Interview Tips: Evaluating a Candidate’s Work Ethic

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A candidate’s resume can share most of the important details of her education and relevant experience; of course you’ll need to flesh out these items as you sit with her during the interview process, but a few bullet points can convey where she went to school, what she studied, and how she’s been spending her years in the workforce.

But there are some things a resume can’t covey, and these traits are equally indicative of her future success as a member of your team. For example, is she collaborative or competitive? Does she work well under pressure or does she need room to breathe? And most important of all: how hard is she willing to work during her hours on the clock? Here are a few interview questions that can help you estimate her level of industry and investment.

“What do you think of when I use the phrase ‘hard work’? How would you define a hard worker?”

This language is very abstract, so it’s a good idea to start by defining the terms and finding out if you and your candidate are on the same page. This question can also help you determine how well she thinks on her feet and organizes thoughts into words.

“This job is a salaried position (overtime – exempt). But we’ll still need you here after five on some days. How do you feel about that?”

Don’t ask leading questions or put the candidate on the defensive, or he’ll simply agree to whatever terms you set. Encourage an honest answer. If he has personal responsibilities that will prevent him from staying late day after day, now is the time to find out.

“Describe a day or week in which you needed to work far harder than you normally do. How did you handle this challenge?”

As you assess personal traits like work ethic, determination, or leadership skills, keep your questions open ended. Encourage candidates to answer in the form of a narrative. As they tell their stories in their own words, you’ll be able to read between the lines and draw your own conclusions.

“In this role, you’ll occasionally need to (insert demanding task). This may increase your work load by a significant amount. How will you respond when this happens?”

Be honest with your candidate about the level of “hard work” the job will entail. As you present this scenario, give her a few minutes to think about her answer before responding. Again, encourage her to use events and lessons from the past to shape her answer.

For more on how to shape your interview questions to identify candidates that represent a cultural match, arrange an appointment with the Little Rock staffing and hiring professionals at CSS.

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