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Essential Operations Interview Questions: A Comprehensive Guide

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The operations team is a vital part of any organization. They’re the ones who plan, organize, and coordinate all of your production activities, from procuring materials to distributing and marketing the finished goods. Effective operations recruiting ensures your projects and products are completed efficiently, effectively, and in alignment with your business goals. 

While generic interview questions can give you some insights into a candidate’s skills, experience, and ability, taking a more targeted approach will give you more useful information. Here are some excellent interview questions to fully assess the abilities of candidates and improve your hiring success for every operations role. 

Key skills for operations professionals

The first step to choosing the right interview questions is knowing what you hope to learn from candidates’ answers. While cultural fit and personality are important things, too, those tend to be more specific to your organization. The skills required to excel in operations are more consistent across employees and companies.

Some of the core skills you want to look for in your operations team include: 

  • Technical proficiency – There are a number of software programs, production automation tools, tracking systems, and other technology that operations professionals need to use on a daily basis. The ideal candidate will either have experience with the specific tools you use or a demonstrated track record of learning these types of systems quickly and effectively. 
  • Data processing and analysis – Knowing what data to focus on, and how to interpret it, is critical for an operations professional to gauge the effectiveness of processes and find areas for improvement. This is particularly important for operations managers but is a valuable skill for operations talent at any level.
  • Communication – Some work in operations is independent, but for the most part these professionals work as part of a team. Communication is also crucial for roles that interact with clients, customers, and other stakeholders both within and outside the organization. 
  • Strategic planning – The ability to anticipate issues, establish realistic project timelines, and deliver successful outcomes is central to the operations role. While operations managers are the main ones involved in this planning process, individual contributors in operations should still have a basic understanding of strategic planning so they can carry out those plans and monitor their progress and results effectively.
  • Finance and math – Operations managers are frequently responsible for managing the production budget and making other decisions that affect the organization’s cash flow. To do this, they need to have basic math skills and an understanding of business finances. 
  • Creative problem solving – There are all kinds of issues that can come up between when a company receives materials and when finished products reach customers. The ability to quickly find solutions to these issues is valuable in operations professionals at all levels.  
  • Time and task management – There are many steps in a typical production process, all of which need to be completed by a certain deadline. Employees in operations need the ability to prioritize tasks and allot their time effectively to keep the business running smoothly.

Technical skills and industry knowledge interview questions

Operations professionals are the ones who manage and carry out the production processes in businesses. Knowledge of concepts like the industry supply chain, common tools and technologies used in business operations, and the typical materials, supplies, and methods used in production are critical for success in operations job titles. Here are some questions interviewers can ask to assess the technical skill and knowledge of job seekers. 

What project management, inventory tracking, and other software systems are you familiar with?

Many businesses use software and other technology to improve their efficiency and manage their workflows. There are a number of different programs out there, and a candidate doesn’t need to have experience with every one to succeed as an employee. However, some existing knowledge of the functions and use of these programs will let them get up to speed faster and ultimately be more effective in their new role. 

What tools or strategies have you used to analyze and evaluate operations?

Roles in operations don’t just focus on carrying out the day-to-day production tasks. They are also responsible for monitoring those processes to ensure they’re functioning at their highest level. Asking about the candidate’s data analysis process and skills can help you assess whether they’ll excel in this aspect of the role. 

Tell me about a time you were asked to do a new task outside your job description. How did you respond? What was the outcome?

As technology and business needs change, operations employees need to be flexible and learn new skills to maintain their effectiveness. An employee who is willing to take on new responsibilities and can adapt to new situations will be a valuable member of your operations team. 

When a new process is implemented in your workplace, how do you ensure it’s being applied correctly and efficiently?

Having a firm understanding of the production process and business operations makes an employee adaptable to new procedures you implement. That’s important in an organization that strives for continuous improvement. How an applicant learns and assesses the functions of a new process can give you valuable insights into the depth of their industry knowledge. 

Why is compliance important to the smooth functioning of a team, and how have you ensured compliance in past roles?

Many industries have specific regulations they need to follow. Failing to do so can be very detrimental to the business, resulting in lost production time, increased costs, and a loss of trust from clients, customers, or vendors. How an applicant answers this question helps you assess whether they understand the importance of compliance and the specific rules that apply to your industry. 

Interview questions about soft and transferable skills

Operations workers rarely work alone. Instead, they’re typically part of a broader team and need to have the collaboration and communication skills to work with their colleagues effectively. Interactions with customers and clients of the organization are also frequently the responsibility of operations talent, another area where someone’s soft skills will be a big factor in their success. Here are some great questions to ask in interviews for assessing applicants’ soft skills.

Tell me about a time you collaborated with cross-functional teams, a challenge that you faced during this work, and how you approached that situation.

