How to interview potential employees and get the real answers

Although a prime concern for managers and HR professionals is assessing the positive contribution that a potential employee can make, it’s also important to watch out for telltale signs that will help you avoid hiring someone who will prove unsuitable further down the line.

Here’s how to interview potential staff while keeping an eye out for possible shortcomings:

1. Arriving late

Yes, taxis can be late, trains cancelled or people caught up in traffic jams. But it’s reasonable to expect that someone who really wants the job will leave early enough –and have planned sufficiently well – to get to the interview with some margin for error. If not, it’s likely that they’re disinterested, poorly organised and are simply the kind of person who is chronically late. Whichever it is, this should mark them out as someone you don’t want in the company. An inability to be on time is also a key factor if you’re interviewing for shift work positions. If they can’t be on time in the middle of a normal workday, how will they fare at 5am on a Sunday morning, for example?

2. Lack of enthusiasm

One of the most important interviewing tips is to identify passion and enthusiasm. It’s a vital attribute, and without it even an experienced and well qualified candidate should be viewed as unsuitable. Remember that the best employee is likely to be the one who absolutely, positively wants to be there. Someone who seems too nonchalant may be simply be looking for ‘any job’ or hoping to mark time at your company until something more suitable comes along. As Ken Varejes, a highly successful entrepreneur and now CEO of Primedia Unlimited, points out: “I’m a great believer in passion; if you have a clever guy and a stupid guy – I’d rather take the stupid guy if he’s the one with the passion”.

3. Being poorly prepared

Always ask pointed questions as to what the candidate knows about the company, the industry in general, and the position on offer. This is one of our favourite interviewing tips because it tells the interviewer whether the candidate has done his or her homework and is properly prepared. Generally, the more senior the position being applied for, the more comprehensive you’d expect their preparation and insights to be. But these days – with so much information being available on the internet via annual reports, press releases, news articles, etc – it’s not unreasonable to expect even fairly junior applicants to have more knowledge at their fingertips than, say, a decade ago. A poorly put-together CV also indicates an inability or unwillingness to prepare properly – certainly not traits you desire in your employees.

4. Have an unpleasant personality

Let’s face it, everyone puts their best foot forward in an interview situation, so the personality traits you see portrayed by a candidate are as good are they’re going to get! Look for chinks in the armour which may indicate that the façade you see being portrayed is vastly different to the reality. Being pushy, aloof, demanding, arrogant or difficult may all be indicators of potential problems. So too can poor treatment of junior staff like receptionists and secretaries – so it can be useful to ask them how they interacted with the candidate. When interviewing, it’s also important to remember that potential employees need to be able to ‘get on’ with existing staff and fit into the corporate culture.

5. Being overly worried about salary

Yes, it’s true that people won’t work for you for love or a pittance! But, at the same time, a candidate whose only concern is the pay packet at the end of the month is unlikely to be a good long-term fit. Staff who feel enthusiasm for their job and empathy with their employer are far more likely to be with the company for longer and to make a more valuable contribution. A key interviewing tip is to look out for the ‘money-obsessed’ – they’ll job hop as soon as a rival offers them even a few rands more!


Strategic Marketing Magazine

“The Everything HR Kit: A Complete Guide to Attracting, Retaining and Motivating High-Performance Employees” by John Putzier and David Baker