Job interviews can be stressful, regardless of which side of the desk you find yourself on. As a candidate, this could be the dream job, and as an interviewer, the pressure is on to hire the right person.
However, job interviews can also be complex fact-finding missions that do not always deliver the results either party wants. Everything rides on the questions you ask and the answers you’re given.
Commonly asked questions such as ‘can you tell me about yourself?’ or ‘what’s your greatest strength?’ aren’t designed to reveal the truth about a candidate. Comparatively, more creative questions may not be the answer either. What do you really learn by asking ‘how many tennis balls can you fit in a plane?’ or ‘how many ways can you find a needle in a haystack?’ According to research by San Francisco State University, these brain-teaser questions are, in fact, as silly and pointless as they sound.1
While it is good to include some creativity in the candidate screening process, you need to ensure you are asking the right questions to elicit the information you really need about a candidate. Here are eight questions you should be asking as a hiring manager, and the answers you should look for in response.
1. What is the most interesting thing about yourself that is not on your resume?
This question requires the candidate to move away from their pre-prepared answers to interview questions. It is a good place to start as you are likely to receive an honest answer. A candidate keen to impress may suggest a skill that isn’t included on their resume – public speaking, for example. However, it is the candidate who shares a hobby or passion – from chess to scuba diving – who you will remember.
2. Tell me about your previous working relationships – the good and the bad.
The answer a candidate gives reflects how they interact with others, and whether there are certain interactions they wish would happen. This gives you an indication as to whether the candidate will be a good cultural fit for the team. Bad-mouthing former colleagues is generally frowned upon at an interview so it is interesting to see how candidates convey previous workplaces, especially describing negative situations.
3. Would you rather be perfect but late, or good but on time?
The ability to meet deadlines is crucial in most professions. Anything you do in your working day, be it composing an email, presentation, or big project, can always be tweaked or improved. Most companies want to know that their employees can work on something until it is good enough and then let it go. Constantly seeking perfection will only lead to missed deadlines.
A candidate keen to err on the side of caution may answer ‘it depends’. Try to determine whether they are leaning one way more than the other before you move on.
4. How do you define hard work?
Different companies move at different paces and this question helps determine whether a candidate would be able to keep up with the team. Just because someone currently works at a slow-moving organization, does not mean that is their typical way of working. The more a candidate is happy to get involved, the better it is for the efficiency of the business.
5. Who is the smartest person you know? And why?
With this question, you want a candidate to suggest a person they know personally. The question is testing candidates on the qualities they value in others and their ability to convey what it is that makes them smart. It is a relatively tricky question and there is no right or wrong answer, but you want the answer to be as specific as possible. For example, is it a person’s ability to lead a team, make a decision, empathize with others or think laterally that makes them smart in the candidate’s opinion?
6. When was the last time you were at fault?
This question (or variations of it) falls into the category of tried-and-tested interview questions. It gives a clear indication of a candidate’s self- awareness and most candidates will have prepared an answer in advance. You are looking for a candidate who is aware of their short-comings and is prepared to take ownership of their mistakes; this shows a degree of humility and mindfulness.
What you do not want to hear is a candidate blaming others for previous errors or claiming they never make mistakes. And it should be fairly easy to spot fake faults; ‘I worked so hard I burned out’ being a common and over-used example.
7. Pitch [company name] to me as if I were a potential client
This is a handy question to ask because it highlights how much knowledge a candidate has of the company and how much investigation they have done in preparation. It is harder to answer than ‘what does our company do?’ because it requires the candidate to think of engaging messages as well as recall key points from their research.
Of course, depending on the role and the person, this will come easier to some candidates than others. Do not focus as much on the delivery, but instead assess the thought process behind the answer.
8. What has surprised you about the interview process?
This question is virtually impossible to prepare in advance, which makes it a good one to include. It requires the candidate to think on their feet and gives you a clear indication of how they are feeling about the process. What you want is an answer that conveys a specific part of their experience such as the location, a task, the office ambiance, or a particular part of the interview.
If you are looking for questions that get results, our team can help you dig deeper than what features on a candidate’s resume and find the perfect cultural fit for your organization.
Phaidon International is the parent company of five leading specialist recruitment agencies. For more than 15 years, we have given clients and candidates the peace of mind that the recruitment process is in expert hands. Out continual investment in best-in-class technologies and consultant training enables us to recruit with speed, precision and accuracy. Today, we provide contingency, retained search and project-based contract recruitment across 11 offices in 6 countries.Find out more about Phaidon International here.