Interview Questions

Good Ones vs. Bad Ones

Interview questions can be a tricky subject. As an interviewer you want to know certain pieces of information that would help you assess a candidates skills, knowledge and abilities to perform a job.

Additionally you want to know that a person that you hire is not distracted by outside activities, obligations or interests that would prevent him or her from being a reliable employee that delivers results. The problem is, how to do it legally and get the information you need to make an informed decision.

In the sections below, I'm going to focus on 3 aspects of job interview questions, legal, behavioral interview questions and skills competency questions. There are of course other types of interview questions but most are related to gather facts and clarifying job history.

Legal Aspects

As far as legal questions vs. illegal question, the best advice is to phrase the job interview questions as an open ended question if possible that asks the candidate whether he/she can meet the requirements of a position. Keep in mind you can not discriminate based on race, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, marital status etc. See a lawyer for the complete list but you've heard it 100 times.

This means there are certain types of questions you can not ask. For example;

Bad Interview Questions, Illegal Interview Questions

Illegal Questions:

  1. When is your birthday? (age)
  2. Are you married with kids? (marital status)
  3. Do you have any disabilities? (disability)
  4. What church do you go to? (Religion)
  5. Are you an illegal alien? (National origin)

These questions are all illegal because they are not phrased in such a way to time them to the requirements of the position. For example the first question. By law a person needs to be 18 years old to work. Your right as an employer ends at knowing if the candidate is over 18 years of age.

So using this example, your job as an interviewer is to tie the question back to a legal job skill requirement of the position. Here are some possible Legal alternatives to the questions above. Please note this is a general rule of thumb. If you have specific questions that fall into gray areas, please consult an attorney in your state.

Interview Questions, Good Interview Questions

Legal Alternatives:

  1. Are over the age of 18?
  2. Do you have any commitments that would prevent you from showing up at a regularly scheduled time on a daily basis?
  3. Are you able to repeatedly lift and handle 25 lbs on a daily basis? (This needs to be part of your job description!)
  4. Do you have any commitments that would prevent you from working an occasional weekend shift?
  5. If you are made an offer of employment, can you provide proof of authorization to work in the US?

Do you see the difference? Each question is designed to ask whether the person can meet the requirements of the job. Asking if they go to church on Sundays, is not legal because it is up to the candidate to figure out now to meet any religious obligation and still be able to commit to working an occasional weekend. You as the employer need only know they will be there on time if they have to work on a Sunday!

Behavioral Questions

Behavioral questions are phrased in such a way as to understand how a person would handle a situations in a job. The most common technique is to probe about situations in past job experiences and ask how they handled the situation in the past. For example, 'Tell me about a time when a member of your team made a critical error and you had to report it to your superiors. How did you handle telling the news to your boss and how did you handle the person on your team?

Employer Interview Questions

In this example the interviewer is looking for 2 things, can the candidate talk directly about mistakes to a superior and how did the candidate handle the person who made the critical error. Often times you as an interviewer are also looking for the ability to analyze how it was handled and see if the candidate can offer what they would have done differently if the situation would have repeated itself.

Skills Competency Questions

If a job requires a specific skill or competency, it is best to bring in a expert from your team and verify the candidate knows what they are talking about. If you don't have that person on your team who can ask intelligent questions, hire a trusted consultant or adviser.

There are a number of ways to ascertain skills competency, including testing, but in an interview situation, my preference is to play dumb! That's right have your knowledgeable expert play dumb.

The reason I prefer this technique is as follows, there are a lot of people who can throw around big words and generally explain concepts at high levels. These types can be sometimes be nothing more than a good B.S. artist.

On the other hand, a person who has mastered a concept should be able to explain it well enough to someone of reasonable intelligence. By playing dumb you separate the B.S. artist from the person who is a master of the concept. Who would you rather hire?

Sample Interview Questions

There are a number of resources for sample questions to use in an interview. One of favorites can be found at a site where they list the Top 50 Questions asked on interviews. There are a number of great questions you can use or get some ideas for questions you modify for yourself. When you get a candidate that can answer these questions you have good likelihood of having yourself a winner.

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