Interviews: Which questions should you be asking?

What information do you need to hear?

So, you’ve invested heavily in your employer brand. Your marketing and social media strategies are attracting the candidates you want. Now, it’s interview time. However, they are also interviewing you. This is a two-way street.

While you need to find out if they are the right candidate for you, they want to know if this is the right role for them. Due to high employment levels, the jobs market is currently candidate driven. This means that candidates are more in demand than jobs are. Therefore, candidates can be highly selective when choosing their next role. The interview is probably the most important part of their selection process.

What sort of questions are good questions?

Many job interview questions are now so common that candidates can google “interview questions” and find a list that they can prepare themselves for. While some of these might be valid, if your interview technique utilises only these frequently asked questions, you will struggle to make an impression on your candidate.

Some questions might have the right intention behind them, but the response they illicit won’t tell you anything unique or specifically interesting about the candidate.

For example, questions that ask about a candidate’s “strengths” and “weaknesses”. While these are common, they tend to produce very similar answers as candidates try to find the best way to answer while painting themselves in the best light. Instead, try asking questions that engage the candidate, provoke conversation and encourage them to be honest.

What sort of questions should be avoided?

Steer away from closed questions. For example, questions that only illicit either a yes or no response. Rephrase to engage with the candidate’s thought processes.

On this note, avoid questions that ask far too much. “When are you planning to have a family?” is asked more often than you’d think and is both entirely inappropriate and illegal. These days, with social media, disgruntled candidates can share information and experiences extremely quickly. Any question which probes too far into a candidate’s personal life will land your company in hot water and ensure you turn the candidate, and other potential candidates, right off.

Instead of focusing on the question itself, think about what you want the question to reveal. Then, craft the question based on what you’re trying to understand. Essentially, a bad question is shallow. It is easy to answer and doesn’t require the candidate to think.

For example, “what makes good customer service?” This is an overused question which is likely to produce a similar answer from each candidate.

What can be asked instead?

Surprise the candidate and provoke a much more honest response by saying, “tell me about a time when you were disappointed by the service you gave.”

This defies expectations because typically, interviews are supposed to be used by the candidate to portray themselves as well as they possibly can. However, by asking them directly about a time they’ve failed, you can gain an idea of how comfortable they are being honest. As well as this, questions they are not expecting actively test their initiative, tenacity and ability to think quickly.

The fact of the matter is, nobody is perfect.

When candidates try to portray themselves as such, it is a façade, and everyone knows it. So, instead of looking for how well a candidate can present themselves, seek to understand how they might address their own shortcomings. Ultimately, a culture of honesty promotes growth. A culture of denial stunts progression for everyone.

The questions you ask should aim to provoke authenticity to get the most accurate picture of the person. A question recommended in The EQ Interview by Adele B. Lynn asks the candidate to describe a time when they were “lost in their work in a good way.” If the candidate describes key elements of the role being interviewed for you know they could be a great fit.

Similarly, questions such as “how do you find meaning in your career?” will shine a light on what motivates them. Knowing what motivates an employee can enable a business to tailor their rewards and benefits schemes.

The answer might be as simple as “it enables me to provide a wonderful life for my family.” Or, it might be more role-specific if the candidate is particularly passionate about the work itself. Either way, a motivated employee is an excellent addition to a team.

So, what makes a good interview then?

Essentially, a good interview avoids the pitfalls hiring managers have been falling into for years. To make the best quality hire, an interview should be used as a tool to get to know the real person, rather than testing who can present themselves best.

Ultimately, if they’ve made it to the interview stage, they should have the relevant skills and experience. So, the questions you ask should go deeper than their work history and ability to perform the role if you want good answers. If the candidate shies away from questions that probe at their authenticity, that’s a red flag for hiring managers.

After all, plenty of candidates can say the right things in an interview to make them seem perfect. What makes a truly great candidate and employee is the ability to self-assess and continuously improve.

So, move away from common interview questions and answers and engage the candidate in conversation that gives you an accurate picture of who they are and how they work. Utilise a semi-structured interview to make sure that you get the information you need with questions that dig beneath the surface. However, a relatively informal set-up leaves time and space for the candidate to articulate their intention in a comfortable environment.

This is the third blog in our interview series. You can check out the previous two instalments on our blog page to get more interview tips and techniques.