Working in a team is easy when everything goes smoothly, but you want to know your employees will be able to tackle issues that come up even when they’re working with colleagues from another department. In the answer, the specific strategies they used to resolve the issue are less important than their process for finding that solution, which can give you insights into how they’ll resolve similar problems that come up on your team. 

When you need to communicate with a difficult coworker or customer, how do you approach that conversation?

This is a question that gives multiple layers of insights. For one thing, it reveals what the candidate perceives as a “difficult” person to interact with. You’ll also gain clarity on their communication style, level of empathy, and overall people skills and communication skills. 

How do you prioritize tasks and distribute your work time when you have multiple project deadlines to meet?

Time management and smart decision-making based on project priorities are important skills for a variety of operations roles. This question can give you valuable insights about how the candidate considers project timelines, importance, and other factors to know where they should focus their time and attention during their work day.

Think about a time you needed to make a workplace decision and the manager wasn’t available. How did you handle that situation, and what was the result?

While operations professionals typically work as part of a team, they also need to be able to think and act independently when the situation calls for it. This question assesses their response to unexpected problems or questions and whether they are able to find solutions on their own to meet customer needs. 

Describe a time you needed to persuade someone else to your point of view. How did you go about doing this? What was the end result?

This question targets both the candidate’s communication skills and their leadership potential. The ability to influence and inspire other people can be very beneficial in employees at all levels of the organization, and is often a strong indication of someone you want on your team. 

Questions to assess a candidate’s cultural fit

Organizations function best when they build a team that shares certain values, work styles, management preferences, and other qualities that make up the company culture. Here are some questions that can help you assess whether a candidate is a good fit for your business from this perspective. 

What things are the most important to you in a job?

Knowing what a candidate values most in their workplace or role can give you a lot of insight into their expectations about an employer’s work environment, management style, and coworker interactions.

What draws you to our company over others?

This can be a very useful interview question for a number of reasons. It tells you whether the candidate has done research into your company, for one thing. You can also get valuable information about the applicant’s career goals and priorities, something that can help you assess whether they’ll be a good long-term fit for your team.  

Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a coworker. What led to the conflict and how did you resolve the situation?

Conflict is inevitable even in a well-functioning team, and how employees resolve those conflicts can help to keep that work environment healthy and productive for everyone. Look for the candidate to take ownership over their role in the conflict, as well as describing the way they resolved it. 

What management or leadership style do you work best under, and why?

Some people thrive when they’re given very specific directions on each step of a project. Others prefer to have more autonomy under a more hands-off manager. Learning how the applicant works best can tell you if they’ll be a good fit for your team. 

What is the most interesting thing about you that isn’t on your resume?

The personality and interests of employees is also part of what creates and maintains a workplace culture. Getting to know the applicant a bit beyond their resume can help you assess whether they’ll feel a sense of belonging in your organization. 

Operations management interview questions

Along with the skills and industry knowledge all operations professionals need, an operations manager also needs to be an effective leader. Assessing their ability to manage and motivate a team is critical to determine if they’ll be a good fit for your position. Here are some questions that can help you gauge an individual’s leadership potential. 

How do you measure the success of a project?

Operations managers are responsible for evaluating the performance of their team. While your company will likely have its own standards they should follow, you also want a new manager to have a basic understanding of what metrics to track and how to define project success before you hire them into the position. 

How do you delegate work to team members?

Even the best team won’t produce the right results if their talents aren’t being correctly utilized. The ability to evaluate individuals’ strengths and weaknesses, then make smart decisions about how to utilize those talents effectively, is critical in an operations manager. A strong candidate will be able to explain their delegation strategy and how they divide the workflow within the teams they manage. 

How do you identify bottlenecks in the production process, and what steps do you take to remove it?

Production planning is a major part of an operations manager’s role. This question can give you useful insights into ways they approach inefficiencies, manage resources, and maximize the productivity of the production team.

How would you approach a team member who is underperforming?

Giving feedback to reports is one of a manager’s key duties. Along with their process for addressing employee issues, listen for them to share what performance metrics they track to determine areas for improvement and how they follow-up after giving this feedback to ensure it is being implemented. 

When there are conflicts within a team you manage, what steps do you take to resolve it?

Sometimes employees can work through conflicts on their own, but other times the manager needs to step in to resolve the matter. Look for an answer that shows they approach employee conflicts with impartiality and empathy.

How do you recover from failure and setbacks?

Failures can be opportunities for growth if they’re approached the right way. The best answer will address both how they recover from a setback and what lessons they aim to learn from that experience. 

What is your project management approach?

Your organization likely has its own standards and best practices for project management in place. With this question, the specifics of their approach are less important than that they have a strategic process for planning and managing projects.

Choosing the right candidates for your operations roles

The core skills and competencies you need in your operations team aren’t always things that come across clearly in a resume. This makes the interview stage critically important for hiring the right people. Integrating some of the questions above into your next operations interview can help your hiring team choose employees who will make an impact from day one.