Consultant Says Job Interviews Should Focus on Knowledge, Skills and Abilities

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By Genevieve Douglas

June 23 -- To conduct a job interview that is effective but not too structured or rehearsed, HR should use general questions along with some specific queries based on the applicant's resume, Rita Revels, president of rev Training and Consulting LLC, said June 23 at the Society for Human Resource Management's annual conference in Orlando, Fla.

While traditional interview questions--including “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”--may not give you an accurate picture of a job candidate, they may help to put a nervous applicant at ease, she said.

Meantime, Revels cautioned that situational interview questions can also be problematic because applicants “will say what they think HR wants to hear. It's all theoretical, so these individuals will represent that they are Superman,” she said.

“Brainteaser” interview questions are best used in interviews for jobs that require creative thinking, Revels said. Such questions are not about knowing the answer, but are designed to show the thought process a candidate uses to figure out the problem, she said. “These questions do have a place,” but they really do not tell HR who that person is and if they have the abilities to perform the job in question, she said.

For the most effective interview, knowledge-, skills- and abilities-based questions (KSAs) allow an interviewer to learn things about an applicant because they require the person to tell a story, and that telling will reveal things about the applicant, she said.

Revels recommended HR use specific kinds of KSAs when hiring executives, to avoid bad hires, potential legal issues and other problems that can arise.

She listed the top desired executive traits and corresponding questions to ask:

• The ability to motivate and lead others--Tell me about a time that you provided your team with the tools needed for an exceptional accomplishment.

• The ability to manage change--Tell me about a time when you were involved in a major change effort and it was not as successful as you would have liked for it to be.

• The ability to identify and develop talent--Tell me about a time when you had to communicate to an employee that they were not meeting your expectations.

• The ability to think innovatively--Tell me about a time that you had to come up with a creative solution to a problem and had to do it quickly.


Revels recommended HR use this process on both internal and external candidates for top-level positions. Even if hiring managers are already aware of an internal candidate's work, she said, it is still helpful to get their perspective on the process and to know how they think.

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at

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