After decades of conducting interviews I’m no longer capable of asking interviewees questions like, “What’s your biggest weakness?” and “What are your three greatest strengths?”
Asking questions like these is like asking a Presidential candidate if he or she will “add jobs” – the questions are so hackneyed that even the most inexperienced candidates anticipate them and we all have a reasonable response prepared.
What are some effective questions to ask your candidates? What questions will give you insight into how a candidate approaches problems, people, and a new organization? I’ll touch upon six such questions in this post.
After the small talk, I always start with…
1. “Tell me about yourself.” I ask this question with a slightly different slant. I usually say something like, “I’ve of course read your resume, so I know a little bit about your background… why don’t you start by telling me a little about yourself? Give me your two minute bio.”
The oddest things happen when you explicitly tell someone “Spend two minutes answering this question,” AND make it clear that you’ve reviewed their resume. I’ve had people try to walk me through their entire resumes in response to this simple question.
After a minute or so, I politely cut them off. All I really want is some insight into how they’d describe themselves if asked for a quick synopsis of who they are. If someone runs amok in trying to answer the question, I’ll stop them and say just that – “If you had to give someone a two minute summary of who you are – personally and professionally, what would you say?” You should gain a good deal of insight into the interviewee and how he views himself with this simple question. Just make sure you tell him, “Two minutes.”
2. “What do you know about (our company.)” This is a common question, but I still believe in it and it’s always my second question. Has she done her homework? Anyone with a few years’ experience should come to the interview with a sense of the company, its competitors, go to market strategy, and at least a couple of basic issues.
This isn’t particularly difficult (see my related post) but I’m amazed at candidates with 15+ years’ experience who show up for an interview having done nothing more than look at our website. If a candidate approaches an interview this casually, she either doesn’t care about the job that much or isn’t very thorough in her approach to things in general. Either way, I’m not interested.
3. “We’ve lined up several candidates who are qualified for this position. Why should we hire you over other well qualified candidates?” This is an opportunity for a candidate to position himself, explaining what he brings to the organization which is unique.
A serious candidate will have thought through what distinguishes him from other similar professionals he’s met and worked with over time, and ought to be able to make a case for himself. If he can’t do so in a straightforward, non-boastful manner, he’s probably not your guy.
4. Here’s a left-field question that no one expects, and it may give you a bit of insight into their personal life and how they view their most significant relationship without your asking questions you legally can’t ask:
“Let’s say your partner/significant other was asked “What’s the one thing that drives you crazy about (name) – what one thing would you change about her?'”
This is one you won’t find in all the articles and books, and it’s a beauty. Most people will laugh and perhaps make a joke about the question and all the potential responses to it while gathering their thoughts. When they get around to answering it, you may hear something which gives you an idea of how the interviewee acts when thrown off balance.
(To clarify, you cannot by law ask someone about his or her marital status, and you certainly should not do so.)
5. “What would you do during your first 90 days on the job?” This is a simple question which offers you an opportunity to get a sense of how the interviewee would approach joining a new organization.
Does her answer suggest she’s a technician? Someone who wants to build relationships? Highly analytical? In addition to helping you get a sense of this candidate’s “fit” with the organization, her answer will give you a good sense of how she approaches projects and issues.
6. Another unusual question which should enable you to see how your candidate reacts in an unrehearsed, spontaneous manner: “If you learned you only had six months to live, what would you do with your remaining time?” This sort of question should give you some insight into how the candidate thinks – about himself and life in general..
One more important note: you can ask tough questions in an interview without being a jerk. Spend 5-10 minutes just chatting with the candidate at the beginning of the interview to help her relax. Your interviews should be a mixture of casual conversation and some probing questions that a candidate who’s truly good will enjoy. Ask a softball question or two – “what’s the accomplishment your proudest of, and why,” etc., ask about her approach to project management, or problem solving… but please, just don’t ask what her biggest weakness is!
Special note: if you’re a candidate, make sure you check out my “90 Day ACTION PLAN” template – when you’re called in for a second interview, this simple 3 page document – similar to the “secret career document” you may have read about online – will put you head and shoulders above all the other candidates. Click on this link to see a special offer on the 90 Day Plan & my Job Seeker’s Handbook:
Please share your best, tested interview questions – or interviewing experiences by commenting!
Image by procsilas @ Flickr