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Motivating Employees: HR tips for getting employees motivated and engaged with your company.

Getting Interviews Right

How do you get the insights and information you need during job interviews? Asking the right questions is one key to getting critical intelligence, but figuring out just what to ask can be a challenge.
Will your question give the job candidate the opportunity to show off a well-rehearsed answer? Or will it push the interviewee to think, consider, and respond spontaneously and truthfully? If you try out original questions, will the candidate see the relevance and will their answers provide the evidence you need?
Careers website Glassdoor recently compiled a list of tried-and-true questions, including:

  • What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?
  • Why are you interested in working for [company name]?
  • Why do you want to leave your current company?
  • Why was there a gap in your employment?
  • What can you offer us that someone else cannot?
  • Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
  • Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
  • How do you handle pressure?
  • What questions do you have for me?

Of course, the Glassdoor team also has a list of “eccentric” questions, including:

  • What do you think of garden gnomes?
  • Just entertain me for five minutes, I’m not going to talk.
  • How would you cure world hunger?
  • How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator?

Illegal Interview Questions
Following are some of the more common illegal interview questions. While many HR and Recruiting staff know that these questions are illegal, many hiring managers do not. This is not an exhaustive list, just a list of the most common.  And while you most likely will not be arrested for asking these questions, you could find yourself and your business under a microscope for discriminatory hiring practices

  • Where were you born? While this question seems innocent enough on the surface, it could be used to gather information illegally about national origin. Although it may seem more relevant, hiring managers are also not allowed to ask “Are you a U.S. citizen?” Employers may ask whether you are authorized to work in the United States, but not specifically about citizenship. They may also ask for documents proving your authorization to work in the U.S. after you have been hired.
  • What is your native language? Again, the problem is that this question could be used to determine national origin. The employer can ask whether you know a particular language only if it is required for the job. For example, if job responsibilities include supporting Spanish-speaking customers, it’s fair to ask if you speak Spanish.
  • Are you married? Here’s another question that would seem innocent in most settings, but is not allowed in a job interview. Employers are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of marital status, so this question is not allowed.
  • Do you have children? Even though this sounds like a casual, innocent question, it is not allowed in a job interview. It’s covered by a general prohibition about discrimination over parental status.
  • Do you plan to get pregnant? This question is not legal. Employers used to ask this of women to avoid hiring someone that would go out on maternity leave. It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender and on the basis of pregnancy.
  • How old are you? Age discrimination is illegal, so this question is off limits. Some companies have tried to avoid hiring workers over a certain age for fear of higher insurance costs, the potential for more absences and for a general age bias. For this reason, employers are not supposed to ask what year you graduated from college, either, unless there is some job related reason for the question.
  • Do you observe Yom Kippur/Good Friday/Ramadan, etc.?Employers can’t discriminate on the basis of religion, so this question is illegal. Employers can ask whether you can work on holidays and weekends (if it’s a job requirement), but not about the observance of specific religious holidays.
  • Do you have a disability or chronic illness? It is illegal to use disability or medical information as a factor in hiring, so these questions are illegal. If the job would require some specific physical task, such as bending to install cables in walls, the employer can ask if you could perform those tasks with reasonable accommodation.
  • Are you in the National Guard? Although some managers may find it disruptive when employees leave for duty, it’s illegal to discriminate against someone because he or she belongs to the National Guard or a reserve unit.
  • Do you smoke or use alcohol? In general, employers can’t discriminate on the basis of the use of a legal products when the employee is not on the premises and not on the job.

Personal vision statements
Though some of those questions are predictable and others weird, practiced interviewers have some other helpful ideas.
Frank Evans, HR director at Alliance Credit Union in Fenton, Missouri, requests candidates to complete a “personal vision statement” during job interviews. In the first part of the statement, he asks candidates to give him a sentence or two about what kind of employee they want to be.
For part two, he asks them to provide a list of behaviors or traits they will show on the job daily so they match the first part of their statement. He gives the candidate examples for both parts.
This provides insights that continue to be useful. Evans notes that it supplies him with their thoughtful opinion about “about what they think will make them successful. It indicates whether they can make the connection between how they behave and their success–or lack thereof.”
The candidate’s vision also helps him manage performance if the person is hired. “If an employee is not showing the right behaviors, nothing helps make the point more than revisiting their personal vision statement and reminding them of what they essentially promised you before they were hired,” Evans says.
Executives’ suggestions
A group of executives was polled about their favorite interview questions in an online post on AOL Small Business. Here are a few of their responses:
“If I left you with a large, long-haired dog for 15 minutes and asked you to count/estimate the hair on the dog’s body, how would you approach getting me the most accurate hair count?”
This is a question from Julie Jumonville, cofounder and chief innovation officer at UpSpring Baby. According to her, the candidates most likely to be hired are those who responded they would make friends with the dog rather than bother trying to count hairs.
“Are you good at troubleshooting?” is the question recommended by Warren Brown, founder of CakeLove and Love Café. “If they ask me what I mean, the interview is over.”
Steve Strauss, columnist and author of The Small Business Bible suggests asking, “What is your favorite book or favorite movie?” He finds this makes the interview more personal and usually reveals interesting information about the interviewee.
My Favorites
It is my opinion that you will never get the information you need unless you ask open ended situational interview questions.  Think of an issue in your work and ask the question.  So for example you are a busy medical office and you are interviewing for a receptionist.  Consider:
“In a typical day you could have three lines ringing, one of the doctors asking you a question and two people waiting to sign in and pay their co-pays.  How do you handle that situation.” 
Some other great questions that are open ended include:

  • Describe the work environment or culture in which you are most productive and happy.
  • What, in your experience, motivates your best, most successful performance? Can you give us an example of this motivation in action in the workplace?
  • What role does your manager or supervisor play in your personal motivation at work?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to work closely with a coworker whom you disliked or with whom you had trouble working. What did you do to make the relationship work so you could succeed for your company?

Let them take a minute or two to consider the situation and then answer and the most important part is to LISTEN to what they have to say and pay attention to your radar.  In Human Resources the adage of “past performance is a future predictor” really holds strong.
All of this information should tell you that every interviewer has their own style.  Good luck finding yours.