Some interview questions are unique. "If you could have any superpower, what would it be?"
Some interview questions are routine. "Why did you leave your last job?"
Despite their being so different in form, both questions have a common purpose. They are meant to help the interviewer understand your motivations and desires and to help them judge whether you will fit in.
Questions like the first are hard to prepare for – they're so non-standard, they're unexpected, and it's hard to know how someone will react to anything you say – but there's no excuse for not being prepared for the second. Your answer has to be fact-based (because a potential employer can verify your answer), it needs to feel truthful to you (so you can state it with confidence), and it needs to reassure the interviewer that your rationale for leaving was appropriate.
No matter what your reason for leaving was, there are ways to shape your answer to this question that make it positive. Use the following examples as a guideline for answering this question:
• I was laid off. The company had layoffs, and unfortunately I was one of the people who were affected.
• I was bored. I went into the job hoping to accomplish A,B,C (or learn X,Y,Z), and I was able to do that. Now I'm looking for a role where I can achieve D,E,F (or work with technology Q,R,S).
• There was too much production support. The company had a lot of other issues that kept us from focusing on building the product.
• Politics got in the way. I'm really excited by the opportunity to develop and ship a product. Because of management changes at my former employer, we weren't able to focus on delivery.
• It was disappointing in every way imaginable and I escaped as fast as I could. I knew very quickly that the situation wasn't the right fit for me. I could have stayed but I wouldn't have been doing my best, which wasn't fair to either me or my employer. By moving on, I can find a position where I can contribute fully, and they can find an employee who will contribute what they need.
No matter what type of work you’re interviewing for, there are a key set of traits that would be best suited for the position. As the hiring manager, it’s your job to pinpoint what those traits are and establish an objective way of evaluating the character of each of your candidates. Whether you give them a personality test or ask targeted questions during the course of your interview, you can establish a unique behavioral profile for each interviewee.
The first step is to create your list of ideal behavioral attributes. When making your checklist of ideal character traits, it’s important that you consider these three categories of professional personalities.
Teamwork skills will make it easier for you and your staff to work with the new hire. Candidates who lack many of these skills can be difficult to manage, overbearing, or ineffective as employees. Depending on the type of position, teamwork skills may be less important than their ability to self-direct, for example. Remote workers or those who will be largely isolated during the course of their workday may not need exceptional teamwork skills. Examples of these traits may include:
• Conflict Manager
• Active Listener
No matter what the position entails, many hiring managers will rank work ethic very highly on their list. A good work ethic, however, is often a learned behavior that results from a very particular set of personality traits. Even if you’re interviewing someone with very little experience, if they possess traits that are conducive to hard work, they can develop a very strong work ethic during the course of their employment. A candidate with a good work ethic may have some of these personality traits:
Professionalism is a highly sought-after behavior, particularly since many workplaces are moving away from traditionalism and into a more laid-back environment. This behavior is learned and not inherent, so if you’re hiring a candidate who comes from a more casual background, they may not have the experience to demonstrate the professionalism you’re looking for. However, if they possess the right personality traits, they can often pick up business cues and learn as they go.
Again, this may vary in importance depending on your unique company. These personality traits may often manifest themselves in other ways than traditional professionalism, so they may be valuable in other context as well. A highly professional person will be:
Create Your Checklist
Once you’ve chosen your ideal character traits, rank them on a scale of importance and use this scale to weight the final score of each candidate. Bring your list of traits with you to the interview, and rank each character based on how they stack up against your expectations. This will not only help you get a good picture of their personality, but you will also remain consistent and objective during the course of each interview.
Traditional and behavioral interviews are very similar to one another, with the only difference being the type of questions that are asked. But behavioral interviews can provide keen insight into the skill set and workplace behavior of your potential candidate. This set of questions is more complex, encouraging the interviewee to provide immediate, unrehearsed answers. If you ask the right questions, you can get a more complete picture of your candidate’s previous success on the job and how they could replicate those efforts at your company.
1. Tell me about a tough problem you’ve faced recently.
This question will not only illuminate the candidate’s previous work experience, but will also give you an idea of the way they think and solve problems. Interviewees may describe interpersonal dilemmas, issues with their work, or even struggles with professional skills like meeting deadlines or leading meetings. It’s a bad sign if they aren’t able to think of an answer — everyone faces problems in the workplace, regardless of the nature of the issue.
Questions that will give you similar insight include:
Describe a time you made a risky decision.
Tell me about how you’ve worked well under pressure.
2. Describe a conflict you’ve experienced with a co-worker or customer.
Behavioral interviews are as much about learning a candidate’s social skills as they are their technical skills. This question will delve into their ability to manage interpersonal conflicts. It’s a good sign if the candidate admits responsibility for the conflict or describes actively trying to resolve the issue. On the other hand, it’s a bad sign if they put all of the blame (and responsibility for resolution) on the other party. After they answer, you will have a good sense of their ability to accept responsibility and their interpersonal skills in the workplace.
Similar questions include:
Have you ever made a mistake? How did you handle it?
Describe a time you handled a difficult situation with a supervisor.
3. Describe a time you dealt with a workplace policy or guideline you didn’t agree with.
With this question, you’ll learn how your candidate navigates the complicated world of workplace diplomacy, as well as the strength of their problem solving and interpersonal skills. Look for interviewees who were able to work creatively with restrictions or were (respectfully) open with their supervisor about this conflict. Take it as a warning sign if they chose to break policy at the cost of their job performance because they felt they were right. Even if this displays initiative, it shows a lack of respect for authority and can be a bad sign of future behavior.
These questions will provide similar background:
What do you do when you disagree with your boss?
Give an example of a time you disagreed with your supervisor’s opinion.
These (and similar) questions can provide vital behavioral information on your potential candidates. They will give you a solid idea of the interviewee’s work history and ways in which that history might inform their future with your company.