Interviews are weird.
They’re closer to oral exams than they are conversations.
It’s an hour long test in which a candidate has to convince the employer that they are the right fit for the job. It’s also the one and only shot for the hiring manager to convince the candidate that the job will be fulfilling and the business a rewarding place to be.
Of course, there are multistage interviews but consider how long it takes the average person to find a new house, car or 4k TV. In real world terms we take far longer to agonise over decisions that matter far less.
Yet both parties are required to make decisions that will impact on their lives and on that business for possibly years to come.
Which is why – whichever side of the table you’re sat on – it’s important to ask the right questions.
We don’t mean the usual ‘how did you hear about the position?’ stuff. Those questions are fine but hold very little value in determining cultural fit.
They’re also irrelevant in relation to the candidate’s suitability.
Because choosing the right candidate or business for you is so important, we’ve put together our top questions to ask both the Interviewee and the Interviewer.
Questions to Ask the Interviewee
Asking your potential new recruit the right questions isn’t just about testing their ability to think on their feet. Or how they do under pressure.
It’s a way of determining cultural fit, attitude and the ability to adapt in a fast moving environment. Mainly because there aren’t many industries that are standing still these days. Certainly not in the engineering and technical markets.
Choosing the right questions helps the candidate to understand you’re looking for something more than an impressive CV. While also giving them opportunity to show off for you.
Recall an occasion when you overcame a challenge
This question is a great way to determine how well your potential hire will cope once they’ve joined the team.
Adapting to a new role is stressful. In addition to new faces and new processes the new recruit has to become effective as quickly as possible.
They also need to cope with conflict, office politics or leading a team with people they don’t know terribly well.
Gauging how they handled a challenging situation is a good indicator of how well they’ll perform under pressure in the role and as part of a new team.
It’s a question that can put candidates on the spot so give them the time they need to answer.
Describe an occasion when you disagreed with a decision and how you coped with it.
Not every decision made by the boss is going to sit well. This question is a way to find out how your candidate deals with conflict with upper management.
This isn’t an opportunity for the candidate to talk about what an egomaniacal incompetent their current CEO is.
You want to find out from them how they dealt with the situation. Were they able to work through it to build a more effective working relationship? Or did the way they approach the request lead to an improvement to the business?
Basically, this is about whether or not they are able to set ego aside for the greater good.
What working environment suits you best?
This question is designed purely to determine whether or not your company set up is the right fit for the candidate.
Culture is so important to a business and it doesn’t take much for the delicate balance of that ecosystem to be disrupted.
If a candidate likes peace and quiet so they can get their head down for extended periods, that’s totally cool. If you’re office is informal, lively and people fire foam projectiles at one another, then it’s not a good fit.
It may seem harsh but it’s a legitimate reason for turning someone down. They simply won’t be happy and will make others unhappy as a result. Protecting the culture of your business is important because it’s a key selling point for candidates and clients.
If successful, what would be the first thing you’d tackle?
This question will really separate the wheat from the chaff so it may be worth saving until the second (or third) stage.
It allows you to tackle two important issues. The first is making sure the candidate fully understands the role they have been put forward for.
The top level nature of interviews sometimes means that the details can get glossed over. This is a good opportunity to determine how much attention has been paid.
The second issue is it pushes the candidate to demonstrate knowledge. You’re asking the candidate to prioritise tasks as well as start to provide some detail.
How would you describe your working style?
Team dynamic is important. Studies suggest that teams whose personalities are too similar don’t perform as well those who are more diverse.
However, it’s important to strike a balance.
Just as you don’t want someone who doesn’t suit the culture, having someone who won’t work within the structure will cause problems too.
Equally if you’re a heads down kind of group, a live wire will likely ruffle feathers, however unintentionally.
Questions to Ask the Interviewer
Just as it’s important for the interviewer to determine if you’re the right fit for them, you need to do the same.
In reality your concerns will be similar but subtly different. Culture, suitability and work environment are all really important, without doubt.
However, as you’re the one potentially doing the work you need to dig a little deeper.
In addition to learning about the culture you need to try to get a feel for the structure, management style, expectations and support.
Depending on your preferences, the perfect job on paper may be a total nightmare in practice. Asking the right questions will give you the answers you need to make an informed decision about the role.
What are the biggest challenges facing the company at the moment?
There’s an element of due diligence wrapped in this question. If you’re evasive then they could be hiding something. It could be money troubles or internal upheaval. Either way, if they can’t be honest with you it’s a definite red flag.
Assuming you can get an answer, this helps you to figure out where your skills can be put to good use to resolve those challenges.
What are the biggest opportunities facing the company at the moment?
If you’re asking what the challenges are then you should be asking what the opportunities are too. After all you’re not always being hired to save the day.
Learning about the opportunities should provide insight into the drive and passion of the business. This will help you get a feel for the work ethic of the business and an insight into the culture too.
Describe the company culture.
If the interviewer hasn’t touched on the culture – only asked the kind of culture you’d prefer – now is the time to enquire.
Company culture is becoming one of the most important considerations for both employees and clients in modern business. You need to be sure that the culture is a good fit for you, no matter how much you may want the job.
If you’re not a good fit then it’s better to know now rather than have the hassle of trying to move on after only a couple of months.
What do you see as the day to day responsibilities of this role?
This question is something of a two-edged sword because if it’s a newly created position, they won’t know. However, they should have some idea of the key tasks you’ll be expected to carry out.
In this circumstance it serves as a useful test to determine how ready they are to bring someone with your skills on board.
Assuming it’s an existing role, it’s a chance for you to learn as much as possible about the job. This will help you decide if it’s something you really want to do.
What do you like best about working for the company?
This question can be quite revealing. If they enjoy their work and the organisation it will be apparent in their answer and their body language.
The caveat is depending on who you’re talking to the answer will be wildly different. The owner of the business will answer very differently than someone from middle management.
It’s a useful question because it gives you further insight into the culture, company structure and things like career progression. All from the perspective of someone who has been there and done that.
The risk is: if the interviewer is having an off day, doesn’t particularly like the company for personal reasons or is the person you’re potentially replacing, then you may end up with a distorted view.
So the lesson is to take opinions with a pinch of salt. Either way it will provides more information to help you make a decision over accepting or rejected a job offer.
Regardless of whether you are the candidate or the employer, interviews are a challenge. They are a pseudo-courtship in which both parties try to impress without appearing too eager.
Yet over the space of a couple of hours you need to find sufficient common ground in order to enter into a contractual partnership. And spend more time together than you do with your partner.
Which is why finding the right candidate and the right business to work for is so important.
If you’re searching for great engineering talent and would like to discuss your requirements, then get in touch today. A member of the team will be only too happy to assist.
If you have a technical background or a career in engineering and you’re looking for the perfect role in defence or aerospace then upload your CV today. You can check out our current vacancies or contact us to speak to a member or the team.