Interview Photo

You’ve screened the resumes and come up with a shortlist of applicants who can all do the job…on paper at least. So, how do you decide which candidate is ‘the one’? Interviews can provide employers with valuable information about an individual’s skills, motivation, achievements and cultural fit. Especially if you ask the right questions and allow candidates to do most of the talking.

Here are ten of our favourite questions to ask candidates at interview:

  1. Why are you interested in this role?

You want to separate out those candidates who have done their homework from the rest. You will find out which aspects of the position have appealed to them. Are these the same aspects that you believe are key to the role and to your company moving forward?

  1. What are the three most important attributes you bring to this role?

Flowing on neatly from #1, you will obtain further insights into candidates’ understanding of the role, and the contribution they could make. You can then assess whether what they offer fits with what you are looking for.

  1. Why are you leaving your current employer?

Candidates’ answers can reveal much about their attitudes, motivation and values at work. Your job is to establish whether their current experience has been a positive one and whether they are leaving for a good reason. If you have doubts, then probe carefully to find out more.

  1. What motivates you most in your current role?

You want to understand what makes candidates tick. They may be enthusiastic about new challenges, for example, or working in a strong team. Will these candidates find similar motivation in the role you are offering and, more broadly, in the culture of your company?

  1. What do you dislike the most about your current role?

Candidates generally find at least one aspect of their current role less enjoyable. It may be a mundane task, such as stuffing envelopes or totting up the petty cash. But it may be something more revealing – such as a candidate for a supervisor role who does not like dealing with conflict.

  1. Tell me about your greatest achievement in your career to date.

Strong candidates are passionate about their accomplishments and will relish the opportunity to talk about them. What they consider to be a great achievement will provide you with insights into their personality, values and working style.

  1. Describe a time when things didn’t go the way you wanted. What did you do?

An alternative to “What’s your greatest weakness?” which most candidates have anticipated and prepared for. Here, you are asking candidates for a concrete example of a difficult situation. Their responses will provide information about their problem-solving skills, ability to own an issue and, potentially, their interaction with others.

  1. How would your colleagues describe you at work?

Some candidates find it difficult to talk about their attributes and achievements, especially at interview. So instead, give them a chance to view themselves through the eyes of their co-workers. You will gain valuable insights into their personality, work ethic, and relationships with others in a team.

  1. Describe the best boss you have reported to.

Bosses vary in the way they supervise, organise, delegate and communicate. And candidates will vary in the way they respond to them. So find out the type of management style that best suits your candidates’ needs and personality. A candidate who is a self-starter, for example, would not be a good match for a micro-manager.

  1. Do you have any questions for me?

Well-prepared candidates will have done their homework, researched the role and company, and drafted a few questions. What candidates ask can provide information about what they consider important. Are they just after basic information, like salary, perks and vacation days? Or are they focused on company vision and opportunities for career progression?

Try incorporating some – or all – of these questions in your candidate interviews. They should help you separate the mismatches and maybes from the high potential candidate(s) who will thrive in your role.

Gap years have become an increasingly popular option among high school leavers in Australia. According to research by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research, around 20% of students who complete high school opt to take a gap year before they go on to further education. Benefits of taking time out from study (and away from home) may include the development of work and life skills, a clearer idea of career goals, increased motivation and a deeper world view – all of which add to individual employability further down the track!

But, what about taking a career break at another life stage? Jacking it all in at 30 to follow your dream of working with the turtles in Costa Rica? Or, quitting your long-term job at 45 to explore outback Australia in a campervan? Yes, the year will no doubt be an adventure-packed, inspirational, life-fulfilling experience. But, how will potential employers view your time out when you are applying for jobs 12 months later?

Here are a few tips to consider so your gap year doesn’t leave a gaping hole in your career path.

  • Take a career break when there is something you really, truly want to do. Work alongside local teachers in a school in Ghana, sail around the world, protect the turtles! Make the right choice and your motivation, enthusiasm and commitment will shine through to potential employers on your return.
  • When it comes to job application time, be sure to mention your career break:
    • In your resume, include dates, job title and organisation (if relevant) and location. Then single out key tasks and achievements, as with any position, particularly those that may have value in the role you are going for. Many skills are transferable – your gap year experience should stand in your favour!
    • Briefly explain your time out in your cover letter – and then show motivation for returning to paid employment. Wording along these lines does both: “I have just returned from 3 months in Costa Rica where I fulfilled a lifelong ambition to help research and protect sea turtles. I am now keen to apply my skills and experience to the role of project officer in your organisation.”
  • At interview, reassure employers that you’re not going to disappear off on your travels in six months’ time, while emphasising the valuable skills you have gained during your career break. For example: “Sailing around the world has given me an opportunity to develop my leadership skills and work with others in challenging circumstances. It’s something I’d always wanted to do, but now I’m ready to put down roots and focus on my career in earnest.”

