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Evaluating a Candidate’s Work Ethic during an Interview

By the time your candidate arrives on the day of her interview, her name and her basic credentials should already be familiar to you. By this point, you’ve had plenty of time to review her resume and you’ve had time (even a few minutes can be sufficient) to align some of your interview questions with what you already know about her background. So as you assess her work ethic, keep your questions open ended and let her resume and cover letter guide the conversation. Keep these considerations in mind.

Start your assessment with the most recent position.

The position at the top of the “work history” section of the candidate’s resume can be a perfect place to launch a discussion about his or her work ethic. Ask what the position entailed, ask about the most serious challenges the candidate faced in this role, and of course, ask why he left. If the “challenges” don’t seem very substantial, the position doesn’t align with your company’s needs, or the candidate left under questionable circumstances, investigate further.

Ask narrative questions.

Sometimes the best way to learn about someone is to provide them with a theme, then sit back and listen to them talk. Ask your candidate how she would define “hard work”. Ask her to describe a specific day or week of her career when she worked harder than she’s ever worked before. What responsibilities did that day or week entail? What kinds of hours did she invest in the project at hand?

Describe the challenges of your open position.

After the candidate has explained his own definition of hard work, share your version. Describe the hours this position will require and the specific challenges of the job that may tax the candidate’s work ethic. Be honest, but spare no detail. Make sure the candidate is over prepared rather than underprepared for the tasks that lie ahead if she steps into this role. Ask her how she feels about these tasks.

Ask the candidate for her elevator pitch.

After you’ve described the challenges of this position, specifically as they relate to the employee’s work ethic, ask the candidate to explain why he believes he’s a match for this job. Ask him to explain what special talents, experiences or skill sets he can bring to the team that will help him deal with extended overtime, late nights, early mornings, wearying travel, or long hours spent tied to a desk. Let him explain his ability to meet these standards in his own words. If you need more details or evidence to support his claims, now is the best time to request them.

For more on how to assess your candidate’s work ethic and find a match for your open position, reach out to the staffing experts at PSU.