Asking Questions

What's the Best Way to Assess Experience?

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I know prior experience is important when hiring a new employee, but don’t know quite the best way to evaluate it. Can you give me some ideas to get that information in an interview?

A: Past performance is a predictor of future success, so it’s crucial to spend time evaluating an applicant’s prior experience. But first, you need to have a clear understanding of the critical success factors for the open position. After all, if you don’t know what skills, abilities, and experiences are needed, you won’t be able to evaluate whether a candidate can do the job effectively.

Once you’re clear on what skills are required to succeed in the job, you can gather information to help you evaluate your candidate in a couple of ways.

Start by looking at the applicant’s resume. Does he or she meet your minimum requirements for education and experience? You might want to screen the candidate by phone or video conference to confirm what you see on the resume and ask a few questions to gain additional information.

For example, if you need someone who has successfully dealt with demanding customers or members, ask: “Can you tell me about a time when you had to deal with a member who demanded something from you that made you uncomfortable?”

Listen carefully to the response. In this case, I think you’d want to hear that the person listened carefully and did everything possible under the organization’s policies to address the member’s concern. You might want to hear that he or she referred the call to a manager.

If you think the candidate meets your qualifications, arrange for a face-to-face interview and continue asking open-ended questions that probe the person’s experience. Continuing the customer service scenario, you might ask for another example and follow up with, “How did you do that?” or “What did you learn from that experience?”

Asking a series of open-ended questions and following up by asking for additional information is the best way to judge whether the candidate has the experience you’re looking for. This process gets easier each time you do it, and you’ll gain confidence in your ability to make a good hiring decision.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR, The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook and the latest book—The Conflict 

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