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The Wrong Interview Questions

Don't pass over a great employee with the wrong questions. Employers who don't know how to ask questions that pinpoint real job skills often pass up quality people.

When employers turn prospective employees away from jobs, it's not always because the applicants lack the right stuff. Many of them are victims of lousy interviewers. Employers who don't know how to ask questions that pinpoint real job skills often pass up quality people.

"The challenge is to make sure you ask questions that are related to the job -- like how they handle group situations not waste time on questions that aren't related," says interview expert Stephan Motowidlo, Ph. D., director of the Human Resource Research Center at the University of Florida. Motowidlo checked into what "the right questions" are and how to go about asking them. What he came up with was a three-point formula.

o Point One -- Situation:

Ask the applicant to name something specific he did in the past. It has to be any problem or situation related to what he'd be doing in the job he's interviewing for. For example, if the new job calls for dealing with angry clients and he was a cashier in the past, ask him about interactions with angry customers.

o Point Two -- Reaction:

Follow up on the situation or problem the applicant named. Ask about her reaction and how she handled it. Find out how she dealt with the problem. If the former cashier blew up at angry customers it's a bad sign.

o Point Three -- Results:

Ask how the situation was resolved. Was the problem solved? Did the interviewee make a positive contribution to the company? Or were her actions ineffective or detrimental to the company's best interests? If the former cashier faced anger with anger, he most likely alienated customers. That's probably not something you would want an employee of yours to do.

As for the stupid, irrelevant questions you don't want to ask, the list is endless. Stay away from latest movies seen, music preferences, favorite forms of exercise, the dress she wore to her high school prom. Absolute no-nos are questions about pregnancy and sexual preference.

You can't judge a book by its cover. Motowidlo warns against being taken in by appearance alone. Too often interviewers judge on looks and other nonverbal cues which we "know aren't necessary attributes" of a good worker.

Just to make sure interviewers ask pertinent questions, Motowidlo has devised a structured interview, which includes seven mandatory questions. Follow-up questions are up to the interviewer. Other interview formats use questions about hypothetical situations and multiple choice set-ups on paper.

But Motowidlo says there's nothing like sitting down with an interviewee face-to-face and asking about past work experiences. It's the best predictor of what someone will do in the future.

Does the method really work? Eight telecommunications firms "hired good people" after using it, Motowidlo claims of his structured interview.