Favorite interview questions of potential employers

The resume helps land the interview, but when it comes to making hiring decisions, employers are looking for less-obvious clues that an applicant is right for the job, a new Accountemps survey reveals. Forty-two percent of chief financial officers (CFOs) polled cited their "go-to" interview questions as those related to personal attributes - for example: "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" and "Describe your work ethic." Thirty-four percent of executives prefer to ask about qualifications, such as, "Tell me about your previous experience" and "Why should we hire you?"

CFOs were asked, "When interviewing job candidates, what is your favorite question to ask?" Their responses fell into three basic categories: Those questions designed to learn more about the applicant's work style and personal attributes (42 percent of responses fell roughly into this category), those addressing the candidate's qualifications (34 percent of questions landed here) and job or company-specific questions (24 percent of CFOs picked these as favorites).   

"During the interview, employers are interested in learning what a resume won't tell them - if the applicant's personality and work style are right for the job," said Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps and author of Job Hunting For Dummies. "When preparing for these meetings, job seekers should perfect a brief summary of their qualifications, achievements, and professional goals, but also be ready to have a more open dialogue about their personal strengths."

While standard interview questions may seem passé to some, CFOs still like the following oldies but goodies:

  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Tell me about your previous experience.
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Here are interview questions designed to learn about the person behind the resume:
  • Tell me five attributes that best describe you.
  • Describe something in your life that makes you happy.
  • How do you handle stress?
  • What are your interests outside of work?
  • What's your favorite baseball team?
  • What games did you play as a teenager?
  • What was your favorite subject in school?
  • If you could have any job in the world, what would it be and why?

Ethics and personal values remain important to executives surveyed, judging by many of their favorite questions. Here are some examples: 

  • What does the word 'integrity' mean to you?
  • Which is more important, family or work?
  • How would you deal with a colleague who undermines you?
  • On a scale of one to 10, what do you rate your work ethic?
  • Have you ever had to right a wrong, and how did you go about it?

Not all CFOs stick to the standards, however. Executives occasionally like to throw curveballs like these:

  • Tell me something funny that happened to you in the last six months.
  • What is your favorite animal?
  • If you could interview any three people, living or dead, who would they be?
  • Who is your favorite fictional character and why?
  • What is 99.5 divided by 2?
  • Why do you feel you deserve this position more than the next guy?
  • Why would you not hire yourself for this job?
  • How long are you going to work here?
  • If you were a manager, is there anything that you would change about yourself?

"Job seekers should rehearse responses to common interview questions, but also be able to think quickly on their feet so they can best answer whatever a hiring manager may ask," Messmer added.

About the Survey

The survey was developed by Accountemps, a staffing service for temporary accounting, finance, and bookkeeping professionals. It was conducted by an independent research firm and is based on interviews with more than 1,000 CFOs from a stratified random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.

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