5 Interview Questions That Can Help You Make Better Hires

For any business, job candidate interviews are an important part of the hiring process. Small business owners can make the most of the meeting by considering ahead of time the best interview questions to ask. Here are five examples:

1. 'What interests you about this job, and what skills and strengths can you bring to it?'

Nothing tricky here, but it's one of the most effective interview questions to ask all the same. Note that the question is not "What are your skills and strengths?" but "What skills and strengths can you bring to the job?"

The answer is yet another way to gauge how much interest applicants have in the job and how well prepared they are for the interview. Stronger candidates should be able to correlate their skills with specific job requirements (e.g., "I think my experience as a foreign correspondent will be of great help in marketing products to overseas customers."). They will answer the question in the context of contributions they can make to the company.

2. 'In a way that anyone could understand, can you describe a professional achievement that you are proud of?'

This is an especially good interview question to ask when you're hiring for a technical position, such as an IT manager or tax accountant.

The answer shows the applicants' ability to explain what they did so that anyone can understand. Do they avoid jargon in their description? Do they get their points across clearly? Failure to do so may be a sign that the individuals can't step out of their "world" sufficiently to work with people in other departments, which is a growing necessity in many organizations today.

3. 'How have you changed the nature of your current job?'

A convincing answer here shows adaptability and a willingness to take the bull by the horns, if necessary. An individual who chose to do a job differently from other people also shows creativity and resourcefulness.

The question gives candidates a chance to talk about such contributions as efficiencies they brought about or cost savings they achieved. If candidates say they didn't change the nature of the job, that response can tell you something as well.

4. 'What sort of work environment do you prefer? What brings out your best performance?'

Interview questions offer a good opportunity to probe for specifics. You want to find out whether this person is going to fit into your company. If your corporate culture is collegial and team-centered, you don't want someone who answers, "I like to be left alone to do my work." You also may uncover unrealistic expectations or potential future clashes ("My plan is to spend a couple of months in the mailroom and then apply for the presidency of the company.").

People rarely, if ever, work at their best in all situations. Candidates who say otherwise aren't being honest with themselves or you.

5. 'I see that you've been unemployed for the past few months. Why did you leave your last job, and what have you been doing since then?'

Interview questions can sometimes seem accusatory to job candidates. So, although this one is important, be careful when asking it. Especially in challenging economic times, it isn't unusual for highly competent people to find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own and unable to prevent gaps in their employment history. Pursuing the issue in a neutral, diplomatic way is key.

Try to get specific, factual answers that you can verify later. Candidates with a spotty employment history, at the very least, ought to be able to account for all extended periods of unemployment and to demonstrate whether they used that time productively — getting an advanced degree, for example.

Reviewing these five interview questions will help you better assess job candidates and make smarter hiring decisions.

Asking the right interview questions is just one element of a successful meeting. Get more interviewing tips, including a rundown of mistakes to avoid, so you have a better chance of hiring the right person.