• Estimated read time: 7 min
  • Date posted:18/05/2020
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As the hiring manager, knowing what questions to ask candidates in interviews can be extremely challenging. Since it’s your responsibility to find the best fit candidate for the position, the questions you ask are fundamentally important in this process. They need to successfully assess the candidate’s skills, experience and values. The pressure to successfully identify the ideal candidate can cause many hiring managers to fear hiring and interviews altogether. However, building your team and discovering a candidate who can make an effective contribution to the organisation is just part of the job.

The reason you’ve invited candidates to interview is because their job search touchpoints contain the skills and experience the role requires. But the interview is an assessment of how well they perform under pressure and an opportunity to discover their values, motivation and work ethic. Determining a candidate’s values will essentially dictate whether they will make a good cultural fit. If you ask common interview questions, you’ll receive common interview answers that don’t challenge the interviewee or make your hiring decision any easier. It’s easy for the candidate to recite a standardised answer to “tell me about yourself” or “what is your biggest weakness?”. However, by putting a little more effort into composing questions that serve to identify what makes each candidate tick, it will be easier to spot an excellent candidate from a poor candidate. In fact, seventy-four per cent of employers admit to hiring the wrong candidate; conducting an efficient interview will prevent this from occurring.

Structured vs Unstructured interviews

There are two different types of interviews – structured and unstructured:

Unstructured interviews flow like a conversation between two acquaintances; nothing is planned. Conversation passes from the interviewer to the interviewee, depending on the responses of each person. For this reason, rapport is easily built. However, it’s easy to slide off-topic and it’s much harder to assess each candidate against the role’s requirements and compare each candidate against each other when the questions you ask are completely different.

Structured interviews are a fairer way of assessing interview performance. Think of it as a science experiment; you want to ensure the interview is as reliable and valid as possible in order to come to a fair conclusion. In this instance, the fair conclusion would be determining which candidate is most suited for the position based on their interview performance, previous experience and skillset. In a structured interview, you ask each candidate the same questions in the same order, then score them against a predetermined scale. The higher the candidate scores, the more likely they are to be a good fit for the role. However, while structured interviews give you tangible answers, you shouldn’t feel deterred from asking each candidate specific questions related to their career or skills. Doing so allows your questions to be answered and gives you further insight into what makes each candidate tick.

Before you begin interviewing candidates, you need to decide which type of interview is best suited to the position you’re recruiting for. It’s generally advised to follow a structured interview, although you can combine elements of an unstructured interview to build a good relationship with the candidate.

The different types of questions

  • Fact-based/general questions: This type of question is used to clarify information from their job search touchpoints. For example, how many years did you work at [organisation name]? These questions might work best at the beginning of the interview as you ease into it.
  • Hypothetical questions: This involves placing the candidate in a scenario related to the job and its responsibilities to assess how they’d do it. For example, what would you do if a member of your team was consistently making mistakes at work? Make sure that the hypothetical questions are relevant to the role and its responsibilities. The candidate’s answer to this example question will assess their communication and leadership abilities – qualities that may be crucial to carry out the role.
  • Stress questions: These questions involve intentionally placing the candidate in a stressful experience to learn how they react to stress. For example, how many other jobs are you applying for? Or how successful do you think you’ve been so far? While stress might be a part of the job, and you want to see how they’d cope with it, stress questions can build bad rapport and create a bad candidate experience.
  • Behavioural and competency questions: The general consensus is that past performance is a good predictor of future performance. These questions are looking for specific examples that demonstrate the key skills outlined in the job description. For example, tell me about a time you were under a lot of pressure. What was going on, and how did you get through it? It’s worth noting that a candidate’s answers to these questions can be verified by contacting their referees. Behavioural questions are the most common type of interview question and allow for rich, detailed answers from the candidate.

So you might be wondering what type of questions you should be asking your candidates. It’s important to remember that there’s no one size fits all approach. What works for one position, or one organisation, might not work for another. If in doubt, it’s best to cover all bases and include questions of each type so that you can assess how the candidate responds to each. However, you might want to include more behavioural and competency-based questions than any other type because they are a great way of determining whether the candidate has the required skills and experience for the position you’re hiring for.

For more information on how to prepare for an interview, read our blog: Hiring Managers: How To Prepare For A Killer Interview.

RELATED: Increase quality-of-hire by partnering with a reputable boutique executive search firm

Find out more

Successful interviews that truly assess a candidate’s ability depend on the questions that you ask. There are hundreds of interview questions out there that you can incorporate, but here are just a few behavioural and competency-based questions to get you on your feet.

