by Brad Remillard | May 01, 2012

Smart hiring starts with smart interviewing. But too often, the people conducting the interviews have never been trained to do so -- and they're just no good at it. Interviewing is a skill that needs to be developed and honed. Herewith, some advice:

Common Mistakes Weak interviews result from three typical shortcomings.

• Failure to probe. An interviewer should actively guide the conversation by listening and following up with detailed questions. Few really dig for facts, time, data, outcomes, challenges, team issues, names, etc. Asking vague questions leads to vague hires.

• Generic questioning. The typical interview questions you get from books cannot tell you whether a candidate is qualified for the position at hand.

• Failure to describe the job.
Fewer than 10 percent of hiring managers actually review the details of the job description with others in their organization who will be interviewing job candidates.

Five Questions to Ask Interviewing doesn't have to be all that complicated. In fact, the interview process should be simple, thorough and easy for everyone to understand.

Well-trained interviewers can get about 80 percent of the information they need to decide whether or not the person can do the job with just five questions and six words. If candidates can't pass these five core questions, then all the other questions are irrelevant, so why ask them? In fact, for most hires at the manager level and higher, if the candidate can't get past the first three, you should wrap up the discussion and get on with your day.

The five questions:

• Give me an example in which you demonstrated high initiative. Just about every position requires initiative. The degree of initiative might change based on the position, but if the applicant doesn't have it at the level you need, do you really need to continue?

• Give me an example in which you successfully executed on a critical project. If you have critical tasks you need done and he or she can't complete them, you don't have the right person.

• Give me an example of how you led a cross-functional team on a complex project. Leadership is a quality that managers must possess. Cross-functional skills are important, because motivating people that one does not have authority over is just one difference between managing and leading.

• Give me an example where you have done X in your current company.
Aligning past experiences and accomplishments with regard to scope, size and organization is key.

• If you come on board, how would you accomplish X within X period of time? Getting candidates to describe how they will do the job in your company -- with your resources and your culture -- demonstrates their ability to adapt to your organization.

Six More Words
If you're satisfied with the answers to those five questions, the next step is to probe deeply using six words: who, what, when, where, why and how. Probing deeply is what will separate those with solid qualifications from those who are trying to talk their way into a job that is over their heads.