5 Questions That Can Provide Better Background Info About Candidates

We know, of course, that some interview questions are way, way off limits. In the 1950’s and 1960’s it was perfectly acceptable to ask about marital status or child care arrangements, now have their place on the great Human Resource topic minefield along with taboo topics like age or race. This is understood. The challenge is finding out about a candidates past misconduct or if they had issues with a co-worker or were insubordinate to a boss. Somethings do not rise to the level of criminal conviction but still have an impact on the applicant’s behavior in the workplace. Candidates in interviews are on their best behavior and will evade or outright lie if you ask the question directly.
So, how do you find out?

A good HR professional prepares a set of questions that help understand the candidate’s character in the context of their past experience.
Here are examples of what questions can prompt more insightful responses:

  1. What is the most egregious illegal or improper work behavior you have experienced or witnessed? How did you handle the situation? A candidate could describe if he or she did anything to stop or report it, maybe tried to ignore it, or were inspired to leave to find another job. Or if law enforcement became involved, it could give them a chance to show that they’re willing to be helpful to anyone, including law enforcement.
  2. Describe a recent mistake you made at work. What did you learn from it? How can you apply that lesson in the future? (Key: do not let them tell you they made no mistakes) A candidate can describe if they told anyone, what they did to undo any damage or make things right, and keep it from happening again. Some corporate cultures even try to find the positives of making mistakes, which can help the overall quality and show that it’s OK to take risks.
  3. Have you ever been told to disregard the law or skip a required procedure? If yes, how did you respond? If no, what is the most morally compromising position you have ever found yourself in? How did you handle that situation? This also could be a good guide of someone’s principles, if they followed the order, resisted, quit or offered a better, more legal solution (“OK, I’ll do that task but I’ll need safety equipment” or “I’m already close to my 40 hours so I’ll need overtime authorization to do what you need.”)
  4. Tell me about the best boss you ever had. What did they do right? How about the best co-worker? Tell me about the worst boss and worst co-worker. What made them so difficult or challenging? The answers to these questions will give you valuable insight into their work habits and style. They may say the best boss left them alone so they could get the job done while the worst boss “micromanaged them”. The best co-worker could have been very helpful and the worst co-worker a “gossip”. Knowing what works best for the candidate will help you select someone who is the best fit.
  5. What do you think makes you a good fit for this position? What characteristics do you possess that are needed to perform this job? Look for them to highlight the skills, knowledge and expertise that you need. You should have a good idea of what those are before asking this question. For instance, do they need to be a detail oriented, note taker who is extremely organized? Or do they need to be a highly interactive “people-person” who sees the big picture.

Sometimes, candidates with challenging pasts may want to make a clean start and move beyond a bad situation, but in other cases, an employer may be concerned about potential liabilities, risks to the rest of the workforce or possible public damage to a company’s reputation if conduct continues. The interviewer needs to be attuned to both sides of the situation.

Overall, the person doing the questions should be prepared, which includes having a selection of questions ready to go, rather than “just chatting/see where the conversation goes” style of an interview. The ethical/situational questions should also be blended with other more general questions to help the candidate feel comfortable answering instead of on guard if an HR person only focuses on one area.

Another key factor when planning for the interview is to be fair. If a candidate is asked a series of questions that may reveal a shady past, it’s important to be consistent and ask the same questions to the other candidates that are being interviewed for the same position. Different answers may be given but it also could be in the interviewer’s favor in the event that a candidate comes back and accuses them of asking improper questions or using their answers as a reason not to hire them. It will show fairness and consistency if everyone was given the same question.

For more suggestions on smart interview practices and assistance in employment screening, consider the services of VerifyProtect, which uses advanced technology and customer service to verify past employment or references or check criminal history. To get started, give us a call at 610-355-2331 or fill out or online contact form!

Kristina Taylor
In 1989, Kristina began her career as a customer service representative at the newly formed American Tenant Screen, Inc. Ten years later, she pioneered tenant background screening on the Internet. As a long-standing member of the National Multifamily Resident Information Council (formerly the National Association of Screening Agencies) Kristina gains insight into the trends of the tenant screening industry to better understand the current and future needs of their clients.

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