We invite a complete stranger into our office to answer thought provoking questions designed to provide insight into their psyche. The interview process is constructed to help us match talent or skill to need, wants to what can be offered, personality to culture.  In December I posted a survey to ask for favorite interviewing questions Leaders like to use that stimulates conversation, opening up insight to matching the ideal candidate to job requirements and company. The respondents were a combination of people from the recruiting industry as well as representatives of Fortune 500 companies and emerging businesses.


The responses confirmed that there are solid interview questions that when used appropriately can open windows to get clearer images of a candidate’s talents and capabilities:


1.  Right out of the gate ask “Tell me about yourself” and shut up and listen. Watch the body language.


The question is designed to put a candidate under pressure immediately, a test of confidence and composure. If a role requires spontaneity or the ability to think on their feet, this question quickly provides a picture of how self-assured a person is.


Many questions fell in the traditional wants and needs analysis, and how the candidate views themselves:


2.  Tell me about your dream company/describe the ideal place you want to work.


3.  What do you want in your next job/opportunity that you don’t have now?


4.  Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing most?


Some probed for the ability to persevere, to overcome…a resilience gauge:


5.  Tell me about the most challenging changes you’ve faced at work. What did you do? What were the results?


Probing for self awareness:


6.  If I were to ask your coworkers three qualities that you possess, what would they say?


7.  A recruiter asks: Why should I present you to my client? aka Why do you want this job?


8.  Give me a 30 second work life sketch.


9.  Why do you want to work for me?


The results of the survey were not surprising. Most use classic questions that are what I refer to as textbook questions, all designed for different purposes. Each brings great value to the interviewing process. The secret sauce is in selecting which to use, in what sequence and most importantly for what purpose. What attitude, trait, experience or desire are you measuring? Are you just asking the question because it is a good one, or are you looking for something specific in the candidate’s approach to their career? Do you have a measuring stick to help you gauge the response or does it just seem like a good answer? Is there a plan for what you are looking for?


Also not surprising was all questions focused on 2 areas: attitude and communication skills as opposed to technical competence. The latter gets you in the door, the first two produce the winning ticket.


Here’s a novel one to measure someone’s ability to think on their fee, to convey a complex situation in simple thoughts or ideas:


10.  Explain the internet to me as though I was alive around the turn of the century.


Our challenge, as interviewers, is to ask questions that cause a candidate to think, not provide a pat pre-constructed answer. How do you get someone to reveal something about what is important to them, what lights their fire?


Consider this one:

11.  What do you do that makes your heart sing?


The beauty of this question is it stimulates the mind to reflect on places of special importance. Since this is unusual phrasing, it will under most circumstances make the person smile. (The submitter sheepishly referred to it as a possible “girly” question. I didn’t see it that way. You are trying to see what chord produces an emotional response, a subtle release of energy. The same might be accomplished by asking about a previous responsibility or a future role that they would find “exciting.” The word exciting releases something in the brain that moves away from job function to what moves someone in their job.


The quest of an interview is to find ways to encourage someone, not to simply recite what they think sounds good or what you want to hear. Rather, it is to create a place where you get a glimpse into the realness of the person so you can make a proper decision on who to invite into your organization, your corporate family.


What is your take-away from these responses? In your interview process, what does it confirm or challenge you to do differently? Can you put your questioning under a microscope to see how your process can be enhanced to produce a clearer picture?


Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey. If this stimulates thoughts you didn’t get to share, comment by adding your favorite interviewing question below.


I can’t wait to share the next post on the responses to the favorite questions people like to be asked. Very interesting…


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