Better Interview Questions

Organizations operating in competitive markets have never-ending challenges to develop new products, reduce costs, improve quality, and reduce lead-times. There are many other challenges as well, but these challenges are fundamental to survival. Yet, the favorite interview questions from top executives are more fluff than substance. It also shows that Lean thinking has not yet impacted this important aspect of the hiring process. A recent BloombergBusinessWeek article, “Interview Questions: Hiring Experts Reveal Their Favorites,” listed these interview questions from eight executives:

  • Who do you most admire and why?
  • In your last employee review, what areas for improvement were identified?
  • Why are you here?
  • So you’re a Yankees fan. If you were their owner, how would you make the team better?
  • What is your passion?
  • You’re a project manager? Tell me about a time you had a delayed project.
  • Describe an environment in which you would not thrive.
  • If you could do anything, what would be your ideal job?

While some behavioral interview questions can be useful in the interview process, questions central to business survival and human development should also be asked. Here are my favorite interview questions.

  • What have you done to improve your job or process?
  • What training have you had in continuous improvement and how have you applied it?
  • Is the waste of unused human talent, a symptom of a larger problem or the root cause?
  • What is the difference between batch-and-queue processing and flow?
  • How do you simultaneously reduce costs, improve quality, and reduce lead-times?
  • Can you give me some examples of your original or creative thinking?
  • Do you consider yourself results or process focused? Why?
  • What can you do to improve information flow?
  • Have you participated in kaizen? What did you do and what did you learn?
  • What frustrates you at work? Identify three options on what can you do to improve that.
  • What were the characteristics of the best and worst supervisors you have had?
  • How many problems are cause by blaming people for mistakes? What are the problems?
  • What do you enjoy learning?

The last question is an important one. When I interviewed potential managers, nobody said they were interested in learning about management and leadership. That’s surprising since their chosen profession is management and leadership.

A lack of interest in management and leadership suggests that candidates think they know all there is to know about managing organizations and leading people. That reflects the mind of someone who does not understand what “continuous improvement” and “respect for people” means.

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