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For many roles, there are a specific technical skill sets required in order to be successful in the position.  Whether it’s searching for a software developer,  a market research analyst, or a maintenance mechanic, the process of identifying the right skill sets in an interview can be difficult for hiring managers and recruiters who don’t have direct experience with the work.

While nothing beats immersion into a particular field to understand the subtleties of various code languages or specialty tools or technologies required to perform various functions, the majority of us only have a minimal amount of time available to devote to such endeavors.  What we’re left with is leaving it in the applicant’s hands to tell us what they think is relevant about their skills and trying to educate ourselves further with each consecutive interview.

There is no quick solution to solving this dilemma.  But, there are ways you can accelerate your understanding and identification of the necessary skill sets and minimize your the learning curve by asking appropriate interview questions and utilizing some of the tips below.

Q.  Give me an example of a project that you had to apply your expertise in/with _________.

It’s always great to ask for examples when addressing skill sets.  You may not always understand everything the candidate is explaining to you if the example is particularly high level.  But, part of the goal in asking the question is to get a greater sense if they understand the applications of the skills or expertise you are looking for in how they communicate.

Try also asking how they might explain their position, skill sets, or a project they worked on to an entry level employee or client with only a basic understanding of their role.  While in part this allows you to see if they can articulate what they do in another way, there’s a bonus, as a person who can break down and explain a highly technical process is going to be able to better communicate and work with teams or clients outside their department.

Q.  What formal training have you completed for _________?   Can you provide additional examples of how you have identified and used opportunities outside of your formal training to develop skills related to ___________?

There are those people who learn something and store it away, and those that learn, apply, grow, and repeat the cycle to continue to develop.  Which is the right fit for the position you’re filling?  Don’t just settle for knowing what courses they took, as a grade doesn’t necessarily determine proficiency or practical application.

Delve in a little deeper to see if your candidate is constantly trying to improve their skills.  Are they aware of relevant current and future trends.  Do they seek out new processes or technologies?  Do they continue to leverage or build upon their skills for new applications?  Don’t be afraid to ask how they developed their knowledge around a particular area or what actions they take to stay current  with new standards or to maintain their level of proficiency.

Q.  Tell me more about the experience you mentioned while _______.    What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment related to experience?

Were they able to learn something that they applied later in their work?  Did they go above and beyond in creating new  or simplified standards, products, services, or methods of operations for the organization?

Posing a question of this nature can sometimes allow you to identify if they can see the bigger picture in how their work applies to the goals of an organization.  It can give you an understanding if the applicant is the type who buries their head and just does what is asked or if they seek to improve processes or find new methods to apply their skills. (Always remember to consider the appropriate fit for the position at hand, as many types of personalities are required in different work settings)

Q.  What have you done to gain a better understanding of your previous company’s business strategies including competencies, capabilities, products and services?  What have you learned from these opportunities or how have you applied this knowledge?

This is another big picture question.  If candidate’s take the time to understand how they fit into the larger strategy of the organization, they’re most likely going to be able to better apply their skill sets in a more proactive manner to help achieve mutual goals.

A good candidate can do the work that’s asked, a better candidate can be strategic in their approach to the role and improve upon the work aligning it with the company’s objectives.  A bonus addition to this question is to ask their understanding of the hiring organization’s business strategy and how they might apply their knowledge in a new setting.  Feel free to provide them with your organization’s objectives and strategic overview, if it is not readily available, to help assess their response.

An added bonus, if you have the option, is to include an employee in a similar role in the interview process, to help evaluate the necessary technical skills. After all, because they have a greater understanding they’re going to be able to more quickly determine if the applicant has the basics required for the position.  (However, choose the appropriate employee, as if it is a peer position or one that oversees the employee, some employees can feel threatened that their role in the company is in jeopardy.) Feel free to sit in and learn from the conversation.

Above are a few questions that can help ease you into a more intentional conversation with a candidate that goes beyond checking off the appropriate boxes for technical skills required.  Over time, paired with self-education to gain a better understanding of the position (think learning common terminology, overview of applications, etc. to be able to speak to the technical skill sets), you can become more comfortable with your selection process to find the appropriate fit for your company.

Taking an approach to ask questions like the ones above can not only help you understand if the candidate has the necessary skills, but if they have the appropriate critical thinking behind the skills to be able to apply and align their knowledge on a daily basis to what’s important to your organization.

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