment?”

If you run a very tight, controlled organization, then prospective employees who value extensive freedom in how they dress for work, decorate their offices, and schedule their breaks may not be the best fit for your businesses. Meanwhile, if you like to foster a very casual, friendly atmosphere for your employees, then a straitlaced person who desires absolute professionalism from co-workers and supervisors might not last very long at your company. Asking the interviewee point-blank about what they value in their workplace is often a very simple way to discover if they “really” want to work for you…or they just think that they do.

“What did you like/dislike about your previous work environment? What about your co-workers and supervisors?”

Asking about their previous job(s) can give you some insight as to how the applicant completes assignments, manages conflicts, and forges relationships with fellow employees. Answers like, “I really enjoyed establishing a personal rapport with clients,” or “I loved the sales contests that we had every month; it drove everyone to try their hardest!” can also offer clues about an applicant’s personality (and whether or not they would be a good fit for your team). On a related note, be wary of an interviewee who openly bad-mouths their past (or current) employer. Not everyone adores their boss or workplace, but if an applicant can’t think of one positive thing to say, then maybe their workplace wasn’t actually the problem. Remember: if you end up hiring this person, it’s entirely possible that if they’re job-hunting in the future, their interviewer will ask for their opinions about you and your company!

“Do you prefer to work collaboratively or independently?”

The “correct” answer to this question will obviously depend upon your industry and the structure of your company. If the position you’re trying to fill consists mostly of individual projects or one-on-one interactions with clients, then a prospective hire who prefers to work alone may be the right person for the job. Meanwhile, a position that will require teamwork, cooperation, and constant checking in with co-workers (and supervisors) is better suited for a social butterfly who prefers to work in a group. Businesses usually require both types of people in order to thrive, and it’s occasionally necessary for workers to step outside of their comfort zone. But if you hire the applicant knowing full well that they have the wrong work style for the position, you may be setting everyone up for failure!

“What do you expect to achieve here?”

This is a better question to ask than, “Why do you want this job?” After all, the real answer to that query is usually, “Because I need money to pay my bills!” Asking what an applicant hopes to accomplish while working for you, meanwhile, is a bit more specific; it’s saying to the potential employee, “You’re obviously looking for a new job, but I want to know why you chose to apply with our company specifically.” This is an opportunity for the interviewee to explain why they think they would be a good fit for your business, as well as mention any of your corporate values with which they strongly identify. Maybe they want to get involved with your firm’s pledge to use green energy, or maybe they’ve loved your company’s products/services for years and want to help you reach a wider audience. Give them a chance to explain why they think that hiring them would benefit your business as a whole. Speaking of helping your company improve…

“What ideas do you have for [project or objective]?” / “What can you teach us?”

Anyone can say that they’ll bring fresh, bold ideas to a business, but many folks will freeze up when you respond to that declaration by saying, “Like what?” Chances are, the prospective employee won’t come to the interview with a 10-page proposal or a full-blown pitch for a new product or service.  So, instead of telling them to just name something off of the top of their head, you might present them with a hypothetical situation and ask how they would handle it. If own a clothing store, you may ask how they’d sell a specific item to a customer. If you own a bakery, you might ask how they’d promote a limited-time offer or a new cake flavor. The answers you receive may surprise you with their creativity!

“How much direction/managing do you need to get your job done in a timely manner?” / “How do you manage your time when you have multiple tasks to complete?”

In a perfect world, an employee would never need to be “babysat” to make sure they stay on task, and all work would be completed on-time every time. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world; some employees have trouble staying on task, and others struggle with time management. So allow applicants to be honest about whether or not they have these issues, and find out what strategies they use to overcome them. You may decide that their solutions are reasonable (“I need to start each day by making a checklist and doing a rough breakdown of how much time each task will take.”) or unreasonable (“I really like for my manager to check in on me every hour and remind me where I ‘should be’ on my projects!”).

“What are your expectations for compensation?”

This question often catches interviewees off-guard, especially if they’re new to your company’s industry. The point of asking, though, is not so that you can low-ball them (or laugh them out of the room if they ask for an exorbitant salary). Instead, the response will be a clue as to how applicants view themselves professionally. Do they really “know” how much their skills and experience are worth? Do they firmly believe—for one reason or another—that they deserve an above-average pay rate, or are they willing to settle for a little less money if it means securing a job with your company? You probably won’t hash out an exact number during the interview (especially if it’s only the first of multiple interviews), but you should both at least be on the same general page when it comes to salaries.

“Do you have any questions for me?”

This is another query that can provide some insight into the applicant’s values and what they’re seeking in an employer. For example, pet store owners probably want a prospective employee to ask, “What do you do to ensure the safety and health of the animals here?”, as an inquiry on that topic shows that the applicant genuinely cares about the well-being of animals (and therefore will probably take their animal-care duties seriously). Also, flipping the script is another “fun” way to catch applicants off guard!  Prospective hires who are serious about the job and have done research on your company will nearly always come to an interview armed with two or three good, thought-provoking questions.'

Author: Mark Sinatra

Mark Sinatra is CEO of Staff One HR. Before joining Staff One HR, Mark co-founded Gordian Capital, a private investment company that focuses on making long-term investments in lower middle market companies. He has worked in the private equity, investment banking, consulting, and business process outsourcing industries for the following companies: Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch, Andersen, RR Donnelley and The Parthenon Group. Mark is actively involved in the PEO industry as a Board Director of NAPEO. Mark is also Chairperson of First3 Years and a Board Director with Social Venture Partners – Dallas. He is a member of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) – Lone Star Chapter. He is an MBA graduate of the Wharton School of Business, and holds a BA in Economics from Fordham University. Mark holds the SHRM-CP Certification, is a Certified Predictive Index analyst, and is a graduate of the Stagen Integral Leadership Academy.

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