Adhere to Scout Motto: 'Be Prepared' (During Interviews)

A recent CNBC article, written by Ruth Umoh, got us thinking. The article discussed the three interview questions that General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra asks of every job candidate:


Source: Steve Bruckmann / Shutterstock

  • How would your peers describe you in three adjectives?
  • How about your supervisor?
  • How about those who have reported to you?

Placing a high value on integrity, influence, and teamwork, Barra expects all three questions to elicit the same adjectives. “You don’t want people to manage up differently than they manage down, and you want people to work just as well with their peers and supervisors as they do with their subordinates.”
For Barra, the way an applicant answers these questions is just as important as the substance of the answers. A candidate’s response to questions about horizontal and vertical relationships in the workplace can help assess important character traits, such as her ability to think spontaneously and her level of self-awareness.

Interview with Plan and Purpose

So, what can we learn from Mary Barra? Most importantly, we’re reminded that preparing for an interview is very important. In other words, interview with a plan and a purpose. Although nothing guarantees a successful hire, a carefully planned and executed interview gives the HR professional the best shot at hiring the best candidate.
Think of it like this: the candidate likely spends time researching your company, and maybe even researching you, in preparation for the interview. Why shouldn’t you prepare, too, by mapping out your questions (in addition, of course, to researching the candidate) in advance of the interview?
Too often, in our experience, interviewers “wing it” during an interview, come across as ill-prepared in the candidate’s eyes, and perhaps fail to elicit important information. You may have only 15 to 20 minutes with the candidate. If you want to make every minute count, you’d better be prepared.
When mapping out your interview questions, keep in mind your company’s goals and culture, the type of position for which you are hiring, and the traits you wish to see in the ideal candidate. That’s precisely what Barra did in formulating her three interview questions.
Also, be sure to look for (and question the candidate about) obvious “holes” in her résumé. Has she hopped around from job to job? Are there lengthy gaps between jobs? Is she currently employed, and if not, why not? Don’t be afraid to ask questions about obvious “holes” in her background.

Questions Don’t Have to Be Job-relates

Remember that interview questions don’t always have to be job-related. Maybe you want to learn something about the candidate as a person, such as her hobbies or interests. Many candidates list that type of information at the bottom of their résumés. They are listed for a reason. Don’t be afraid to inquire. Simply engaging in conversation, particularly on a topic on which the applicant is interested, may help you assess, for example, her communication skills.
The most productive interviews often are conversational and chatty, as opposed to rapid-fire question and answer. A formulaic, point-by-point interview might get at bare-bones credentials, but a flowing conversation that hits key topics and core questions may help you get a better sense of the candidate’s most valuable traits as a worker and a person.
Interviewing is an art that carries its own legal risks. As all HR practitioners know, certain topics are off-limits, such as questions that may elicit information about the candidate’s age, sexual orientation, disability, prior workers’ compensation claims, or desire to have children, just to name a few. And the off-limits questions vary by state. So, make sure you consult with your employment counsel if you have any questions about the interview process in general or about the off-limits questions.

Andy Rodman is a shareholder and director at the Miami office of Stearns Weaver Miller—and editor of Florida Employment Law Letter. If you have a question or issue that you would like Andy to address, e-mail or call Andy at 305-789-3255. Your identity will not be disclosed in any response.
This column isn’t intended to provide legal advice. Answers to personnel-related inquiries are highly fact-dependent and often vary state by state, so you should consult with employment law counsel before making personnel decisions.