Interview Questions That Work


A bad hire has a nasty ripple effect. It can cost your company time and money and kill morale, productivity and customer service.

Of all the decisions you make in the day-to-day operations of your business, hiring decisions are the most important. The people you hire represent your company and brand to the community you serve -- they are the face and personality of your company. The majority of the contact with your customers is made by your employees since as an owner, you have other responsibilities that pull you away from your customers.

In a commodity industry, such as the convenience industry, people are the differentiator. Simply put, your employees will make or break you.

When interviewing potential employees, there are basically five types of interview questions:

  1. Hypothetical
  2. Leading
  3. Open-ended
  4. Closed-ended
  5. Behavior-based

Hypothetical questions go something like this: “What would you do if a customer yelled at you over high gas prices?” Job candidates answer hypothetical questions by what they believe the interviewer wants to hear, not what they would actually do in a given situation.

Leading questions start out like this: “Customer service is important to our business. What are your thoughts on customer service?” Duh! How do you think a job candidate would answer this type of question? “I can’t stand customers. They’re always complaining. Hire me and I’ll put them in their place.” Leading questions telegraph the correct answer.

Open-ended questions are useful because they encourage job candidates to open up, think and talk at length. Open-ended questions begin with: what, when, where, why and how. For example: “What do you like the most about cashiering?”

Close-ended questions generally elicit one-word answers: yes or no. They won’t help you to assess motivation level or how well someone will perform. However, in some cases, closed-ended questions are necessary: “Do you have reliable transportation?" “Can you start on Monday?”

Behavior-based questions are based on the premise that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. For example: “Tell me about a time when you had an irate customer and the boss wasn’t around to resolve the customer’s problem. What did you do?” Behavior-based questions always start out like: “Tell me about a time when…” “Give me an example of when…” “I’d like to hear about a time when…” I’m curious to learn about…” Give me an example of a situation you faced where you had to…”

Questions That Get Into the Head

Here are four questions that can help you get into a job candidate’s head in terms of how they think and see themselves:

  • “What’s the biggest misperception people have of you?” It’s interesting to see how self-aware candidates are.
  • “What’s most important to you at work?” It gets to the point of what you want to know beyond skills and experience.
  • “Why wouldn’t I hire you?” You get the most honest answers because it’s not a question people anticipate being asked.
  • “What have your parents taught you?” It gets to the core of people and what makes them tick.

The Interview Process

An interview is a process, not an event. When researching for our book on interviewing, we found that the typical interview takes 15 minutes, with the interviewer doing most of the talking. What could you possibly learn about a job candidate in 15 minutes? A good interview should take 45 minutes, and the 80/20 rule should be applied: listen 80 percent of the time and talk 20 percent. After all, you can’t learn anything if you’re doing all the talking.

Always remember: people aren’t your greatest asset. The right people are.

Terry McKenna is principal and co-founder of Convenience Store Coaches & Employee Performance Strategies Inc., where he helps convenience retailers achieve greater financial results by optimizing their workforce. McKenna can be reached at (910) 458-5227 or [email protected]. He also maintains a blog at

Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner.

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