Effective Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

There are legendary stories of Google coming up with some real brain-teaser and not particularly effective interview questions to ask candidates. Such as “How many golf balls can fit in a school bus?” or “Why are manhole covers round?”

These questions were so bad that Google had to ban them in the end.

Who knows why companies and hiring managers like to throw weird interview questions into the mix? Maybe they’re trying to gauge creativity or ability to think on one’s feet. Perhaps, for a company like Google, the number of applicants is so great that they need to find inventive ways to cut down the numbers?

If you are thinking of following Google’s lead, then think again!

You should just stick to the everyday and effective interview questions to ask candidates. Interview questions that aim to measure the candidate’s skills, desire to join your team, and their ability to fit in. These are important things that will help you hire a great team, avoid poor hires and low staff retention.

Here are ten effective interview questions to ask candidates. They’re not ground breaking in their originality; but they work if asked correctly and you listen carefully to the answers:

#1 Tell me your story

A great way to get the ball rolling. Look for a confident coherent answer that doesn’t ramble and highlights aspects and experiences that relate well to your job opportunity, team and company.

#2 Why did you accept an interview for this job?

Ideally you want to hear enthusiasm, interest for this particular opportunity and not just a need for a job. Is the candidate demonstrating evidence of some homework having been done? and, have they given any thought to how taking the role will impact their career?

#3 What would you describe as your number one strength?

Here you’re wanting to find examples that match those that you have outlined in the person specification that you (should have) created.

#4 What is your biggest area for improvement?

This is a tricky one to answer and can often leave candidates tongue-tied. It’s a good way to observe how they react under pressure whilst at the same time providing an opportunity to give an answer that is honest and demonstrates good self-awareness. But, be ready for it to reveal a flaw that writes them off. The best answers are those that admit a weakness (e.g. time planning) but describe the steps they are taking to improve (e.g. I now use a day planner and time block my tasks).

#5 What experience do you need to gain over the next two years for your career to be on plan?

One of the key reasons for talent leaking out of companies is because employers don’t find out right from the outset what they might need to do over the next two to three years to give the candidate the experience and career opportunities that they are looking for. The short term pressure to fill a hole takes precedent with a longer term consequence of poor staff retention as a result of a mis-match.

#6 Why did you leave your last job?

A simple and obvious question which shakes out any skeletons from the closet. The reasons given should be professional, understandable, and not overly critical of the last employer, and will hopefully help you avoid the job hoppers who regularly move for money, or before the axe falls on them for under-performance.

#7 What is your proudest achievement?

An interviewee should have prepared for this question in advance and be able to give concrete examples that relate directly to your vacancy’s key tasks and measurement criteria. This is an opportunity for candidates to shine and knock your socks off with their answers.

#8 Tell me about a time when things didn’t go well for you?

No job, or life for that matter, runs smoothly all the time and so you need to hire achievers who can respond to problems, find and implement solutions, and tough it out when things don’t go to plan. This question will hopefully help you identify, and avoid, the quitters.

#9 What do you know about us?

This question has strong associations to question #2. You are looking for candidates who have done a good amount of research on you and your organisation before attending the interview. There is no excuse not to as there is plenty of information online to draw from. If they haven’t bothered then it’s a certain sign they’re not engaged fully in the process, are lazy or disorganised. Or perhaps all three.

#10 What would you like to ask me?

Following on from question #9, give the floor to the candidate to ask you some questions. This is a chance for them to demonstrate their enthusiasm for the opportunity and how they think. Often the most illuminating insights can come from these exchanges that take place towards the end of the interview.

Photo credit: cartoon by Nick Maher. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.