10 Insightful Interview Questions to Screen Candidates

The best interviews I’ve experienced are those that don’t feel like an interview so much as a friendly conversation.  If you start with this intention when you interview, the relaxed atmosphere will allow your candidate to feel more open and your chances of getting beyond canned responses to the character of your potential hire greatly increase. In an era in which we know how important the ‘intangibles’ of personality, presence, and fit in a company’s culture can be, it’s more and more critical to get to an applicant’s unvarnished responses.

Kick things off by introducing yourself, outlining the structure of the interview, and explaining the potential position in plain language.  The purpose of the interview isn’t to launch into a series of difficult questions that ‘grill’ the candidate, but to elicit genuine responses to determine whether a given candidate is the right fit for your company.

Whether you are working solo in your garage, about to hire your first employee, or your established shop is growing beyond the capacity of your current staff, think beyond fulfilling short-term needs and consider your next hire as a long-term investment.  Thinking long-term in the initial phase can save the time and heartache of training someone who isn’t a good fit for your team going forward.

Use the following questions as a framework to find the genuine team players you need with your next interview:

1. Tell me a bit about yourself.

Beginning the interview with an open question with no ‘wrong’ answer should break through the initial fear most applicants feel. That said, remember that they are looking to impress; make sure to ask follow-up questions and direct responses to matters outside of the job description or the applicant’s work ethic. Remember that your applicant will be evaluating you and your company culture as much as you are addressing their fitness for the position; you want to demonstrate to the candidate that you care about the people in your organization, even as you tease out details about their personality and character.

2. What do you know about (your shop name)?

This reveals both your potential hire’s initiative and and curiosity while providing valuable insight on how an outsider perceives your business. Even so, it must be understood that as a potential hire, your applicant is likely to present a rosy view of who you are and what you do; be sure to follow up with pointed questions that expand beyond this positive screen. Ask your applicant about potential concerns that drove their research; what did your interviewee think they should know about their possible workplace?

3. What do you find most interesting about this position?

Whether their perceptions of the position are realistic to the posted duties or not, this question will get you to the heart of either what your applicant wants the position to be, or what they think you want the position to be. Both, luckily, are valuable signals against which you can educate. Restate the role and make sure to clarify what you consider to be the key goals for the position as well as the indicators you’ll be watching to evaluate performance. As you restate your goals, look for indicators of their excitement and engagement with the role as defined.

4. What type of environment do you thrive in?

This question is all about determining the candidate’s ability to fit into your shop’s circumstances. Going into any interview, you should have a clear vision both of how you want your shop to work and how it actually works. With your company culture in mind, you can more accurately gauge the response. Your applicant may be most comfortable in a rigidly organised environment; this may prove difficult if you have a more relaxed, ‘organized chaos’ approach.  Your potential hire might like working independently; if your shop is highly collaborative, relies on frequent meetings, or expects all hands to pitch in to help other departments as needed, your hire may not be as comfortable, or as useful, as they might be in a more suitable situation.

Ultimately, you may want to hire on attitude rather than aptitude; It’s much easier to train up a team member who lacks technical skill than to shift an attitude that doesn’t align with your shop, team and vision.

5. What is your proudest career achievement?

How a candidate answers this question reveals how they measure success, where they have confidence in their work, and how they feel about recognition. Though their answer will most likely be intended to impress, it’s worth evaluating how comfortable they are and how readily they answer this question. If the candidate struggles to answer this question, it could be a sign that they will struggle in taking on the kind of tasks in your shop that result in growth and achievement. That said, it maybe that they haven’t been placed in a position to show their talents; pay close attention to how this can be influenced by ‘fit’ in their previous position.

6. Tell me about a time you failed and how you recovered.

The ability to recover from failure, to learn from one’s mistakes, and to take ownership over a situation is critical for a staff member. At any stage in your shop, from the first step in sales, to the finishing and packaging of your product, a staff member will have to own their role, be self-aware, and maintain a level of intrinsic motivation. Those who crumple or stall when faced with difficulty will find it hard, especially in small and medium shops that rely on self-starters to keep the flow of work constant.

7. Why are you looking to leave your current role?

It may be uncomfortable for the candidate to answer, but it’s important to ask. If a potential hire has decided to leave an existing position, this answer can give you a window into how they are motivated, what the candidate values, and what needs must be met to keep them engaged. Not only can this let you know whether your candidate is intrinsically motivated or needs consistent outside feedback, you can evaluate the position on offer as to whether it can avoid the mismatch that incited the applicant to leave their last position, and/or what you may change in order to enrich the position if you think the applicant is otherwise well-suited.

8. What makes a great leader?

This question serves a dual function: if the position requires the candidate to manage, train or supervise other staff, their answer will reveal the traits that they’ll bring to the task, but no matter the position, this question will reveal the expectations the potential hire has for you and their immediate management. No matter their position, your employees will be expected to take responsibility in their own roles; understanding how they see the task of leadership, establishing shared purpose, and managing resources will help you to discover both how well they will mesh with your current management style, and their potential for being placed in a leadership position, whether that is in an official capacity, or on a departmental team or individual project basis.

9. What are your expectations for compensation?

No matter how awkward this conversation may be, there’s nothing to save your relationship with a potential hire if you don’t have transparency as it comes to their compensation package. Use this opportunity to both set clear expectations around the pay rate; even a prospect who is a perfect fit can damage your operation when placed in a role that does not cover their financial needs.  If they are ideal for the role, but their desires aren’t perfectly aligned with your expectations, ask if other incentives such as flexibility in shift times or bonuses based on performance might close the gap.

10. Do you have any questions for me?

Sometimes you learn more about a person by the questions they ask than those they answer. If you find that your potential hire has thoughtful and well-prepared questions at the ready, that alone shows a keen level of interest. Moreover, the type and content of the questions can give you a valuable insight into your applicant’s priorities as well as their understanding of the listing and the interview. Make certain that you also ask specifically if they have questions related to the key areas discussed in the interview; great listeners are welcome in any shop, and now is the time to clear up any misunderstandings.

Adapt these questions to suit your business, add questions more specific to the role and get creative; we work in a creative space, and the tired questions that everyone’s been asking won’t inspire or reveal much beyond the basics. Think about left-field questions to break up the monotony, like ‘what would be on your perfect soundtrack to print to?’ or better yet, ‘What would be your dream printing project?’ to get beyond the surface and to the passion that underlies their entry into garment decorating.

After the interview, compile a shortlist of front runners and get them in for a tour and trial run  There’s nothing like seeing them on the job to confirm whether they are the right fit for the job!  Remember to contact your shortlisters’ references and to thank all of the applicants who took the time to apply.  Everyone you interview is not only a potential employee but also an advocate, referrer, or maybe even a future customer, so you always want to maintain that attitude of professional and positive communication throughout.

Happy hiring!


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