CDI Corporation

How to get unrehearsed answers in an interview

By the time a candidate is brought in for an interview, initial screening through a resume and frequently a phone interview have already identified them as a good match for your company – on paper that is. The objective of bringing the applicant into the office for an interview is to get a clearer picture of their personality, work ethic, values and cultural fit in your blended workforce. To do so, you’ll need to elicit open, honest answers from candidates you are considering for permanent or contingent positions.

Any candidate that makes it to the in-person interview stage is capable of doing their research, preparing for questions and prepping answers they believe the employer wants to hear. While this demonstrates commitment of time and consideration prior to the interview, you also want to ensure that the potential hire can think on their feet.

As John Lewis, Managing Director of Talent and Technology Solutions Recruitment for CDI Corporation explains, the best way to draw unrehearsed answers is to ask unanticipated questions. “Although using a few of the same questions for all interviewees levels the playing field among candidates,” says Lewis, “interjecting unexpected questions in order to elicit spontaneous responses can be much more revealing.”

Lewis recommends considering the following unanticipated questions to find top talent who are the best cultural fits for you and your company:

1. What were you doing on your very best day at work?

As Fast Company reported, Lori Goler, head of people at Facebook, asks this question of most candidates who interview with the social media giant. She explained that it’s a question that reveals a candidate’s strengths and talents, which can then be compared against the company’s needs.

Required to think critically and dig deep, interviewees will likely land on a day when they were the last one in the office, solving a long-existing problem or making a crucial breakthrough on a project. These snapshots into their past work experience can provide insight on how they will contribute to your company’s bottom line and succeed in their career. Keep in mind however, that even non-monumental examples can be indicative of solid, consistent work ethic in both permanent and contract employees.

2. What was the most interesting encounter you’ve had in the past few months?

This unexpected interview question serves two purposes. First, you’ll discover how the candidate responds and reflects on an experience that stood out to them. Was it an inspiring conversation with a homeless man? Or was it a tech discovery that unlocked a helpful shortcut? The encounter they choose, as well as their response, may demonstrate innovation, problem-solving or any other number of skills important to the full-time job or temporary assignment in question.

Secondly, the answer to this question will draw out creativity in top recruits. Important attributes for any successful employee are creative thinking and the ability to ask questions, as CEO of the American Heart Association Nancy Brown told Fortune. Engaging in conversation and analysis is what she considers the “catalyst” to assessing all that might be possible.

3. What did you do on the day after Hurricane Irma or other major event?

Jodi Kantor, New York Times correspondent, noted in Quora that what you truly want out of any interview is the real-life experience of a person. When candidates can respond using true experiences they have been through, you will get the most telling and illustrative answers. A response to a natural disaster or major event, such as how the candidate spent the day after the 2016 election, is telling yet not personally invasive.

This targeted, straight forward question will elicit some of the most candid responses. As Kantor explained, hypothetical questions that have traditionally been common in interviews will not provide the answers you are looking for in either permanent or contingent potential hires. Asking the candidate to describe their reaction to a major national or international event goes further than traditional “what if” questions.

“What you’re looking for in any interview is a fully rounded, unrehearsed view of the candidate,” concludes Lewis. “Your assessment of the person’s character and their cultural fit with your organization is enhanced when you are able to judge the way they think, react and respond.”

Recent CDI Analysis

“Although using a few of the same questions for all interviewees levels the playing field among candidates, interjecting unexpected questions in order to elicit spontaneous responses can be much more revealing.”

John Lewis
Managing Director of Talent and Technology Solutions Recruitment
CDI Corporation

Employment Situation (U.S.)

The rate of job growth in the U.S. has been robust over the past several months as 2017 transitioned into 2018. Yet the expansion seen during February 2018 defeated expectations by a considerable margin. According to the latest edition of the Employment Situation Summary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonfarm businesses in America’s private sector added 313,000 positions during the month. This figure was far ahead of estimates from a Bloomberg survey of prominent economists, who had predicted a gain of 205,000 jobs – strong, but still considerably less than the final tally.

Meanwhile, unemployment held steady at approximately 4.1 percent. February 2018 marks the fifth straight month during which U.S. unemployment has come in at that low of a figure. Additionally, an uptick in the rate of labor-force participation of 0.3 percent could indicate that not only is the growth of recent years strong, but it could also be sustainable for months to come.

