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 insight2624637794_32a7612bb0 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.

"Be"  by hkoppdelaney @ Flickr6. 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

90 Day Plan/Job Seeker’s Handbook

Please share your best, tested interview questions – or interviewing experiences by commenting!

Image by procsilas @ Flickr


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35 Comments on 6 great interview questions – for employers

  1. [...] research your prospective employer before you interview – see the 2nd point in my related post here. In addition, you must take careful notes – mental or in your notebook – during that first [...]

  2. [...] Be unable to provide a concise bio – i.e., your two minute elevator speech [...]

  3. Great post Kevin!

    I shall shall adopt these strategies when next i interview.

    regards

    [Reply]

  4. evelyn says:

    I am interviewing candidates today & plan to use some of these questions. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Please do – and good luck finding the right candidate!

    [Reply]

  5. Kevin Lenard says:

    Very well-thought out, Kev! Thanks, I’m using some of yours tomorrow morning. Here’s a more business/job-related take on #6: “If you got handed VC funding of millions of dollars tomorrow, what business would you go into?” Probe to see if they’ve thought through the rudiments (or more) of some entrepreneurial business plans.

    Cheers, Kevin

    [Reply]

  6. Kevin says:

    @Kevin:

    Thanks – that’s a great one too! Thanks for stopping by & for commenting!

    [Reply]

  7. Splendora Motley says:

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for the article and it put me at ease because these questions did add to my pages of potential questions. You mentioned in your article a “FREE 90 Day ACTION PLAN” and for some reason I did not see the link for this download. Can you please forward me the link or information, I’m sure this action plan will ace the job in the hole….

    Thanks for what you do…

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Splendora: if you click on the “FREE Downloads” tab at the top of this page, you’ll be able to download the file from the Downloads page. If you encounter any problem, let me know.

    [Reply]

  8. Splendora Motley says:

    I FOUND IT!!!

    My second interview is in two weeks and I’ll let you know if…I mean, when I get the job…..:)

    Thanks

    AT THE VERY TOP OF THE PAGE!!!!

    HOME/CONTACT/ABOUT/WHAT IS RSS?/FREE DOWNLOADS/PRIVACY/SHOP

    [Reply]

  9. jenifer says:

    THANKS! i have interviews this week and next for a killer sales person and i love these q’s!

    [Reply]

  10. Kat says:

    These questions are great!!! I am interviewing people for the first time and I have the basic questions that are related to the job (thanks to my boss) but I wanted to add some that were different and would give us an idea about how the candidates would “fit” into the existing team… I’m sure my boss with be impressed!!

    [Reply]

  11. [...] time you are preparing to interview a employee prospect, turn to this insightful list http://www.practicalhacks.com/.....erviewers/ for ideas. Need more material? You’ll find Richard Ensman’s “50 Great interview Questions” [...]

  12. Jill Segura says:

    Thank you! I, too, can’t stand the typical “strengths and weaknesses” questions! I have so desperately needed to hire and have procrastinated because I don’t seem to ask the right questions and the candidates just don’t work out. So, thanks again!!

    Jill

    [Reply]

  13. Claudia L says:

    Thanks so much.

    I like these questions, as at least 2 of them actually assess the unrehearsed response, so much true info can come through. It is also important to see how the interviewee makes decisions.
    Very useful, thanks.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Glad it was of help to you, Claudia!

    Kevin

    [Reply]

  14. Lana says:

    I was looking into these questions due to the fact I had a job interview today and they asked the strength and weakness question. That did not really bother me, the question I was baffled by was, If you were a bird, what kind of bird would you be and why? What the heck kind of question is that? Thanks in advance.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Lana,

    Thanks for the comment. I’m afraid it’s actually not all that unusual a question. I don’t care for that type of question, but it (in theory) affords the interviewer an opportunity to learn a little bit about your self image, and I suppose to a degree, your ability to think on your feet.

