What is your biggest weakness?

Ever gotten that question in a job interview? Most people are prepared with a pseudo positive answer. “I am an overachiever.” “I can sometimes take on too much and then work myself to death getting it all done.”  “I am too organized and so others’ lack of preplanning frustrates me.”

Anyone who has ever recruited in the professional services space knows it is not easy to get a read on smarts, culture, experience and fit in one hour – but yet that is what we often try to do.  Have you ever interviewed somebody and come out of the room thinking they were nice but you didn’t really know whether they would be good at the job? You are not alone. Getting a feel for people is important but you need to make sure you have questions tailored to each individual candidate based on the experience listed on their resume.  Think about the job description and the people in your organization who do that job well – what characteristics to they possess? Then find questions that will get at whether your candidate has those qualities.

This summer, when our professional services practice at BlissPR needed to do a spate of hiring at the junior level, I went on the hunt for new meaningful interview questions that would net the right members to join our team. Here are some worth sharing:

  1. At a recent Council of PR Firms event Kathleen Reynolds from Cooper Katz shared her new “go to” question: Tell me what you know about my company? Usually everyone who comes in for interviews has looked at the website, but asking people more directly what they know about the company shows not only the depth of their digging but what interests them. Do they cite the bios, the client list, the study on social media, the blog – this could tell you a lot about where their interests are.
  2. Melissa Buden, a senior PR specialist at a top international law firm, says her most important question is ‘Do you have any questions for me’? “If the interviewee has less than a full page of (good, well researched) questions to ask me, I’m less than impressed. The questions interviewers ask say more about how they think than any answer/response they give.”
  3. According to Peter Bregman from Harvard Business Review the one interview question you should always ask is: What do you do you in your spare time? He argues that this gets at peoples’ obsessions; which helps us understand candidates’ natural motivations.  I think he is on to something and I am just happy that my spare time is no longer spent recruiting; I’m looking forward to getting back to learning how to cook.
  4. Tell me about a project that failed and why? How did you manage the outcome? According to Kellie Sheehan, a professional services PR expert and VP at BlissPR, these questions can give personality cues. Do they accept being part of the failure or blame others, what do they perceive as a failure?

My favorite: give a business scenario, something that actually happened to a client that person will be working with, and ask how they would handle it. In PR we often have to make decisions on the fly, weighing all the variables and potential outcomes. I want to see how they think on their feet – and there is no way they can have a canned response to that one.

What are you favorite interview questions? Which ones get at the heart of what we need to know?

To reach Cortney:

Phone: 212.840.1661
Email: cortney@blisspr.com
Twitter: @cortneyr
LinkedIn: Cortney Rhoads Stapleton