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The Power of Questioning x 4

Apr 20, 2017

In my previous article, “Competing for the best candidates…”, I suggested your values should play a major role in the recruitment and retention of staff.

This article looks at preparing for interview and assessing your shortlist, and also the importance of incisive questioning.  

For simplicity we can condense recruitment and selection into 4 elements.  Each should broaden your perspective by obtaining candidate information.

Incisive questioning is crucial for the success of each element:

The Interview

Interviews are often subjective.  We need to triangulate “information” on each candidate. Some interviewers reach their decision within 5 minutes.  These decisions are generally based on bias eg looks; clothes; accent or body language. 

Instead we should delve into past behaviour and performance of candidates, seeking to learn about their values and motives.  We need to make the best selection decision both for us, and for the applicant.

Here we need to ask questions to elicit information about suitability for the role.  Ask for examples of past performance – what worked well? Their understanding of the reasons for this, why did that work do you think? Also ask them for examples when things didn’t turn out as planned – their understanding of the blocks, what were the reasons for the outcome they got? And importantly, what will they do differently next time?

Incisive questioning requires active listening.  This means ensuring you are showing signs of listening.  Next time you are observing small groups of teachers or pupils talking, stop and observe their behaviour.  How are they showing interest and engagement?  Ask yourself, do I use these signals when I am interviewing?  Candidates need encouragement to be able to give of their best….and the best is what you want!

Psychometric Testing

Psychometric testing is both helpful and a cost effective means of obtaining candidate feedback on their values, preferences and motivations prior to the interview.  This will give you an insight behind their interview responses if the report and their answer appear to be contradictory. Feedback reports should enable you to learn how they see themselves which you should compare with your organisations values.

Assessment Exercises

Assessment Exercises can widen the selection process to include practical, job related tasks.  Ask yourself which aspects of the role will you need to observe to assess mastery?  A wide range of activities are frequently included in a senior leader or headship recruitment.  Could this add value to your recruitment process for junior roles?  For example, how do you assess the quality of their teaching?   How much do you use and value student input?


There is some debate regarding the value of a reference.  Often viewed with suspicion “what’s the real meaning of that statement?”, or “this is a bit glowing, is this to help a poor performer on their way?” 

Ask yourself what value do you put on a reference and if it provides you with facts or opinions?  Will your recruitment decision be determined by the opinion of others?  How can this be triangulated?

Would I be more effective if I trusted my process and intuition?

And finally, why not ask your staff for feedback on the effectiveness of your selection process.  Which is cheaper – correcting poor recruitment decisions or designing a process which enhances objectivity, takes account of institutional and candidate values, and incisively questions on past behaviours and performance?

Successful institutions follow a robust recruitment and selection process to reach the right decision about a candidate’s fit and suitability… sometimes the right decision is to start again. 

Janet Bell - Rare.png

Janet Bell

Tags: recruitment
Category: Minerva blogs

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