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Killer job interview questions as a tiebreaker

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I’m the vice-president for operations of a major company now looking to hire a department manager. After a series of interviews and tests, we’ve identified two candidates in our shortlist. Their similarities and differences are almost equal. To break the tie, we plan to do one final interview for each. Now, we’re thinking of the best possible questions to ask before we meet them. Can you help us?  — Two Rivers

I’ve already written no less than ten articles on this subject since 1993 when I started writing in this space. But of course, that was more than 30 years ago. If we’re limiting ourselves to job interviews as a tiebreaker, then that will be a breeze, except that I’d like to disabuse your mind that it’s not the only thing that matters when deciding to hire a manager. There are a lot more. And I’ve already covered them in the past.

After conducting thousands of job interviews to identify the best candidates, I learned that there have been no major changes in the way we ask questions to job applicants. So much has been written in the past and many of them can be searched, complete with all the killer answers to all difficult questions out there.

You may agree or disagree with those questions. Some of them may not be important for you and your organization. Some may work for you but not for other recruiters. Just the same, the final judgment on what the important interview questions are will be yours alone. If you decide to adopt those questions, it would take some time before you realize that you’ve become successful in the recruitment process.

TEN KILLER QUESTIONSThe world we live in is not based on logic and justice, no matter how we aspire for it. As a consequence, our world is not as good as it could be. We talk about things based on our direct experience, whether good or bad. Let’s start by asking one simple question: how do you stay on the positive side of the street?

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is not simple. There are thousands of inspiring articles and books about career development and success, all trying to dissect all workplace issues that have become important to people and organizations. And for that matter, I consulted the past presidents of People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP). I believe their insights, tactics and strategies on people management should help us understand the importance of a job interview.

The following questions are easy to understand and it’s up to you to copy them all or adjust according to your taste. They may not always work. But they will be the closest you can get to the “magic wand” of our respondents.

1. Ernesto Espinosa, 2002 PMAP president: “If the person who hurt you the most showed up at your door, what will you do or tell him/her?” This is a question of testing the candidate’s maturity, humility, sense of pride, forgiveness and respect for others.

2. Ellen Fullido, 2022 PMAP president: “What was the most selfless thing that you did as a manager for your organization that has gone through a crisis situation?” The key word is “selfless.” In this materialistic world, how does one distinguish himself from the rest?

3. Edgardo Soriano, 1995 PMAP president: “In settling a crisis situation that needs a win-win result, what are your non-negotiables?” The question is focused on defining the result most acceptable to all parties without undermining one’s personal values.

4. Ramon Segismundo, 2017 PMAP president: “Are you willing to try out the job for one day? After that, we’ll decide if you’re the right person for the job.” This is a modified version of an assessment center often used as a trade test. The logic is easy to understand. On-the-job performance (even if for just one day) is the key determinant.

5. Rene Gener, 2000 PMAP president: “What will be the biggest game-changer that you will bring to the business? One that I have not heard or seen before? Why?” This question tries to determine the creativity and innovativeness of the applicant.

6. Barbie Atienza, 1998 PMAP president: “Aside from financial issues, what are the top three factors that you’ll consider when cutting expenses and manpower?” This question focuses on one’s values amid the realities of corporate survival.

7. Gerry Plana, 2019 PMAP president: “Cite a grave failure or serious mistake that happened in the past that made you a better person and professional today.” The question is about how you treated your mistake as an unforgettable burden or a stepping stone for success.

8. Chit Ventura, 1993 PMAP president: “What’s the legacy you want to leave behind and what steps are you taking to achieve that?” It’s not about material things, but the enduring character and faith of a person.

9. Jun Mendoza, retired Senior Vice-President of CTBC Bank Philippines: “If you’re the CEO, should you fire an HR department head because he played favorites by not firing an employee who should be fired?”

10. Erick Reyes, retired HR head of Roxas Holdings: “Tell me your biggest failure so far and how did you recover from it?”

I asked ten PMAP presidents to contribute to this article, but didn’t receive the reply of two other respondents in time to meet the deadline. Fortunately, my good friends who have HR experience took the last two slots.

Chat your workplace issues with Rey Elbo via Facebook, LinkedIn, X (Twitter) or e-mail elbonomics@gmail.com or via https://reyelbo.com

Neil Banzuelo




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