The 3 Interview Types: Screening, Interviewing and Reference Checking

You may have a master’s degree in business, but I very much doubt that anyone taught you the practical ins and outs of how to make a good hire. Since I’ve done hundreds of hiring interviews, I’ll tell you in this short article exactly what to ask at each critical stage:  Screening, interviewing and reference checking.

This stuff is gold.  Here’s exactly what you ask for each one and some master tips thrown in for free!

Screening interviews (10-20 minutes)

The screening interview is designed to be short.  It’s there so that you don’t have to sit through a 30-minute pretend interview when you know in the first two minutes that the candidate isn’t right for you.

The screening interview can be done over the phone, by virtual meeting, or in person.  The key to screening is to manage the expectations of the candidate.  Let them know that the interview will take about 10 minutes.  If the candidate isn’t right for you, the screen is quickly over.  If you like them, it can go longer.  Believe me, they won’t mind.

Here’s what to ask during the screening interview:

  1. What are your strengths? Please give examples
  2. What are your weaknesses? Please give examples
  3. Who were your last 3-5 bosses and how will they rate you out of 10 when we contact them?
  4. Why us?
  5. Why are you leaving your current workplace?

In depth interviews (20 minutes to 2 hours depending on the role)

This candidate has made it through your screen, so you’re reasonably sure you’re interested.  Now you’re prepared to spend a little more time with them.

Simply divide up their job history into ‘chapters.’  Start at the beginning of their career and move toward the present.  For each job, ask the same questions.  Here they are with some relevant comments:

1. What were you hired to do?

This is a simple question.  They’re happy to answer it.

2. What did you accomplish?

Encourage them to brag about what they did.  Ask them what they contributed there that they are proud of.  Usually the candidate is happy to talk about this too.  Just don’t let them go on forever.

3. What did you least enjoy?

Here you may have to ask lots of questions.  If the candidate is vague in their answers, ask more.  Here are some additional questions I like to use:

  • What were the dim spots?
  • What didn’t work out as you’d hoped?
  • When you went home at the end of a bad day, what happened that day?
  • What do you most not miss about working there?

I want to find out what they didn’t like about the job.

Asking the same questions over and over about each workplace helps you see patterns in the employee’s life.  What repeated factors helped them win or made them lose?

4. Who was your direct supervisor, and how will they rate you out of 10 when we contact them?

I use this question to find out how they think they were viewed by their past boss.  It’s not a bluff either.  I fully intend to write down the name of this person and contact them, telling them the number that the candidate gave.  I want their input into the discussion.

5. Why did you leave?

Here I’m trying to find out if they were fired, if it was a mutual decision, or if they left on their own.  Good people don’t work out sometimes, but I feel concerned if they don’t work out again and again.

I’m looking for patters in this interview.  Did they show a history of achievement?  Did they face obstacles and overcome them, or did they give up and leave?

Reference checks

Reference checks are very important.  They should be done by you, not by a recruiter or an administrative helper.  You personally need to talk to the reference, because they’re much more likely to tell you the truth, and you’re much more likely to find it.  No one cares like the person actually doing the hiring and living with the decision.

1. In what capacity did you work with the person?

This is an easy question and they’ll answer with no problem

2. What were their strengths?

Again, you’ll find no difficulty in getting an answer to this question.

3. What were their areas of challenge BACK THEN?

It’s very important that you say this question exactly as it’s written.  Past bosses are afraid of giving a bad reference to someone.  They don’t want to be confronted about it.  Plus, they don’t want to spoil the person’s chances of getting a new job, even if they wouldn’t ever consider hiring them back.  It isn’t nice.

You have to prepare them to tell you the truth.  You should say, “Everyone changes.  I’m sure X is a different person today than they were BACK THEN.  Given that, what were their areas of challenge BACK THEN?

This will give you the best chance of receiving and honest answer.

4. Would you rehire them if you could?

This is an important question too.  If they are vague in their response, or couch their answer with conditions, beware!  You want them to solidly say they would be glad to hire the person back if they had the chance.

5. How would you rate their performance out of 10?

This is a sneaky question.  Psychologically, if a person answers this question with a number lower than 8, the answer is no.  People are very unlikely to rate someone a 4 or even a 6.  Usually the lowest they’ll go is 7.  Ideally, you’re looking for your candidate to be rated 8 or higher.

In summary:

Here are the three interviews you need to perform and what to ask at each one:

Screening interviews (10-20 minutes)

  1. What are your strengths? Please give examples
  2. What are your weaknesses? Please give examples
  3. Who were your last 3-5 bosses and how will they rate you out of 10 when we contact them?
  4. Why us?
  5. Why are you leaving your current workplace?

In depth interviews

  1. What were you hired to do?
  2. What did you accomplish?
  3. What did you least enjoy?
  4. Who was your direct supervisor, and how will they rate you out of 10 when we contact them?
  5. Why did you leave?

Reference checks

  1. In what capacity did you work with the person?
  2. What were their strengths?
  3. What were their areas of challenge BACK THEN?
  4. Would you rehire them if you could?
  5. How would you rate their performance out of 10?

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