For the most part, the industries responsible for the latest job gains were those that had boosted growth for much of the past year: healthcare, manufacturing, retail, construction and professional services. Construction led the pack among these in terms of positions created during February, with 61,000 new roles added, while retail trade saw 50,000 new jobs join its payrolls – a figure identical to that seen in the field of professional and business services during the same period. Manufacturing, for its part, added 31,000 jobs, and healthcare came in with 19,000 new roles for February 2018, a figure less than that of previous months but still indicative of that sector’s overall strength as a job creator.

Two industries that had not seen significant positive traction but remained static for much of last year saw significant increases in their payrolls during the last month. Financial activities added 28,000 jobs, largely due to the subcategories of credit intermediation and insurance. Mining, which saw considerable declines in its labor force during 2016, has since added 69,000 jobs, with the latest 9,000 of these created during February 2018.

Average hourly wage gains experienced a slight slowdown in February after a strong January, increasing by only 4 cents as opposed to the previous month’s growth of 7 cents. However, Ryan Moody, an economist at Moody’s Analytics, explained in an interview with Bloomberg that stronger, more sustained wage growth would soon be possible. "All the ingredients are in place for wages to accelerate, but it’s going to take time," Moody told the news provider. "There could still be some shadow slack. As the unemployment rate goes lower, wage pressures are going to build."

In sentiments that haven’t changed over the past several months, Bloomberg reported that economists and business leaders expect the Federal Reserve to implement the first of at least three increases to federal benchmark interest rates during its meeting that begins March 20.

Finally, The New York Times noted that the strength of February’s job gains could put a damper on the White House’s plans to implement a variety of restrictions on foreign trade, most recently tariffs on steel and aluminum. Construction and manufacturing, both of which contributed significantly to the month’s expanded job growth, depend on both of those materials to considerable degrees, sometimes in specialized varieties that are not available in the U.S.

The full Bureau of Labor Statistics report can be downloaded by
clicking here.

Employment Situation (Canada)

Although the end of 2017 showed notable growth in Canadian employment and surprised a number of analysts, January 2018 saw a quick reversal of that trend, with 88,000 jobs lost. February was another turnaround, with some job gains but little of note. Yet the decrease in the nation’s unemployment rate provided a silver lining potentially suggestive of further positive developments on the horizon.

According to the latest edition of the Canadian Labour Force Survey from Statistics Canada, businesses across the country created 15,000 jobs in February 2018, an increase of little statistical significance. Unemployment, meanwhile, dropped to 5.8 per cent, returning it to a level last seen in the final month of 2017, before it rose 0.1 per cent in January 2018. A notable number of the jobs created during February were within the field of government service, as private-sector employment remained essentially static.

In terms of specific sectors, the field of healthcare and social assistance saw the biggest gain, followed by transportation and resources, creating 25,000 and 13,000 jobs, respectively. However, such upticks ultimately did not count toward the total number of positions created nationwide during February 2018, due to a series of notable downturns in several industries. These included wholesale and retail trade, professional and technical services, manufacturing, finance, real estate and professional, technical and scientific services.

Looking at sectors on a year-over-year basis, the numbers change considerably, and in several cases point toward much more positive overall trends. For example, manufacturing employment has gone up by 71,000 – a rate of 4.2 per cent – between February 2017 and 2018, while wholesale and retail trade experienced a 1.3 per cent year-over-year jump, adding 36,000 jobs within the same span of time.

Ultimately, the Canadian labour market is performing soundly, with the recent ups and downs attributable in part to seasonal trends and a surplus of available labor. However, those who were hoping for definite confirmation of an interest rate increase from the National Bank of Canada learned that they would have to wait, perhaps till sometime in the year’s second quarter. Analyst Krishen Rangasamy elaborated on this via prepared remarks released with the National Bank’s "Economics and Strategy" bulletin, noting the role that contentious renegotiation talks regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement were playing in discussions of North America’s economic future:

"Despite mounting inflation pressures, the Bank of Canada has made it clear it is in no rush to move on rates because of uncertainties related to trade and the economy’s sensitivity to earlier rate hikes," Rangasamy explained in his statement. "The outlook for employment remains positive with corporations reporting strong profits and labour shortages, although the pace of job growth is likely to be restrained until at least a revamped NAFTA is signed by policymakers."

While the latest estimate of average weekly earnings has yet to be released by Statistics Canada, the National Bank included estimates of February 2018’s year-on-year hourly earnings in its release: The national financial institution posited that average hourly wages were up 3.1 per cent from the previous year, an indication that the Canadian economy is, overall, heading in a favorable direction.

Canadian ES Report:
Labour Force Survey, February 2018

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