Save Interview Time With These Knockout Questions

by Jobbatical September 13, 2016

There are many kinds of knockouts. One of the better known is in boxing, where a KO (knockout) wins the round. Baseball players can “knock it out of the park” (a home run). And an extremely good-looking person might be called a “knockout”. Sometimes the term is used in medicine to describe eradicating a disease: a new protocol that will “knock out cancer”.

In the same vein, asking knockout questions will save you from interviewing applicants who aren’t a fit. Knockout questions eliminate unsuitable candidates immediately, so you can home in on those who can knock it out of the park for your business.

Higher Standards = Better Hires

The point of a knockout question is to save recruiter time and resources. Usually, the recruiter won’t even see the application, because the candidate is “knocked out” early in the game.

Knockout questions are a lot like survey parameters, which immediately streamline potential participants based on such demographic data as age, marital status, salary, gender, or geography. Knockout interview questions tend to focus on basic topics such as:

  • Type of position sought: full time, part time, remote, relocation, etc.
  • Type of culture desired
  • Solving a relevant tech problem. An incorrect solution knocks the candidate out before there is even an interview.

This applicant tracking system moves candidates into appropriate buckets: “rejected” and “to be prescreened — maybe”.

Talent acquisition should scale

Your business and the open position help determine relevant knockout questions, and automated prescreening can help you determine minimum job requirements and core competencies painlessly, moving those who are qualified into the “to be prescreened” bucket and kindly showing those who do not meet your criteria the virtual door.

Obviously you want candidates who fit your company culture. But if they don’t have the requisite skill set, personality won’t matter. So let’s begin here.

Knockout skill screening questions:

  • Check all software applications in which you are proficient (checklist).
  • How many years experience do you have in [desired technology/field]?
  • Are you able and willing to travel about 30% of the time? (If job entails travel.)
  • Highest level of education completed (multiple choice) and degree.

Knockout personality/culture fit questions:

  • Are you willing to relocate? (If company frequently transfers employees between locations.)
  • Do you work best alone or as part of a team? (One or the other will be more valuable for your culture and the open position.)
  • What is most important to you in considering new employment? (Simple checklist: congenial coworkers, quiet environment, health coverage, free lunch, etc. What applicants check indicates how aligned they are with your company culture.)
  • What are your salary requirements? (Offer a multiple-choice range. Candidates whose minimum acceptable salary is beyond the range you’ve set for the position are not a fit.)

Knockout questions to spot potential problems:

  • Are details important to you? Dave Anderson, author of How to Lead by The Book: Proverbs, Parables and Principles to Tackle Your Toughest Business Challenges, advises, “Look for use of professional language and correctly spelled words. If these aren’t present, it’s a reason for disqualification. Recently, my organization hired a new administrative assistant. One application for the job had multiple spelling and grammatical errors. Knockout! One person sent e-mails in all lowercase letters. Knockout! And unbelievably, one person even spelled his own last name incorrectly in one spot, which was a definite knockout!”
  • Overconfidence. Give applicants a tech problem relevant to the role to solve. If it’s incorrect, knockout is clear. If they guess and insist they’re right when they aren’t, how will you be able to trust them on the job? Not knowing what you don’t know is a serious red flag.
  • Why did you leave/are you leaving your current job? “Boredom” or “Nothing more to learn” implies apathy, aggrandizement, or both. KO this candidate and move on.

Once you knock out those applicants who clearly aren’t a fit, the right candidates will become much more clear.

Originally published at on September 13, 2016.

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