Here's what some of Ireland's top bosses always ask in job interviews

From tech gurus to ex-Dragons’ Den stars, we got the best questions for finding dream hires.

By Conor McMahon Deputy editor, Fora

JOB INTERVIEWS ARE a nerve-wracking experience for applicants – and they’re no walk in the park for employers either.

Interviewers often have to wade through a time-consuming process of meeting potential recruits and wading through rehearsed – or, at worst, fabricated – answers in the hopes of finding their ideal hires.

Knowing that not everyone performs well in such situations, companies have tried toying with the process for years.

For example, Google tried to shake things up by putting applicants’ creative muscles to the test with brainteasers – but the search engine behemoth eventually ditched its left-of-field approach and reverted to slightly more traditional lines of questioning.

To help get a sense of how Irish business leaders navigate the tricky interview process, we’ve revisited some of Fora‘s question-and-answer features with top execs to find out how they uncover red flags when they’re quizzing candidates.

Here’s what they had to say when they were asked to reveal their favourite job interview question:

Paul Hackett, Click&Go

My favourite one is usually, how soon can you start? If I’ve got to the decision that they’re the right person for the job, I don’t need this multilayered approach. We would do the interview, a second interview and a reference check.

It also puts the onus on them to actually make a decision to join you. I think we’ve all been in the scenario where you’ve made job offers and people don’t follow through or something else happens or they stay where they are.

For interviews, I would love to have a Graham Norton red chair scenario because you know so quickly if somebody’s not suitable.

Of course you have to be polite, the person has taken the time to come in and meet you, everybody’s prepared – but everybody also knows if the process isn’t going to way it should.

paul hackett Paul Hackett
Source: Click&Go

Ben Harris, Drop

I like to ask, “All going well and you come into the company, what’s going to make you leave?”

It’s a real good way to understand how to make sure that person is as effective as possible if they end up in the company. It gives you a real good insight into their priorities as well.

Stephen Quinn, Jobbio

I look for the same traits in all of our people – they have to be smart, adaptable, ambitious and show leadership skills. It’s easy to say you’re all of those things, but I ask questions to get them to prove they are.

I ask questions like, “Tell me about a project you ran?” or “Tell me about a time you didn’t take no for an answer?” Those types of questions help me see if someone has the right traits.

Big Red Cloud CEO Marc O’Dwyer

What can you bring to this company, why and how will you put it into use here?

Accounting software is not the most exciting thing in the world, but if people have some kind of quirk or angle that they have used in a different industry that might liven things up or help us engage more with our customers, it helps us as a customer-service business to give more back to our customers.

Liam Cox, Deliveroo

If I’m interviewing someone and they don’t show a passion for the business, it’s a massive put-off.

Deliveroo is hard work and I need someone who cares about what they do. I want people to feel the same about the company as I do even before they start. I want to be able to see that passion in the interview process.

One of the questions I love to ask is: Let’s say a very well-funded competitor comes into the space and copies our exact product, how do you beat them?

It makes the applicant dive deep into the company to understand what our values are and what our unique selling point is.

liam cox Liam Cox
Source: John Ohle Photo

Meaghers Pharmacy’s Oonagh O’Hagan

“What’s the last kind thing you’ve done for somebody?” I think it tells you a lot about someone.

We spend a lot of our time not just looking for people who have the ability to do their job, but people who have the right attitude and are the right fit to our company values.

That for me is nearly more important. We’re in a healthcare industry at the end of the day, so they need to be able to have a lot of empathy with customers and build relationships.

I think if you ask that question, you get a good sense of what extent will they go to for a customer and you get a good sense of who they are as a person.

Our customers are sometimes very sick people who need a lot of empathy. They can be very distressed or they could have a loved one who’s going through some dreadful treatment and very often, it’s just people skills that we need.

There’s no point having somebody with the best academic skills if they can’t reach out to somebody and say, “It’s going to be OK.”

Peter Keeling, Diaceutics

What I’m looking for is an individual’s passion. We bring people into an interview because they have a particular skill, but my question is always to put that aside and tell me who you are, what you’re passionate about.

Whether that’s dogs, cats, scuba diving, cycling – it doesn’t matter. I’m just looking for someone with energy and drive – that’s important because you can bring that passion into the business. 

And here’s what they said when we asked them to name the one thing that would put them off hiring someone:

Norah Casey, Harmonia

If they don’t know why they’re there. Often people will sit in front of me and they’re going for an editorship or a production job and I’ll say, “So, what do you like about the magazine or the job?” Then you realise they haven’t done any homework.

They’re on a bandwagon looking for jobs and they’re not specifically looking to work for you.

I interviewed someone once. When I asked her what she thought of the magazine, she said she hadn’t read it in six months. I said, “You’re wasting your time and mine, so bye-bye.”

90274924_90274924 Norah Casey
Source: Sam Boal/

Pat McCann, Dalata

Attitude is everything. We have a very simple philosophy on it: hire people on attitude because you can train them to do everything else.

I don’t care how skilled you are – if you don’t have the right attitude, you will never be quite right for us.

And I don’t mean a kind of subservient attitude. I mean that you have a little bit of entrepreneurial spirit, that you’re not phased by issues, that you’re strong in character, that you’re resilient.

When I started Dalata, I said I would only employ nice people – people who are genuine, want to do things, want to grow, want to develop themselves. So far, thankfully, I’ve been very lucky with that.

Cara Pharmacy’s Ramona Nicholas

The part of my job I don’t enjoy the most is interviewing people. Sometimes you get people who have a wrong idea of what it involves to work in a pharmacy. They think you need to stand behind a counter, look pretty and sell perfume – but it’s a very different job.

Each staff member’s final interview is with me, no matter what role, and the first thing I always check for is their smile. I pre-interview them even when they don’t realise they’re in an interview.

They might be waiting in reception, and I walk past a few times. If someone lifts their head and says, “Hello”, I see that as a really good thing. It means they will always approach a customer.

I don’t care about skills, what college you went to or whatever, to me it is all about attitude. You can learn skills afterwards.

90342133_90342133 Ramona Nicholas
Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Ruth McCarthy, Fexco

You should always leave scope for somebody to stretch and grow as they take on a new role, but if you know at the outset that they will not be capable of delivering, you’re setting them up for failure by hiring them.

In the hiring process it’s very important to be engaged with HR and think carefully about your job description and the skills that you’re looking for.

You really can’t afford to cut corners in that process. Once you’ve hired somebody, they’ve made a commitment and you’ve made a commitment. It’s very, very hard to step back from it.

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