While not a full-fledged proponent of the behavior-based interview process, a process employed by my employer, over the past 10 years I have had a number of experiences as the hiring manager for jobs in the finance industry. Over these years, I have narrowed my choice of interview questions to several that I use in every position that I hire. Here are 5 examples of questions that I have used and how they resulted in identifying successful hires.
Behavior-based questions begin with “Tell me about a time when …” and these type of questions can be helpful particularly at the entry level where a candidate may lack a lot of previous business experience.
One of the characteristics that I favor in my staff is the ability to think critically. A question I use is “Tell me about a time when you had to process a large amount of new information quickly and convey the information to others. How did you accomplish this?” I often ask my financial analyst to review a prospectus document in order to recommend a particular investment for a possible credit line. What I want to hear is how the candidate will approach the process and what other resources he or she might employ. My entry level candidates often recount their ability to digest large amounts of reading and materials for projects and presentations. I get a good idea on how they organize their thoughts, their work, and manage their time.
Another characteristic I look for is the ability to work independently. “Tell me about a time when you are presented with an additional project with a short deadline. How did you meet all of the deadlines, including deadlines for ongoing work and the new project?” This question again addresses time management, but also I hope that the candidate will describe how he or she might confirm deadlines, ask for extensions or re-negotiate dates, and then how the candidate might communicate with a team, seek help or additional resources. Finally, I want to hear about work ethic. I had a young woman who told me about a time when she tried to change the behavior of a woman in her sorority. She told me how they met over coffee and set mutual goals for grade improvements and then how they measured their success.
I also look for an employee who will seek opportunities for process improvement. “Tell me about a time when you took an existing process and made it better.” I have a new staff person who included in her resume how she started as a church bookkeeper and ended up leading the growing church to automated general ledger software, engaged an audit firm, and moved the financial staff into a sophistocated, trained organization to keep pace with the growing needs of the congregation and its governing body.
I also look for an employee who can work with all levels in the organization. “Tell me about a time when you needed to work across several layers of an organization on a project or similar”. Essentially, I want someone with self-confidence who is not intimidated by a title on an organizational chart. For some interviewees just coming out of college, I like when they give me examples of campus initiatives they have led as I know they have engaged faculty and staff in the process. And of course, I need to hear about successful projects. I had a candidate once tell me about a dance-a-thon project that resulted in record funds raised and record participants. He turned out to be a good intern who capably managed projects I gave him to work on but he was not very skilled in keeping up on the day-to-day. He was easily bored by the routine.
Finally, I look for an employee who has a sense of pride in his or her own work and the work of the department; an employee that I can trust to produce high quality work without constant review, revision, and error corrections. “Tell me about how you ensure the accuracy of your work.” There is probably a single “right” answer that hits on the need to proofread one’s work. It is often interesting to hear how young candidates approach this, particularly given that they frequently have fa ced timed exams through their education. One young man talked about number theory and all kinds of number tricks he used to check his math. Ultimately, I just want to get something out of them that speaks to their ownership of the work and their knowledge that inaccurate work reflects poorly upon them.
I have developed a set of interview questions that I favor when I am the hiring manager for a financial position within my company. I have listed five of those questions, including examples of success coming from their use. I hope you find the questions useful, as well.