8 questions you SHOULD ask

  • What was the most useful piece of criticism you ever received? 
    • This question will help to assess their resilience – the ability to recover quickly from roadblocks. Their answer will reveal whether they will take suggestions from other people with the right attitude.
  • What is your biggest weakness? What have you learned from it?
    • Similar to the question above, this question tests whether the candidate is willing to acknowledge their faults. If the candidate seems stressed or hostile to admit their weaknesses, this fails to show self-awareness and their ability to grow in their career.
  • What leader or leaders do you look up to? 
    • As a life science executive, leadership is usually an important part of the role, depending on the seniority level. This question will help to determine their leadership style and whether it aligns with the organisations.
  • What one skill makes you the most qualified for this position? 
    • Hearing from the candidate first-hand why they’re better than anyone else will give you valuable insight. Rather than telling you what makes them better, they should be proving this to you with detailed examples of their previous experience and accomplishments.
  • What’s the first thing you’d do if given the job? 
    • If a candidate can demonstrate a deep understanding of the role and organisation, they’ll be far more likely to succeed. It will also help you distinguish candidates that will have an impact from the get-go.
  • What can you tell me about yourself that isn’t in your CV? 
    • This will give you greater insight into the candidate’s personality and their interests outside of work. Candidate’s with the best skillset, experiences and mentality usually won’t be able to fit everything about themselves onto a two-page document; this question will allow them to elaborate.
  • How do you assess the quality of your work?
    • This question will demonstrate whether a candidate has a critical eye not just when it comes to their teams work, but theirs too. Additionally, the question determines a candidate’s attitudes towards growing, learning and bettering themselves.
  • Why are you leaving your current employer?
    • This question will tell you what kind of employee they are; a candidate that badmouths their current employer is one to avoid. The candidate’s answer will explain what they find important in a job and ultimately determine whether they would be a good cultural fit.

While there are hundreds of excellent questions to ask, there are as many bad questions. Here’s a short list of some that are best avoided:

8 questions you SHOULD NOT ask

  • Tell me about yourself.
    • Time is short in the interview – ask them directly and specifically what it is you want to know. What are your motivations? Talk me through your career trajectory and how you came to be where you are today. What are your greatest strengths and how do you apply them in your current role? Be specific and show interest in the candidate.
  • How old are your children? Are you a US citizen? How long do you plan to work until you retire?
    • Not only are these questions immoral, but they are also illegal. Asking questions about nationality, disability, religion, age, gender or sex could cause your organisation to have a lawsuit on their hands.
  • What were you earning at your last position? 
    • Don’t be tempted to ask this question. Asking it and hearing a number higher than what you intend to offer the candidate will instil bias into your hiring process. You’ll be far more likely to dismiss a candidate in your mind midway through the interview before you even getting to the negotiation stage.
  • What would your worst enemy say about you? 
    • This question will reward you with a dishonest and fabricated response.
  • Describe yourself in three words. 
    • This question doesn’t provide any real value. The candidate might say “proactive, leader and innovative”, but it doesn’t actually encourage them to explain any of their answers. How are they proactive? Why do they think they’re a good leader? When was the last time they were innovative and what results transpired?

For more advice on what not to say or do, read our blog: 5 Life Science Hiring Manager Fails (And Tips To Avoid Them).

Some final thoughts

  • Make sure to brush up on the job description and the candidate’s touchpoints before the interview. Create a candidate persona of who you want them to be and design your questions to assess candidates based on it.
  • Print out a copy of the candidate’s job search touchpoints as well as their job advert. Have these documents in front of you during the interview so that it might prompt additional questions.
  • Keep in mind the 80-20 paradigm; the candidate should speak for 80% of the interview, and you speak for 20%. In order to obtain true value from the interview, the candidate needs to give you a detailed overview of their experience and abilities, and they can’t do so if you’re speaking for the majority of it.
  • Look for a good cultural fit – someone that aligns with the organisation’s values, but also someone that can bring a fresh perspective to the team.
  • Avoid asking cliche questions – they won’t give you the insight you need on each candidate.
  • Don’t just wing the interview. Interviewing candidates require a lot of preparation and organisation on your behalf, and this includes formulating the most effective questions. If you just ‘wing it’ you risk forgetting to ask the most crucial questions.

For more hiring advice tailored to hiring managers in the life science industry…

* Fraser Dove International is a specialist executive search firm operating exclusively in the Life Science industry. Passionate about people, we take pride in helping exceptional life science organisations source the talent they need to design, manufacture and distribute life-changing drugs, treatments and devices which transform and save patient lives.