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Today, in Part 3 of our article series featuring employment insights from Howard Kesten and APA Search, we hear some practical tips for offering potential employees a strong, productive interview. (If you missed Part 2, click here.)

Conducting an interview can be just as daunting as being interviewed. There are so many questions one can ask. In what order do we ask them? What if we forget to ask the right questions? What are the right questions? How can I be sure that the candidate isn’t just giving me the answers they think that I want to hear?

Let’s start out with the basics: Was the candidate punctual? Are they dressed appropriately? Do they make good eye contact and greet you with a firm handshake? If so, we’re off to a good start.

First, take a few minutes to relax the individual. A nervous candidate will not be at his or her best unless they are calm and feel comfortable with the interviewer. A brief conversation about the drive over, the weather or other non-interview related conversation usually does the trick.

Take the next 10 to 15 minutes to describe exciting facts about the company and the job opportunity. Remember it’s not your choice as to which candidate to hire unless they all want the job!

One of the secrets of conducting a great interview is establishing patterns in a candidate’s behavior and performance over the course of their career. Focus initially on the individual’s education. How did they do overall in school? What courses did they like? What courses did they find challenging? What were the extracurricular activities that they chose to participate in? How did they do? What events took place in school that inspired them to begin their chosen career path?

These simple questions will give you a base line of what the candidate likes and doesn’t like to do, what the candidate does well and what the candidate might not do well.

Review the candidate’s earliest job and work your way forward to their most recent position. For each position ask the same simple questions:

  • What inspired you to take this job?
  • What were your specific responsibilities and deliverables in this position?
  • What did you like and not like about the job?
  • What were your significant achievements while in the job?
  • If they were/are in a leadership role, are they taking individual credit or crediting the team? Ask them to talk about people they mentored that went on to successful careers.
  • Ask them about their significant challenges, mistakes and failures and what they struggled with.
  • Ask them what they learned while in this job.
  • Ask them about the supervisor they most respected and why.
  • And finally, ask them why they left each position.

After you follow this line of questions for each position you will have a good sense as to what are the individual’s strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. You will recognize patterns in their behavior and performance. You will instinctively know if they will do well in the position and stay with the company.

If you feel strongly at this point that the candidate is not the right fit, do yourself and the candidate a favor by ending the interview early.

If you are pleased with the candidate’s answers you should begin discussing the position for which the candidate is interviewing. Ask the candidate about their understanding of the open position and then to describe why they think they are uniquely qualified for the position. Use this opportunity to better explain the position if necessary.

If the position you’re filling is an executive or management role, take the time to describe the challenges that this individual will face in the position, and then ask them to describe the strategy that they would use to address the challenges. Drill down on their comments and ask for details.

Go through each specific requirement for the position, ensuring that the candidate has the appropriate skill set and experience.

Be sure to measure the quality of the candidate’s questions at all points during the interview. The better qualified, smarter candidates will ask you the more insightful, intelligent questions that will showcase their knowledge and experience.

I always ask the candidates how their references (peers, subordinates and supervisors) might describe them when we contact them. This question always leads to a new level of transparency with the candidate. If there is something really negative or positive we should know, this is typically when we get this information from the candidate.

During the last portion of the interview ask the candidate about their continued interest in the position and what additional questions they may have.

If you are more than pleased with the candidate’s interview, let the candidate know that they have done well and that you would like to take the process to the next step, providing a map for the process moving forward. If you keep your feelings a secret and the candidate does not know your interest level, you might lose the candidate to another company’s offer the next day.

If at all possible have at least two people attend every interview. We all have selective hearing.

Before the process actually begins, create a matrix that you will use to measure each candidate against the other and the requirements of the position. On a spreadsheet, list the skills and experience in order of priority and give each item an importance factor of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most important. On the column adjacent to the importance factor, create a candidate score column, ranking the candidates for each item from 1 through 10 with 10 being the best rating. Add the columns and you will have a measured ranking that you can compare to the “gut” feeling you have about the candidates.

Certainly, there are hundreds of additional questions you can weave into this basic interview format.

Happy interviewing!

Editor’s Note: Have questions about job searches, interviews or finding (and keeping) great employees? Send them our way and Howard may answer them in an upcoming feature! Send your questions to AMN Editor Amy Antenora at

For nearly three decades, APA Search has helped numerous aftermarket companies find great talent. The firm has worked with clients to help fine-tune their organizational structure as well as develop successful succession strategies. In the coming weeks, Howard Kesten and APA Search will continue share with AMN readers practices that will help keep your company staffed with the most qualified executives, rather than the most available. If you’re a career-seeker, we’ll provide you with the secret sauce for effective and successful interviewing. Stay tuned!

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