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Your time is precious, and so is that of the candidates that you are interviewing. Knowing what type of interview questions to ask interviewees is important. You want to spend enough time on the interview process that you select the right candidate, however you do not want to waste time by asking questions that either do not add value or, even worse, which confuse or mislead. Interview Skills Clinic run in-house Interviewer Training Courses to help your Hiring Managers interview more effectively.

Research has shown that the less structured an interview is, the more likely it is the interviewer will go ‘off piste,’ with the resultant risk that this supposedly objective exercise either descends into a cosy chat with no real insight gained into the candidate’s skills or motivation, or that it will become an interrogation leading to defensive answers. Without a structured approach, the interviewer is more likely to exhibit bias and offer the position to someone who shares their own attitudes, values, and speech patterns; someone that they would like to have a drink with.

The more structured and linear the interview process is for each candidate, the less likely that conscious or unconscious bias can creep into the process, and the less risk of a successful appeal against the verdict, or even a claim for discrimination. An example of an organisation that runs a highly structured interview service is the UK Civil Service. The Civil Service has a statutory duty to represent and reflect the society that it serves and, precisely for this fact, has a rigorous and egalitarian recruitment process designed to assess candidates solely on their relevant skills and experience, and to eliminate bias.

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So, what type of questions should you ask as an interviewer, and why?

Closed Questions
Closed questions, also known as polar questions, generally lead to one-word answers, namely ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or a short number of other possible options. They can be useful for quickly establishing facts, such as whether someone is able to drive. “Are you currently employed?” may be a quick way of understanding whether a candidate is working or not, especially if their CV is a bit ambiguous, but can come across as abrupt. “Tell me about your current work situation?” would be a more nuanced approach and more likely to put the candidate at ease.

Open Questions
These cannot be answered with either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and are designed to encourage wider discussion and fuller answers. They typically start with ‘What’, ‘When’, ‘Why’ or ‘Tell me’, and are used to encourage critical discussion and establish more information about a subject or person.

Probing Questions
These are used for gaining clarification, avoiding misunderstanding, and encouraging candidates to open-up and give more information about a subject. They can be used as a follow-on to a previous question to ‘dig deeper’ and are frequently used sequentially to build on the answers to previous questions. Probing questions can also be useful for encouraging shy or reluctant candidates to give a fuller account of a given situation.

Structured or Framework Questions
These are often formulated as open questions, however the candidate is told that they should respond in a structured way, for example using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) framework. They often start with “Tell me about a time when….” and are used to assess specific competencies or behaviours. In the invitation to an interview, the candidate may be asked to prepare examples from previous work situations, using the STAR framework, which reflect the desired competencies within the Job specification. For example, the ability to work in teams.

Value-based Questions
If your organisation bears a high-profile brand where trust is critical to the service or product, then you might consider including value-based questions as part of the interview process, to help assess how the candidate would behave in an example work situation. If compassion is intrinsic to your brand, then you might also consider presenting a hypothetical scenario to the candidate, perhaps involving a vulnerable customer, and ask them how they would respond to the situation, and why.

Types of Question To Avoid:

Leading Questions
Leading questions are designed to steer a candidate towards a certain positive or negative response or outcome and therefore should not be used in interviews. They are commonly used in closing a sale “It’s a great car for the price, isn’t it?” and can be seen as getting the answer that the interlocutor wants to hear, perhaps from a favoured candidate. Psychologically, when put on the spot, we prefer saying ‘yes’ than ‘no’, and therefore generally opt for the former.

Rhetorical Questions
Unique in that they don’t require an answer, rhetorical questions are simply statements that are phrased as questions to facilitate the flow of conversation, and to encourage agreement. Often used by coaches and public speakers to increase engagement and get the audience on side, they should not be used in an interview context.

Remember that your interview questions should be carefully constructed to distinguish between candidates, with the aim of selecting someone possessing the right values, skills, and experience to really add value to your organisation. Although all candidates are different, and you may want to explore different aspects of their CV’s, you should follow the same format and ask the same questions to ensure a fair process.

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