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How do I get beyond banal interview questions?

I am relatively new to the hiring process. What should I ask candidates, other than the usual questions about strengths, weaknesses, lessons learnt and what-kind-of-tree-would-you-be questions?

Generally speaking, no matter what position you are hiring for, there are two key things you want to determine during an interview: first, does this candidate have the skills to do this job (preferably, hitting the ground running) and second is this candidate the right fit for the company's culture.

To assess a candidate's skills, ask questions directly related to the job he or she is applying for, and probe for specific examples. "Tell me about a time when you did x (insert information specifically related to the job)?" Then ask the candidate to go into detail.

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If a candidate is over-selling him or herself, stretching the truth or fibbing, he or she will give you general answers instead of specifics. A candidate may not have an answer for every question you ask, but if small, specific details are missing from the majority of his or her responses, that might be a red flag for you.

To see if someone is a good fit for your company, you may want to focus questions on the candidate's past experience – for example, what they liked, and what they would change if they could go back to alter the past. This will give you insight into the candidate's personality, learning style, and whether he or she has what your team needs. Here are a few examples:

"Tell me about the best manager you've had. Why did you like that manager so much?" If a candidate says his or her favourite manager was very supportive and provided a lot of guidance, it's a cue to you that this person works best with a directive manager. If you or your team prefer people to take charge and run with things on their own, this candidate may not be the best choice.

"Tell me about a time when you didn't meet a deadline, and how did you handle it?" This question probes how organized a candidate is, and whether he or she reverts to excuses, or takes charge and looks for solutions when facing a problem.

To learn how independent and pro-active your candidate is you may ask him or her to tell you about a time when he or she created a process that was considered risky. This will help you to see if the candidate is willing to take on challenges and improve things within your company.

Delve into the context of a candidate's past experiences and you'll learn a lot more about who they are as a person, and how they will perform for you in the future.

Do you have a question on careers, labour law or management? Send it in to our panel of experts, which includes career coaches, a recruitment expert and an employment lawyer:

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About the Author
Globe Careers recruitment expert

Julie is the president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions. After 14 years of recruiting top talent, she is a veteran in her field. Fluent in both English and French, Julie also provides bilingual placement and expertise. She works closely with both business and HR executives and job candidates, and can offer insights into the strategies, nuances and psychology of the hiring process. More

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