In many ways, entry level interviews present the greatest challenge. Here are a few reasons:
- The candidates have little or no work experience on which to base probing questions
- The interviewer needs to strongly sell the firm to candidates who have limited perspective on different firm cultures
- The generational difference between interviewer and candidate can make it difficult to “connect”
Here are some basic rules that can make a big difference.
1. Ask open-ended questions. These are questions that cannot be answered in a single word or phrase. Here are good examples of open-ended questions:
“Tell me about your interest in the accounting profession?” This seemingly simple question is very powerful and highly behavioral in nature. The response can go in many directions. You may learn about the candidate’s childhood, student government experience, summer job experience, academic interests, desire to be successful financially, love of helping people. Who knows? Or you may also learn little and get a response such as “I always wanted to be an accountant.” If that happens, say “tell me more”. This gives the candidate a second opportunity to give a more thoughtful answer. If you don’t get one, it’s a bad sign.
“What are you looking for in a firm?” Another simple question yet very powerful. You’ll get real insight into the candidate’s thinking, values, curiosity, and interests. If the answer is blah, then the candidate almost certainly has limited potential. If she didn’t care enough about the interview to prepare properly, then she won’t care enough about your clients.
“Who has had the most impact on your professional interests?” We love this question. The stronger candidates will talk about professors, contacts they’ve made, older siblings or perhaps mentors at a summer job, to name a few possibilities. If you get “my father” or “my mother” please respond with “tell me more” and make sure the answer is well founded rather than just a answer.
“What has interested you the most in college?” Not “which courses did you like best in college?”. The former question is open-ended and cannot be answered in a word or two. It gives the candidate the opportunity to display her interests without prompting her in a direction.
2. Don’t ask “why” questions. They put the candidate on the defensive and will make you and your firm seem like a not-so-friendly-place to work. A safe alternative to a “why” question is “give me some insight into your thinking about ….”.
3. Don’t ask leading questions. They tell the candidate what you would like to hear and can even encourage the candidate to embellish answers to try to make you happy. For example, don’t ask “I’m assuming you found your accounting courses interesting.” It sounds good, but you’ll have no idea if the answer is true. A much better question would be the previous example “what interested you the most in college?”.
4. Ask “tell me more” frequently. It will show how deep the candidate can go on a subject, quickly exposing borrowed stories from classmates as well as a lack of curiosity and thoroughness. Watch the candidate’s body language and how it changes with each question. The unspoken answers are often the most revealing.
5. Ask the candidate what she’d like to know about your firm. It’s a great test of curiosity and preparation. It’s also much better than you giving her a canned soundbite.
This is the first of three blogs on behavioral interviewing. Two future blogs will discuss interviewing experienced staff and partners.