Taking a career break in your 30s or 40s (or at any other time) may be seen as risky and unconventional, but time away from your everyday routine can bring benefits both to you and to your future employer. Rather than leaving a gaping hole in your career path, a gap year can pave the way to the future you want and deserve.

Jacqueline Fink of Little Dandelion in Balgowlah is an extreme knitter, as you may have read recently. She uses giant knitting needles and balls of wool to create a range of stunning knits, including blankets, throws and wall hangings. And social media has spread the love for her beautiful craftwork, spawning a whole community of extreme knitters around the globe. Fink’s is an unusual hobby, that’s for sure, and it got us thinking about the subject of including hobbies on résumés. Should you or shouldn’t you?

Opinion varies from one recruiter to the next. For some, personal interests are a big no-no: they are considered to be irrelevant – an unnecessary distraction on a formal business document. This group of recruiters won’t give your interests a second glance, choosing to focus instead on the professional experience and skills you would bring to a role.

Other recruiters may look at your hobbies as part of your overall application for a job. And there are two important reasons why:

  • Relevant skills: Your hobbies may suggest that you have some of the desired qualities for the role. This can be useful for job applicants, particularly those who have limited professional experience. A candidate applying for a junior management role may be captain of their local football team, for example. Someone applying for work as an apprentice mechanic may enjoy tinkering with engines in their spare time.
  • Adaptability: Showcasing a broad range of interests in a résumé can potentially be a benefit, especially for client-facing roles, like law and accountancy, where candidates need to build relationships with people from different backgrounds at different levels of seniority.

In a recent article in The Sydney Morning Herald, Jim Bright, Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU, suggests looking at the evidence, rather than opinion. He conducted a study about the presence or absence of hobbies on résumés with a large recruitment company in Australia. After sampling no less than 999 résumés, this was the team’s conclusion: “What we found was that the hobbies made precisely no difference whatsoever to hiring decisions.” Bright suggests that candidates lose the hobbies off their résumés and use the space for content that will increase their chances of getting shortlisted. Many recruiters and candidates would disagree. Hobbies remain a very subjective issue.

Should you choose to include your interests on your résumé, here are a few tips to consider:

  • Keep them until the end: Make sure you cover your professional experience and skills first.
  • Include some detail: Don’t just list your interests; add a little information that sells them to your recruiter.
  • Have something to say about your interests at interview.

So back to Jacqueline Fink, the extreme knitter from Little Dandelion we met at the beginning of this post. Instead of writing “extreme knitter” on her résumé and leaving it at that, she could perhaps expand along these lines: “I am passionate about extreme knitting – using super-size needles and wool to create unique objects and installations.” Would it give her the edge in landing the role? Possibly – and then again – possibly not. So much depends on the individual recruiter.

What is your view? Do you think you should use or lose hobbies on a résumé?

Mentors have existed since time immemorial. Many claim that the word derives from the name of a character in The Odyssey, an ancient Greek epic poem that was probably composed around 700BC. The elderly Mentor was a great friend of Odysseus and trusted advisor to his young son Telemachus. Similarly, today mentors are often senior figures entrusted with providing advice to younger, more inexperienced employees. The aim: to help their mentees progress within their role, within their organisation, and – ultimately – within their chosen industry sector.

Mentoring can have significant benefits for the organisation, notably in terms of promoting a positive company culture, enhancing productivity and improving employee retention. Both mentor and mentee also stand to gain from a successful mentoring relationship through open, honest communication and feedback. Here are a few tips on how to get it right as a mentor:

Set a clear framework from the outset

In consultation with your mentee, decide how often you will meet and for how long. Also consider which communication channels you wish to use between meetings. Will your door always be open to your mentee, or would you prefer to receive emails from her on a particular day at a particular time?

Define goals together

Discuss and decide your mentee’s personal and professional goals with her. Your mentee’s input is a crucial part of this conversation; your role is to guide and support her in implementing a plan to achieve these goals.

Listen and learn from each other

It is often said that the mentor/mentee relationship is a ‘two-way street’ where the mentor has just as much to learn from the relationship as the mentee. Give your mentee the opportunity to express herself openly and honestly. Every individual has different ways of thinking and doing – and you may pick up an invaluable tip or two!

Let your mentee make mistakes

Provide honest, constructive feedback to your mentee, but allow her to follow her own vision and make mistakes. Learning from errors is essential to personal and professional development. Help your mentee analyse what went wrong and she’ll be able to move forward with confidence.

Be a positive role model

Lead by example not just in the mentor/mentee relationship, but in the wider workplace by demonstrating confidence, respect for others and clear, open communication. Celebrate your successes with your colleagues, but also share your failures. They show what you have overcome to reach the place you are today and will provide your mentee – and others – with a realistic perspective.

Being a mentor is both a privilege and a responsibility. Done right, it can benefit mentee, mentor and the wider business organisation.