Use an Interview Checklist

Before your next interview, spend a few minutes writing down key things you want to learn from each candidate.

By Bob Piper, Principal, The Talon Group | February 29, 2004


Bob Piper, Principal, The Talon Group

Using a checklist for interviewing provides the same benefits as using a construction schedule for building homes: You have an orderly process for achieving a desired result and don't overlook important details. Not using a checklist severely hampers your chances of success.

Before your next interview, spend a few minutes writing down key things you want to learn from each candidate. Some of the topics will be germane to any opening, such as reasons for making job changes, successes and failures, long-term goals, etc. For management candidates, you might investigate how they train and develop people, top-grade their staff, etc.

Other questions will be position-specific. You need to think in terms of what successful performance should look like in the job and tailor your questions accordingly. For example, there is a big difference between working with an existing purchase order system versus developing one from scratch, or in creating a sales and marketing program for a starter home subdivision versus an active-adult community.

So stay focused on what you need the candidate to bring to the table. What must be accomplished in the job today and in the future? How and when should it happen?

Pose your interview questions in a similarly focused manner, and then sit back and listen. Remember, history predicts what will happen in the future.

Following are sample interview questions that focus on real-time experiences in the trenches. Answer them as if you were the candidate. Once the interviews are complete, compare your answers with those of each candidate.

Construction-related questions:


  • What are your build times (target versus actual) and most common causes for delays? What steps have you taken to resolve them?

  • What about cost variances - how much, how often and why?

  • Is your position involved with estimating, purchasing or customer service functions? Describe.

  • What have you or your company done to improve quality and customer approval?

  • What are the best ways to identify and hire new trades/subcontractors?

    Sales and marketing questions:


  • What are your conversion and cancellation rates, and which factors affect them the most?

  • Who are your best competitors in terms of quality control, product design and overall sales team?

  • What is the unique selling point for each of those competitors?

  • At what point do you use price incentives, discounts or promotions?

  • How do you address a poor-performing subdivision?

    Purchasing and estimating questions:


  • Can you walk me through the process for developing a final budget for a new plan?

  • How are your budget variances running? Target versus actual?

  • What are the primary causes of fluctuation?

  • Do you use turnkey or piecemeal bid processes? Why?

  • How often do you rebid?

  • How do you handle communication with the sales and construction staffs?

    Using a checklist affords you the opportunity to compare answers from multiple candidates objectively - the old apples-to-apples thing. You gain a clearer perspective on which candidate most exactly fits your specific need.

    Equally important, you can compare the answers against your own experiences - who knows, you might even learn something new.

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