Employee retention isn’t just about incentives and benefits; reducing turnover goes way back to the hiring stage.  Hiring the wrong employee is costly.  The expenses involved in replacing a new employee are, on average, approximately one-third of their yearly salary.  Replacing senior level employees increases the costs significantly, while replacing a CEO could cost millions.  The Harvard Business Review reports bad hiring decisions as being the culprit for nearly 80% of employee turnover.  Following are some important ways that businesses can screen for employee retention potential during candidate interviews.

1. Job Description

Poor skills match is considered a leading cause of unsuccessful hires.  Businesses should be thoroughly knowledgeable about the needs and skills required for available positions.  Many job descriptions do not contain specific criteria required for effective job performance.  To correct this, numerous businesses involve employees who actively perform the job when writing the description.  During a candidate interview, ask questions regarding the candidate’s experiences, skills, and education that will indicate their competency for the job.  Some key questions to ask when gauging whether or not a candidate is capable of performing the necessary tasks include:

  • How many years of education and experience do you have?
  • How many years of experience do you have (specific to the job needs)?
  • What is one of your greatest achievements in (particular job function)?

Behavioural questions to gain further insight:

  • Talk about a quick decision you had to make while on the job; why you chose to make that choice, and the result.
  • Tell me about a time where you made a mistake on the job and what did you do to rectify it?

Thoughtful responses to these questions will indicate whether the potential employee reacts to circumstances emotionally, or by using good judgment and if they take full responsibility for their choices and actions.

2. Corporate Culture

Every organization has a culture originating from values, principles, expectations, rules, and procedures that influence the behaviour of supervisors and employees.  Some new hires fail because they clash with the existing organizational culture, expected behaviour, and interactions. Called a “cultural misfit,” these candidates are competent and capable for the job position but unable to fit into the company dynamics.  During the candidate interview, softs skills should be looked at and discussed, including communication, leadership, and experiences working in a cooperative environment.  Applicant responses will provide interviewers with not only an understanding of the candidate’s qualifications but also give insight into the individuals fit into the corporate culture.

3. Care and Diligence

Finding the right candidate takes time and thoroughness.  The decision to hire a new employee should never be based on a “gut feeling.”  The candidate interview should be part of a comprehensive hiring plan.   Following are questions that can provide helpful knowledge when building your team.


  • Describe your preferred work environment.
  • What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?  Why?
  • Where are you planning to be two years from now?  Why?


  • Have you ever had to alter your behavior for work reasons?  Why?
  • How would your current supervisor and coworkers describe you?
  • Do you receive the respect you deserve at your current position?  Why or why not?


  • How do you meet obstacles in your life?  Give me an example.
  • Tell me how you resolved a complicated problem at work?  How did you decide what steps needed to be taken?

Emotional Maturity

  • In your last position, what was your greatest accomplishment?
  • What was your most significant failure?

4. Compensation

In our candidate shortage, employees are at higher risk of being lured away by attractive compensation packages from competitors.  Understanding a candidate’s career motivations will give you insight into whether they are likely to leave if a higher paid opportunity comes their way.

Some questions to gauge financial motivations:

  • What prompted you to look into other job opportunities?
  • What are the top 3 requirements for your ideal role?

Being motivated by money is not a bad thing by any means, most of us are motivated by money to varying degrees. But you need to understand if your compensation, current and future, matches the prospective employee’s expectations.  When discussing compensation with a potential new hire, be sure to include any benefits, vacation and extras that might be important to the candidate’s whole package.  If there are any retention incentives available to long-term employees (e.g. stock options), be sure to mention these during the process.


Image Credit: Andrew Mason