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15 Interview Questions to Ensure Candidate Quality

On the surface, interviewing a candidate for an available job sounds easy. With the position description in hand describing specific skill sets and experience, the recruiter or hiring decision maker fires off a dozen questions or so and voila, they are equipped to make a hiring decision.

 If only interviewing were that simple.

 The nuance of interviewing candidates extends well beyond skills and abilities into areas of candidate maturity level, culture fit and self-awareness to assess overall candidate quality.

 In addition to asking about industry and expertise, broader-based questions can be used to determine a more comprehensive fit.

As Shelly Goldman, Executive Recruiter and Founder, Goldman Group Advantage said, “These questions are a wonderful way to know more about what’s important to a candidate and how well they interact with others, etc.”

“Ideally, my goal is to have a collaborative and communicative conversation during interviews – putting candidates at ease (after all, interviews and job search in general can be stressful for job seekers) and creating a pleasant and comfortable interaction (vs. an interrogation),” continues Goldman.

As such, three of Goldman’s favorite interview questions to ensure candidate quality include:

1. Tell me something about yourself that others may be surprised to know about you. 

Why Ask This Question? This question is an opportunity to learn something very interesting and real about a candidate that might otherwise not come up in a standard interview.

2. If there were something in your past you were able to go back and do differently, what would that be? 

Why Ask This Question? This question is another way to understand life lessons a person has learned and how these lessons may be of benefit when managing others or working in teams.

3. Tell me about a time you had a difficult working relationship with a colleague. What was the challenge, how did you address the situation and what did you learn from the experience?

Why Ask This Question? I am looking to understand how a candidate moves through, resolves problems and how the experience and knowledge learned can be applied to possible future situations.

While skills don’t stand alone, culling proper skills still is crucial to ensuring a candidate’s capabilities to do the job. Recruiter Ed Han shared two interview questions he likes to use to vet skills that are ‘not’ predicated upon having relevant knowledge about those skills, as follows:

 4. So, tell me one of your war stories about that skill.

Why Ask This Question? I like this prompt because it helps me discern whether or not the candidate has really gotten into the weeds with that skill and gives a good opportunity to evaluate communication ability.

5. Tell me your biggest success story related to [skill].

Why Ask This Question? This prompt is one I like to use early in the conversation: it helps the candidate feel at ease and comfortable. Candidates lacking a good success story, particularly recently, raise a flag. Plus, it often helps to fuel better follow-up questions afterwards. That said, if a success is particularly noteworthy, it’s more or less timeless.

Goldman also shared an interview question that ferrets out skills using a ‘why-based’ interrogative.

 6. What is your ideal position and why? 

Why Ask This Question? It offers the candidate an opportunity to share their best skills sets (technical skills) along with their transferrable skills (soft skills) and understand what they consider to be the best fit position. It gives the interviewer an opportunity to see how closely aligned the candidate is with the duties and responsibilities of the position.

“In my numerous years of conducting interviews, there have been many times when a candidate will describe their best fit position, to find, it does not align with the position they are interviewing for,” reinforced Goldman.

Skills-unearthing can provide opportunities to learn about a candidate beyond the actual ability to perform the skill. For example, Han taps into his skills-vetting repertoire to assess a candidate’s self-awareness regarding weaknesses.

Here’s an interview question Han recommends:

7. Tell me your biggest failure related to [skill].

Why Ask This Question? The purpose of asking this question is to ensure that the candidate possesses self-awareness. But perhaps as importantly, much like the biggest weakness question, the key thing here is learning what the takeaway was to help avoid recurrence.

Moreover, Kathryn Lorenzen, Senior Recruiter and Career Coach, LandaJob Marketing & Creative Talent, transforms the ‘what are your weaknesses’ cliché via a storytelling invitation. She asks:

8. What is a development area, a deficit, or a gap that you’ve had to overcome or improve in your career? How was that identified, and what did you do to improve?

Why Ask This Question? It offers a chance to learn how someone deals with self-realization, self-actualization, and potentially how they overcome obstacles or adversity.

Storytelling also is employed in Lorenzen’s following ‘accomplishment-focused’ example:

9. What are two of the most satisfying accomplishments in your career? Tell me about each of them.

Why Ask This Question? When people are invited to tell a story about what’s been important to them in the arc of their careers, you get a window into their values. Did they value the impact they had? Did they value the award or official recognition? You have an opportunity to see their motivators and their success markers.

Asking about favorite and least favorite supervisors is yet another strategy Lorenzen uses to gain insight about candidates’ attitudes.

10. Describe your favorite supervisor and your least favorite supervisor – and why. 

Why Ask This Question? This allows some fast insight into how the candidate likes to be communicated with and managed, as well as some revelations into overall attitude and maturity.

Moreover, according to Lou Adler in his article, 3 Ways to Ensure Your Interviews Are Set Up to Identify the Best Candidate, Not the Best Interviewee, he suggests asking candidates to:

11. Describe work you’ve accomplished that best compares to what needs to be done.

Why Ask This Question? A pattern soon emerges of where the candidate excels and what organizations best meet their needs.

According to Morgan Hunter Corporate Search, a more focused way to ask a candidate to tell about themselves is to instead ask:

12. How did you end up in your current role?

Why Ask This Question? You’ll get a better sense of a candidate’s career trajectory, as well as what motivates them.

Finally, these three questions can help vet out the quality of a candidate’s preparation for the interview:

13. What challenges do you see impacting the industry? 

14. What interests you most about this position? 

15. Do you have any questions for me?

Why Ask These Questions? More substantive answers signal a higher level of preparation and initiative. Moreover, the candidate having jotted down a few questions to ask signals interest beyond an individual role and to their overall relationship within and among the enterprise.

The interviewing process is tough, no matter which side of the table you sit on. To bolster your hiring team’s abilities in assessing candidates and making great hires, download Glassdoor’s Behavioral Interviewing Questions and Templates eBook.

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