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Beyond strengths and weaknesses

An introduction to interview questions.

Successful hiring managers have mastered the art of determining candidates’ “hot points” and using that information to both determine if they are the right fit for the company and to position the job to make it appealing to them. And that starts with knowing the right interview questions to ask. My three favorite questions are surprisingly simple, but you will learn a tremendous amount.

Question 1

What are you looking for in the next step of your career?
The components of a candidate’s answer will give you the language and answers you need to position your opportunity. Or the answer will tell you (very quickly) that this candidate isn’t the right one. I like to use this question when I’m pretty sure a candidate is overqualified, and I want them to realize this isn’t the job they want.

Question 2

Why did you leave XYZ?
It might be a basic interviewing technique, but you can learn a lot about a person and their internal motivations by walking through their career history. You’ll find that some only talk about the company and the associated drama. Others will be irritated that you’re making them talk about something they did in 1985. Others will display a negative attitude about 75% of their past jobs. Each response tells me something about the candidate and gives me insight into their motivations.

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Question 3

My third and favorite question is also the most powerful: the follow-up question.

Beyond these go-tos, I like to break down questions into three categories: functional, behavioral, and situational. Functional questions reveal a candidate’s specific skills and traits, and will help you really determine if they can do what you need them to do. Behavioral and situational questions delve deeper into how they have handled and will handle common situations specific to their positions.

Functional interview questions

Functional interview questions are a simple way to determine if a candidate can do the job you are hiring for; they are focused on what the individual has done in the past. As such, they’re ideal for the first interview, which can be conducted by phone.

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As a headhunter, my job is to find someone who can hit the ground running. The best indicator of future performance is past performance—so that is my initial focus.

During the first interview, I provide a job overview with responsibilities, and also go over “deal breakers.” So, if you need them to have SAP experience, that is a deal-breaker question. If you know that they need to work three out of four Saturdays a month, that’s a deal-breaker question because a lot of candidates will pull themselves out of consideration.

The best phone interview questions address the question: “Can they do the job?” They should be functional in nature.

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On their base level, functional questions only require a yes or a no answer; however, savvy interviewers know that valuable information can be gained by using follow-up questions to get a clear understanding of the candidate’s level of knowledge and experience. Below are three sets of functional questions to ask:


  • Have you ever had profit and loss responsibility for a $3 million budget?
  • Have you ever done retail or inside sales?
  • Have you used QuickBooks?


  • Have you ever managed a team of people?
  • Have you ever had to provide corrective action or disciplinary action to an employee?
  • Have you ever had to fire someone?

Sales and marketing

  • Have you ever developed a marketing plan?
  • Have you ever sold “this”?
  • Have you ever sold to “this type of customer”?
  • Have you ever sold through “this channel”?

I recommend using functional questions in your first interview, and conducting that interview via phone, even if they’re local. That way, when you get to the face-to-face interviews, you know you’re dealing with people who can handle the basics of the job, and you can focus your efforts on behavioral- and situational-based questions.

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