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6 key interview questions to help find the most productive candidate

18 Mar 2020

Jane Bamford of Hays outlines how to look for productive potential employees during the interview process.

Whether it’s tips on handling a heavy workload or coping with office distractions, it’s safe to say that advice on how to be more productive at work is just about everywhere you look online.

However, what I would like to talk about is how, as a business, your focus on improving the productivity of your workforce can and should start with the interview process.

I don’t need to tell you that recruiting employees who are ambitious and self-motivated is one of the golden tickets to an effective workforce. But is there a way you can measure for these productivity indicators in the interview room? The good news is that there is, and it involves asking the right questions.

How would you describe a typical working day in your current role?

It is one of the most commonly asked interview questions, but only a small portion of hiring managers ask this question with the objective of measuring productivity.

What you really need to be looking out for as you ask this question is whether the candidate has a clear structure to their day. People who can structure their day and assign certain routines and processes in place are usually the most productive.

For instance, many people will spend the first 10 to 20 minutes of their morning responding to emails and planning their day ahead.

How do you prioritise your tasks?

Productive and self-managed candidates will usually have their own system for prioritising their tasks, which will include deciding what to complete straight away, what to add to a to-do list and how they prioritise the tasks on this to-do list.

However, if the candidate struggles to answer this question, or fails to include any of the above points, then chances are they are not used to prioritising their own workload, therefore won’t be as productive in making sure it gets completed.

How do you focus in a distracting environment?

In an age where our phones don’t stop buzzing and our desktop alerts don’t stop popping up, it can often be hard to focus on the task at hand.

This can be even harder if you work in a busy environment with multiple conversations happening across the room at once, or if you have a lot of conflicting responsibilities and demands.

Workplace distractions are the biggest hindrance to productivity. Ask your candidate how they respond to these distractions.

Productive employees will have certain techniques which help them to focus, whether it’s working in 90-minute blocks, focusing on one task at a time or making a conscious effort not to get distracted by office chatter.

They will also know that regular breaks, keeping hydrated and eating properly are all conducive to productivity and focus.

Tell me about a time when you reached a goal

Another productivity pointer will be whether the candidate refers to results and outcomes in their interview answers. Certain interview questions will give the candidate the opportunity to do this, for example: ‘Can you talk about a time when you reached your goal?’ or ‘What’s your biggest achievement?’.

A candidate who can talk extensively about the tangible results of their hard work will likely be a candidate who makes the best use of their time because they constantly have the end goal in mind.

Can you tell me about a time that you took initiative?

As our CEO Alistair Cox explained in a recent blog, companies should be hiring employees who take the initiative and feel confident in introducing their own ideas.

These are the types of employees who will take the initiative to think about new and better ways of doing things, for the sake of improved productivity and output. Can this interviewee describe a time that they drove forward a positive change which improved efficiency and results within the business?

How do you maintain a work-life balance?

The above answers should give you an insight into whether the candidate knows how to make an efficient use of their time. As contrary as it may seem, workaholics do not make for productive employees. While there may be times that working extra hours is necessary, most of the time working smart and not hard is the key to productivity.

If the candidate has a good work-life balance, then they too will have the approach of working smart, not hard, and will be able to talk about their hobbies, interests, social life and how they switch off from work.

Productivity should always be high on the agenda when it comes to your hiring criteria for a candidate. After all, an efficient member of the team can make a big difference to the team dynamic and output.

While you can never fully know how a candidate will perform in the role until you have actually hired them, you can get a good insight into how productive they would be by asking the right questions.

By Jane Bamford

Jane Bamford is a director at Hays. A version of this article originally appeared on the Hays Viewpoint Blog.

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