8 of My Favorite Interview Questions

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The Art of Interviewing Job Candidates

One of the most difficult and important decisions you will make as a manager of people is selecting who to hire, and planning how to staff your team.  Such decisions should not be taken likely – you are responsible for the getting results, and hiring the wrong people is tremendously disruptive and costly to the business.  And yet, we make such decisions after being afforded a short phone screen, and only a few hours (if that) to interview candidates for our team in-person.  A lot is riding on first-impressions.  For this reason, I am convinced that effectively interviewing job candidates is really an art form.  Not everyone is good at interviewing candidates; those who are have done it many times.

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How to Interview Job Candidates

While each interview is unique, the fundamentals are the same.  We ask questions to the candidate and evaluate their answers.  We will also look at other details like how they might fit with the existing team (what we call ‘culture fit’) or whether or not we think they have the ability or motivation to move beyond the specific position for which they applied.

Nonetheless, the typical questions you ask are important and should be treated with care.  When selecting interview questions, pick those that you think will display various elements of the candidate’s personality, their state of mind, and their experience.  Why?  Because you will need this person to fit in well with your team, your company, and will want them to be happy and stay.  You want the successful candidate to have the right skills to do the work.  And you want to pick out any red flags or concerns that you see.

A good interview should be staged as a conversation, not an intimidating sequence of questions.  Be casual but profession.  Make the applicant feel welcome, and be sure to offer the applicant to ask their own questions.

Questions You Should Ask Yourself When Interviewing Candidates

When interviewing prospective candidates, you should ask yourself some questions about them over the course of the conversation:

1.  Will this candidate get along with my other employees?

2.  Will the candidate bring something to the table, such as a unique perspective or experience?

3.  Does the candidate have the ability to grow into this position given some time if it is not a perfect fit right now?

4.  Does the candidate have the ability to lead and step up?

5.  Will this job candidate remaining with the organization for a while? Or does this seem to be a temporary stepping stone?

6.  Will he or she be happy here?

7.  Does he or she seem motivated and willing to learn?

8.  Could I put this person in front of a customer?

All of these questions help you assess the candidate in terms of fitting in your team, bringing special value to your organization, and whether or not you’ll be replacing them after 6 months.

RELATED: Hire for Will, Train for Skill

And as for picking questions for the candidate, here are my 8 favorite things to ask job candidates when I’m interviewing prospective employees for my team:


1.  What was it about this position that interested you?

One of the most important behaviors to watch out for when hiring or staffing your team is to make sure you have people who are genuinely interested in the work you do, being an employee of your firm, or have some other particular interest in the position.  By contrast, you may want to pass on job candidates who do not appear to be terribly interested in your products, your industry or your firm because it’s likely only a matter of time before they get up and quit.  And if they don’t, you have someone who will likely underperform for a while.  They only exemption from this would be applicants for entry-level positions who are looking for job and may have little knowledge or experience with the work you do.

What Am I Looking For With This Question?

This question is a great lead-in to the interview.  It helps me assess the applicant’s sincerity when it comes to the role.  Are they really interested and motivated about the position?  Or is the candidate more interested in just getting a job?  A good answer for me might be “I want to further my project management skills and this looks like it’s a good chance to do that.”  Furthermore, this question helps me gauge the candidate’s interest in particular aspect of a job.  For example, a response such as “I really like working with customers” can tell you the candidate will likely bring good people-skills to your team.  It’s as much about assessing the candidate’s level of interest in the position as well as what they might find fulfilling. 


2.  Where do you want to be in 5 years? Where to you want to go in your career?

It’s a cliché question and a tough one to answer for many people, particularly older candidates who may not be looking for much change or growth (younger candidate will typically have some lofty goals).  But it’s a good one to ask to get a feel for what the candidate aspires to do, the type of progression they want to see, and the roles they will look for down the road.  More importantly, is it possible in your organization for them to get those opportunities?  It’s a good screening question to whether or not you can keep the person happy if he or she becomes an employee.

What Am I Looking For With This Question?

Though the question is very much typical and often far-fetched, it helps me understand a few important things about the candidate I am interviewing.  First, does he or she have career aspirations?  This is something you should look for because you want employees who are driven, who have goals and who have some motivation.  Do I really care what the answer is?  Not really.  But I do care that they can at least give a coherent, logical answer that shows they have some aspirations fo their career or at a minimum, know where they’ve been and what it is they enjoy doing.   


3.  How would you describe your approach to solving a problem?

We face all sort of problems in the work place.  Half the time we don’t even realize it, but we encounter problems and challenges throughout the day.  For this reason, it’s good to look for candidates who have the ability to do a basic gap-analysis and can put some basic outline together in order to solve a problem.  The situation can be as simple as responding to a customer request about a product they candidate was unfamiliar with, or complex like having to come up with a marketing campaign to break into a new industry.

What Am I Looking For With This Question?

