5 Interview Questions to Gauge Skill Level

How to separate top talent from those that only talk a good game.
Nov 12, 2019
Mita Patel
Mita Patel
Practice Lead
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With Illinois’ new salary history ban, it’s more important than ever to know how to gauge skill level during the recruitment and interview process. 

Start by considering whether the candidate is articulate about themselves and their work. These five questions will help you determine exactly that.

1. What’s the most important aspect of your job? 

There are several ways to look at this question. If the job seeker is able to explain the key aspects of their role and what they’ve accomplished, the interview can go a number of directions. For example, did they lead a team, or what challenges did they face? Also, if the job seeker shares what they’re best at in their current position, see if the answer lines up with the most critical needs the company for which you’re hiring is looking to fill. A caution here: Candidates sometimes think that everyone knows what they know—aka the “False Consensus Effect.” But what they know isn’t necessarily common sense. The job seeker may have a vast expanse of knowledge that you aren’t aware they have, which means it’s your job to drill down to access it. On the other hand, job seekers sometimes know less than they think, which can be harder to identify. Try further exploring the structure of their current team, the nature of their role and what they actually do.

2. What are your successes? 

There are a number of ways to explore this question: 

  • How does the job seeker define success? 
  • How is success measured in their current role? There are always numbers - and it isn’t a good sign if he/she cannot articulate them.
  • What are their one or two biggest accomplishments? How would the job seeker describe areas in which they’ve been most successful? 
  • What have they done that fits with what your company needs in a new hire? 

You want to probe whether the job seeker can identify their wins and losses. You also want to explore whether they’re able to tell the story of their career journey. Make sure you dig into the role they played in these successes. Was he/she really responsible for them, or was someone else the true driver of success?

3. What have you learned in the last year? 

Job seekers may have a range of skills and knowledge that you don’t know about, and pushing them to talk about what they’ve learned helps you explore this. 

4. Where do you sit in the organization? 

Try to get a picture of the job seeker’s current team, the organization’s structure and the role the candidate plays. What does the job seeker do there? And what level are they truly at? Do they have a seat at the table, or are they reporting to the person who has a seat at the table? Exploring this helps you get past what their title implies they do, which may not be what they actually do at all. You can also explore whether they’re making decisions, their role is hands-on and whether they’ve managed people.

5. How did you get to where you are today?

The story of the candidate’s job history has to make sense. And so the challenge is finding a consistent story. Why have they moved jobs when they’ve done so? If the job seeker was laid-off from an early-stage start-up that’s one thing, but being let go from a company going through explosive growth is another. Vague responses, such as “it wasn’t a great fit,” “the culture wasn’t working for me” or “the company wasn’t doing well” (especially if you know they’re still hiring) require further exploration.

Additional Things to Consider

Candidates who are vague or evasive 

We understand that job seekers can be  guarded about elements of their work history—either because they have something to hide or they’re trying to tell you what they think you want to hear. However, the more they share with you, the better chance of ensuring you find the right match. Make sure they understand this.

Candidates with unclear answers 

First, make sure your questions aren’t causing the issue; then, take the time to clarify what they’re saying. Ask about specifics, like deadlines, expectations, and successes. They might not have answers to these questions, but you won’t know this unless you ask. Strong follow up questions are the key to truly understanding things.

Candidates who disappear during the interview process 

Aka “ghosting.” Maybe you’ve heard that term before :) - If you’re not hearing back from a job seeker, you’re going to make assumptions. Remind them that a successful partnership comes back to communication and transparency.

Final Thoughts

A candidate must be articulate about themselves. But it’s your job to ask the right questions. Be in touch if we can help. 

Mita Patel
Mita Patel
Practice Lead

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