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Ask the Right Questions When Hiring

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Next to raising money, the part I like least about starting a business is hiring people. I just hate the whole interview process because I hated being interviewed myself. The reason I detested this rite of passage to gain employment was the stupid questions interviewers would ask me.

Anyone reading this column can probably sympathize. These four questions annoy me the most:

  • Why should we hire you?
  • What is your greatest strength?
  • Where do you need improvement?
  • Who is your role model?

When I hear those questions, I want to make a mockery of the whole session by responding:

  • "You should hire me because I have the biggest beer can collection."
  • "My greatest strength is that I am so calm it's hard to tell if I am awake or comatose."
  • "The area I need improvement on is being able to keep a job. All of my past bosses have been losers, so maybe I need to know how to manipulate them better."
  • "I admire Norm from Cheers. Somehow he makes enough of a living that he can sit on a bar stool all day."

The interviewer wants to hear that I am a hard worker, my greatest strength is that I am meticulous, the area I need improvement on is that I don't know how to relax and my role model is Bill Gates.

When I'm interviewing someone for a job, I try to avoid those beauty pageant questions by having a conversation with the person in a relaxed atmosphere. No power trips like sitting behind my desk in an elevated chair and looking like I swallowed a box of nails.

There are seven attributes an interviewer should look for when getting to know a candidate.

Does He or She Fit the Position?

Do they have the qualifications for the job or can they grow into the position? I am a big believer that talented people can grow into a job. I'd rather have someone less experienced with potential than someone with experience who is limited.

Is This Person Intelligent?

We aren't talking about Einstein capabilities (unless the job is for a biotechnology or artificial intelligence position). It is important to have people who can think on their feet and make well-thought-out decisions on the fly.

Will This Person Take Initiative?

Successful companies want people who take the initiative. Good employees don't wait like robots to be told what to do. They see a problem or a chance to improve something, and they do it.

Is This Person a Straight Shooter

You should be looking for someone who will be honest and direct. I know people who are working for large corporations who are reading this and laughing. If you are good, why would you want to work for an organization that doesn't want to hear what you think? I actually fired someone for not being honest in their thoughts with me after telling them time and again I want to hear the unvarnished truth.

Does This Person Have Life Experience?

I like to know about their life experiences, especially how they handled adversity.

Is This Person Motivated by More Than Money?

I want to know what motivates them. Is it money? Doing a great job? Learning new things? Many people will say they want salespeople who are motivated to make as much as they can. I learned long ago that people who are just motivated by money are loyal only to themselves, and will leave whenever someone offers something better.

Is This Person Likable?

This is big for me. I really have to like this person because I will spend more time with this potential employee than I will with my family. I have to enjoy their company. Co-workers will go above and beyond for people they like.

Of course, to find out whether the applicant possesses these qualities, you have to ask them questions. The set of questions you ask candidates should be open-ended. You don't want "yes" or "no" answers.

Here are the 10 questions I typically ask job candidates:

1. Where are you from and how did you get to where you are now?

Although I have their resume, I will ask questions that the resume already covers to make the prospect comfortable.

2. What was your favorite job and why?

This tells what kind of job they will give a maximum effort for.

3. What was your least favorite job and why?

I don't want to put anyone in a job they hate, regardless of how badly they need a job, because they will only perform poorly and I will end up firing them.

4. What type of boss do you like working for?

I know I only work well with people who are calm and keep their emotions in check.

5. What was your greatest professional success and how did that happen?

This will tell you what they are most proud of and the process they took, which will help you understand how they work.

6. What was your worst professional experience and how did you handle it?

I want to know the process they went through to fix something that didn't work out.

7. What is the worst thing that has ever happened in your life, and how did you handle it?

You learn a lot about someone by finding out how they react when things go wrong.

8. What excites you professionally?

I like to know what motivates someone so I have a better idea of whether we can meet their professional needs.

9. What are your hobbies?

Hobbies tell you a lot about a person. Someone who likes to work on computers is typically methodical. A person who likes competitive sports is usually aggressive.

10. What is your ideal work atmosphere?

Some people like structure, while others like the free flow of an entrepreneurial environment.

Your mission is to extract as much information as you can. The best interviewers are good listeners who make people feel comfortable.

Kramer is the author of five business books on topics related to venture capital, management and consulting. He is a faculty member at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and the veteran of more than 20 start-ups and four turnarounds.

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