When I ask job candidates this question in an interview, it helps me assess their ability to approach a situation in a methodical and controlled manner.  Big or small, did the candidate just jump in and do whatever was necessary, or did they look at the situation, come up with a plan and follow that plan?  Did they need help every step of the way?  The difference here can be very important to the role you are trying to fill.  Though a simple example is perfectly acceptable, the example the candidate offers can go a long way in helping you understand their ability to break down a complex situation into simpler pieces – something he or she likely needs to do on a regular basis.  


4.  Can you give me an example of a project or activity you had to lead?

Regardless of what type of field you’re in, or what type of work your team does, you always want employees who have the ability to step up and lead.  You want employees who are not afraid to get involved, take charge when needed and take personal accountability when it comes to getting things done.  Does it mean you want a bunch of Type-A employees who are going to constantly talk over one another and jockey for the head of the table?  No, not at all.  Keep in mind that leadership is not about being loud and controlling, but rather about being trusted, influential and responsible.

RELATED: Managers vs. Leaders

What Am I Looking For With This Question?

I ask this question of candidates in order to have them provide examples when they stepped up to confront a given situation.  I also want to know if they can recognize situations when leadership is needed and whether or not they did it willingly or were asked.  Finally, I am very interested to hear them describe HOW they interact with people.  Are they influential and convincing, are they able to ask questions and ask for help?  Or do they dominate a room and ger results through force?  The situation is less important than the ability to take control and work through a problem.


5.  Can you tell me about a time you to clean up someone else’s blunder?

As mentioned above, no matter what type of position you are trying to fill, you always want employees who possess some leadership skills and abilities.  Employees who are able to lead and take charge when the situation warrants it are great employees to have.  For you and I as managers, having such a staff is the difference between having to micro-manage everything to get things done versus having our minds at ease because we know the team will work together to overcome challenges if we are tied up in a meeting.

What Am I Looking For With This question?

Many candidates may not have a perfect example of a time they stepped in to take charge of a crisis.  But good candidates will have some examples of times when they had to take over a project for someone else, or were asked to go fix something.  This is a challenging situation to be in, and there are a lot of interpersonal dynamics that will emerge when involved in such circumstances.  When ask this question, I am really looking to understand how they went about working with others, how they approached the situation, and whether or not they methodically went about resolution.  Are they able to handle pressure?  Does the candidate avoid responsibility?


6.  Can you tell me about a time you failed?

Perhaps a little direct, this is a question that can help you ground the interview.  Naturally, every job candidate and applicant wants to make a good impression.  But out of an effort to make an impact on the interviews, some candidates can tend to come across as overly confident and almost superhuman. If your candidate seems to walk on water and sounds like they’ve never been challenged, this is a great question to help you get past that mentality.

What Am I Looking For With This Question?

I don’t often ask this question to candidates, but when I do, it is typically intended to change the tone of an interview and encourage a little bit of humility.  If someone is telling you he or she has all sorts of major accomplishments, but cannot give you any details behind key decisions, or does not have a resume that matches such hype, you might want to ask this question.  The answer here is important.  I once had an applicant with 20 year of experience say he had never failed.  The interview was over shortly thereafter.


7.  How did you go about making that decision?  What alternatives did you consider?

This is a great follow-up question that you can ask when interviewing job candidates.  Over the course of an interview, your applicant will tell you stories and examples of his or her achievements.  But as the interviewer, it can be difficult to discern what the candidate did themselves and how much of the story was the result of their work as opposed to how much was more circumstantial, and how much was the result of the work of others.

What Am I Looking For With This Question?

My best employees are those who can think through situations before taking action and avoid making hasty decisions.  When I am interviewing a candidate, I look for his or her ability to make these types calculated decisions.  There is a time when speed is important; other times quality of work is more important.  When I ask this interview question, I am trying to gauge the job candidate’s ability (and willingness) to make a judgment call and to prioritize.  Did they look at other options?  Did they just go down this path because it was easy?  Did he or she pause and think it over before choosing a path to make sure it was the right one?  If he or she says there was no other option, or otherwise cannot synthesize alternatives, it tends to raise a red flag to me in many cases.  There are ALWAYS options. 


8.  What would you say is the highlight of your career?

This is often the last question I ask candidates.  Regardless of whether or not the candidate was a joy to talk to, or if the interview was rather dry, this question will help you give the candidate one last opportunity to shine.  Important decisions come out of every interview, so this question offers an opportunity for you to end the interview on a high note for both you and the candidate – let’s face it: interviews (for both the interviewer and the interviewee) can be tough.

What Am I Looking For With This Question?

Simply put, I ask this question of candidates to get an emotional response from them.  If they’ve been nervous, uncomfortable or tense during the preceding conversation, by asking them to think of something they really valued or were particularly proud of, it will help them relax and give you an emotional, and less of a tactical, response.  Moreover, it will help you get into his or her head and what it is that they truly value when it comes to their work.  If they tell you about a story when they got to work with some bright minds, it may tell you they like to work in teams.  If he or she tells you about a really complex challenge they overcame, it can indicate the candidate enjoys problem solving.  All in all, the question helps you get a human answer to a question as a final piece to your assessment, and one that is not likely rehearsed.


Need More?  Check out this interview experience:  Awkward Question, Motivating Answer.









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