Expert Interview: Donna Svei on Asking the Right Interview Questions

Amy McCloskey Tobin

In our ongoing series with hiring experts, we turned to retained search consultant and resume expert Donna Svei for answers on hiring challenges. Here is the interview:


A Tobin: How do you ensure that the quest for “culture fit” doesn’t result in homogenous hiring?

D Svei:  I avoid culture misfit, but I don’t hire for culture fit. It’s a different focus that provides space for fresh DNA.


A Tobin: How do you avoid a bad hire? What are the cues/language to keep an eye out for? What are the cues you need to look past to not miss out on a great candidate?

D Svei: I look for too much job churn on the resume. In interviews, I ask candidates why they took each job they took and why they left each job they left. Their reasons for leaving, especially when you cover each job, reveal interesting patterns.

I don’t look past those two cues. I’d rather risk missing a great candidate than hire an awful one. Staff problems consume too many resources.


A Tobin: How do you get employee feedback without giving up the final say? What do you ask them to evaluate the candidate and WHEN in the process do you ask for that feedback?

D Svei:  If future colleagues have particular expertise, I ask them to provide their input on that. I also ask for any other input they have. By having more than one person provide feedback, you can avoid giving up the final say. I like to give people an evening to sit with their reactions and responses. I generally ask for feedback the day after they meet with someone.


A Tobin: Should your hiring approach be different depending on the generation of the candidate?

D Svei: For a given position, you will benefit from using a consistent approach. This avoids any legal complications and it makes it easy to evaluate your candidates.


A Tobin: How do you filter candidates initially?

D Svei: By reviewing their resume for fit with the job specification, clear thinking, and no/minimal errors.


A Tobin: What interview questions are your go-tos, and why? How do you evaluate the answer?

D Svei: The “why did you take the job” and “why did you leave the job” questions are critical. I ask the first question to balance the second question. The second question is more informative. I usually ask these questions in an initial phone interview.

Beyond that, I write structured interview questions for all “must have” selection criteria. This is the second interview. Because it’s hard to ask more than six to ten structured questions in a one-hour interview, I winnow the candidate pool with “must haves” and then do additional interviews as needed to evaluate other criteria.

As a retained search consultant, I do complete interviews with candidates and give my clients a full report. They can then choose to interview as much or as little as they like, but I don’t depend on them to do any discovery beyond their personal ability to work with the candidate.


donna sveiDonna Svei is an award winning retained search consultant and executive resume writer. You can find her on LinkedIn, and on Twitter.

Contributing Author

Amy McCloskey Tobin is a sales professional, writer, and content strategist. She writes on sales, small business, diversity,k generational insights, and leadership.

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