    [Reply]

  15. Lana says:

    Thanks for the response. I wonder if you would mind telling me what your take is on my answer. Answer: A cardinal (red bird), my favorite color, beautiful to watch and unique.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Lana,

    I’m hardly an expert, but I’ll give you my opinion: I think it’s a reasonable answer. Red implies intensity and perhaps strong emotions. I personally don’t have a problem with “unique,” although in conservative organizations, it’s possible an interviewer might. My only concern is that “beautiful to watch” implies passive behavior, and not action. Also, your answer strikes me first and foremost as honest and unprepared, and that’s a good thing.

    Overall, I think you gave a good answer to a goofy question. When one imagines the bad answers one could give to such a question (“vulture,” for instance, or even “turkey”), yours is fine. Just my $ .02

    kc

    [Reply]

    Sai Das Reply:

    Here’s a great answer for that question: “An early bird.” said with a big smile.

    [Reply]

  16. Lana says:

    Thanks again for your advice and opinion.

    [Reply]

  17. [...] out the whole article titled 6 Great Interview Questions-For Employers by Kevin.  I hope some hiring managers read this blog [...]

  18. Linda says:

    Great advice, Kevin! I dedicated today’s blog post to your tips!
    http://ourunemployedlife.wordp.....t-of-view/

    Linda

    [Reply]

  19. showri says:

    Nice set. Thanks.

    Just wondering,,, the very fact that this post exists beat its own purpose ?

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Showri,

    If this were a Top 100 blog, perhaps… ;-) I think the risk is minimal. And either way, you’ll be prepared.

    [Reply]

  20. Khurram says:

    Hi. I am new new in this blog,
    Well, I am Human Resources Manager, and this week going to get interview’s fo some higher management. and above questions can be added, and seems to be helpful.

    Thanks Kevin

    [Reply]

  21. vegetablevn says:

    Hi,

    Thanks very much for this comment. It help me to think about my ideals.

    Tks again and pls keep posting.

    [Reply]

  22. S O'Hara says:

    I liked the suggested questions, particularly “What do you know about our organization” and “What drives your BFF/SO crazy?”

    I disagree about the “What is your biggest weakness” question. I think (like the “What do you know about our company” question) it’s something an interviewee should expect to answer and should have prepared for. We routinely ask the question. We usually get the secret boasting answers (“I care too much about my job”, “I’m a workaholic”, etc.) but we do get the occasionally revealing answer. The most memorable was a guy who blurted out “When I’m under stress, I tend to panic.” Seeing the startled look on our faces, he tried to back-pedal, (“Not that often. Other people always help me out. I didn’t really mean ‘panic’.”) but it was too late. He wasn’t a real contender anyway, but we wouldn’t have picked him after that answer.

    [Reply]

  23. Soo says:

    Change the BF/husband to partner or significant other. HR leads the way, and if your organization is a big player and committed to hiring the very best candidate for the position, you do not discriminate. If I were searching for a job and I was a lesbian, posing this question in its original form would raise red flags. If HR is not on top of this stuff, chances are the rest of the company isn’t either.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Soo,

    Thanks for the comment and I’ve adjusted the wording of the post. To clarify, I’d never ask this question of someone who hadn’t already mentioned their marital status — on their own, without prompting.

    [Reply]

  24. Ricky Page says:

    thanks i needed some ideas, as i never feel ive got what i want when asking questions of a potential new employee

    [Reply]

  25. anne gray says:

    We need to find out the right questions to ask our new employees who have advertised for 2 jobs in our fertiliser fitm, but i need help on trying how to find out if they can read and write

    [Reply]

  26. Maria says:

    Number 4 would, as a candidate, turn me completely off from finishing the interview or taking the position. I find it really unprofessional and think you ARE toeing the line to the illegal question of marriage status, considering I would answer that I don’t even have a partner, showing that you are asking it in an attempt to figure out the answer to that illegal question. I would walk right out and figure out how to report you for that one. I would highly, HIGHLY advise all interviewers reading this site to completely avoid using that question whatsoever because your ass can get in trouble.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Thanks for your comment. Just for the record, I’d NEVER ask someone if they were married. If they volunteer that information, I think the question is a bit out there, but fair game.

    [Reply]

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