Sometimes we do things simply because that’s what everyone else does and that is especially true where interview questions are concerned.
If you’re about to conduct your very first interview, or you simply want a new and fresh approach to finding out more about the candidate, then here are four alternatives to questions that aren’t tried or tested, but are commonly used across the UK and perhaps even the world.
Try these NEW questions and you might be pleasantly surprised at how the decision-making process becomes a whole lot easier.
Question 1. “What is your biggest weakness?”
Every candidate knows how to answer this question: Just pick a theoretical weakness and magically transform that flaw into a strength in disguise!
For example: “My biggest weakness is getting so absorbed in my work that I lose all track of time. Every day I look up and realise everyone has gone home! I know I should be more aware of the clock, but when I love what I’m doing I just can’t think of anything else.”
Okay your “biggest weakness” is that you’ll put in more hours than everyone else? Wow. How terrible. Who would hire you?
Here’s a better question: “Tell me about the last time a co-worker or customer got angry with you. What happened?”
Conflict is inevitable when a company works hard to get things done. Mistakes happen. Sure, strengths come to the fore, but weaknesses also rear their heads. And that’s okay. No one is perfect.
But a person who tends to push the blame and the responsibility for rectifying the situation onto someone else is a candidate to avoid. You’d much rather choose candidates who focus not on blame, but on addressing and fixing the problem.
At Easy Online Recruitment, part of our culture and ethos demonstrates the following: When things go right, share the credit. When they go wrong, shoulder the responsibility. Every business needs employees who willingly admit when they are wrong, step up to take ownership for fixing the problem, and most importantly, learn from the experience.
Question 2. “Where do you see yourself in three years?”
Answers to this question go one of two basic ways. Candidates try to show either their incredible ambition because that’s what they think you want by providing an extremely optimistic answer (“I want your job!”) or their humility because that’s what they think you want by providing a meek, self-deprecating answer: (“There are so many talented people here. I just want to do a great job and see where my talents take me.”)
In either case you learn nothing, other than possibly how well candidates can sell themselves.
Here’s a better question: “What business would you love to start?”
Granted we’re biased since we’re start-up evangelist geeks, but the question applies to any organisation (if only because I believe every employee at every company should have somewhat of an entrepreneurial mind-set).
What will you learn by asking this question? The business a candidate would love to start tells you about their hopes and dreams, their interests and passions, the work they like to do, the people they like to work with. That is, if you turn this question into a conversation by asking simple questions like “why?” and “how?” you’ll learn what the candidate really likes to do, and that will tell you a lot more about their potential for growth in your organisation.
Quick note: “Where do you see yourself in three years?” is a great question to ask a current employee since the best development plans are plans created by the employee, not by the employer.
Question 3. “Tell me a little about yourself.”
The candidate’s CV and cover letter should tell you a lot. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google can tell you more. So you should already know a lot about the candidate before the interview starts. And if you don’t, shame on you because too many interviewers use this question for an opportunity to scan the candidate’s CV for the first time.
Your goal is to determine whether the candidate will be outstanding in the job, and that means evaluating the skills and attitude required for that job. Do they need to be an empathetic leader? Ask about that. Do they need to take your company public? Ask about that.
If you want to understand their career path, ask why they took certain jobs. Ask why they left. If you want to understand their education, ask why they chose a certain school or university. Know as much as you can about the candidate ahead of time, and then ask questions designed to connect your own dots. Don’t expect the candidate to connect the dots! Connect your own dots.
Question 4. “Out of all the other candidates, why should we hire you?”
Hmm. Since a candidate cannot compare themselves with people they don’t know, all they can do is describe their incredible passion and desire and commitment and… well, basically beg for the job. Way too many interviewers ask the question and then sit back, arms folded, as if to say, “Go ahead. I’m listening. Try and convince me.”
And you learn nothing of substance.
Here’s a better question: “What do you feel I need to know that we haven’t discussed?” Or, even “If you could get to answer a question again, which one would it be, how would you answer it now?”
Rarely do candidates come to the end of an interview feeling they’ve done their best. Maybe the conversation went in an unexpected direction. Maybe the interviewer focused on one aspect of their skills and totally ignored other key attributes. Or maybe candidates started the interview nervous and hesitant, and now wish they could go back and better describe their qualifications and experience.
Plus, think of it this way: Your goal as an interviewer is to learn as much as you possibly can about every candidate, so don’t you want to give them the chance to ensure you do?
Just make sure to turn this part of the interview into a conversation, not a soliloquy. Don’t just passively listen and then say, “Thanks. We’ll be in touch.” Ask follow-up questions. Ask for examples.
Ask the right questions and you’ll never need to ask. “ why should we hire you?”. You’ll already know.