Interviewing Techniques: Tips from the Pros: Ask the Right Questions to Assess the Skills and Attitudes of Job Candidates

By Myers, Randy | Journal of Accountancy, August 2006 | Go to article overview

Interviewing Techniques: Tips from the Pros: Ask the Right Questions to Assess the Skills and Attitudes of Job Candidates


Myers, Randy, Journal of Accountancy


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

A skillful interview consists of

* Preparation. Collect information about the job you're trying to fill; Know what the duties are and what experience, credentials and core competencies are required to fulfill them. Know the type of clients and industries the candidate will be working with so you can make a good match.

* Probing questions. Ask behavioral questions about how candidates have handled specific situations in the past, how they managed a relationship with an uncooperative colleague, or how they proceeded with a project for which the instructions were not clear. Ask open-ended questions linked to the core competencies you consider most important for the job, and particularly about their relationships with colleagues. Avoid questions prohibited by law: They include those concerning gender, disabilities, religion, sexual preference, political affiliation, family status, age, race or nationality.

* Attitude assessment. Many recruiters ask candidates what they like about public accounting and why they're applying to the particular firm. Look for clues to their personality, character and professionalism.

* Communication skills assessment. Weigh the candidates' answers and actions to evaluate how well they express themselves.

* Timetable establishment. Tell candidates when they can expect your decision.

**********

What makes a good interview? The JofA canvassed recruiters at some of the nation's largest accounting and executive search firms who interview job applicants for a living. Whether you're hiring an associate right out of college or searching for a new partner, their advice on how to prepare for an interview, ask the right questions and assess the responses can help you be a better judge of talent.

To get the most from an interview, it's important to be prepared. It's not enough just to read over an applicant's resume and cover letter; you also must collect information about the job you're trying to fill. Know what the duties are, and what experience, credentials and core competencies are required to fulfill them. If the successful candidate will be working with clients, be sure you understand what type of clients, and in what industries. All this information will be valuable, says Cheryl Levy, national director of recruiting and human resources at KPMG LLP, in helping you prepare appropriate questions for the candidate. "If you don't do your homework," cautions Bill Bufe, CPA, partner and director of human resources at Plante & Moran PLLC in Southfield, Mich., "chances are you won't be able to draw good conclusions about the individual you're interviewing."

Next, be sure to manage the allotted time well. Be prompt, just as you expect the prospect to be prompt. Allocate ample time for the meeting--most recruiters allow 45 minutes--but don't schedule your day too tightly, Bufe says, in case you find yourself wanting a little more time with a candidate.

THE MAIN EVENT

Begin the interview by discussing the candidate's resume and having him or her clarify anything that's unclear. Then it's time for the main event: posing questions that will help you decide whether the person in front of you is the one who best fits your organization. Avoid the types of questions you might have heard when you were coming out of college, such as inquiries about how you'd respond to hypothetical situations, analytical quizzes (How would you count all the golf balls in the United States?) or questions that merely elicit opinions (If you were a car, what kind of car would you be?). Of course, avoid questions prohibited by law, meaning anything that does not relate directly to the candidate's ability to perform the job in question. In general that means no questions about gender, disabilities, religion, sexual preference, political affiliation, family status, age, race or nationality.

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