No matter what role you’re interviewing someone for, there are certain basic traits that cut across rank, industry and company size. As an employer, you want your new hire to not just have the technical chops to do their jobs well, but also have the right temperament that enables the same.
Most candidates rehearse common interview questions and offer answers that are politically correct, not necessarily what they truly believe. But there are definitely ways to dig deeper. Beneath that rehearsed façade lies your perfect employee, if only you care enough to ask the right questions.
So without further ado, let’s dive right in.
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1. Tell me about a problem you solved at your current or last job.
This admittedly can be a rehearsed answer, but it serves a very important purpose.
First, you get an understanding of what the candidate considers a problem big enough to talk about at an interview. Hello, prioritization skills.
Second, you discover how they approach problems and solve them. This is invaluable information to have, especially if the candidate is interviewing for a high-pressure job.
2. If you had to pick between A. working with a very talented but extremely hard to work with co-worker or B. completing a very tough project by yourself; what would you choose?
The answer to this question tells you whether the candidate is a team player or a lone wolf. The correct answer to this question depends on the demands of the role.
Is the role require independent thinking and personal initiative? Then the second option is the preferred course of action.
For team-oriented roles, go for candidates that pick the first option.
3. What do you do in your free time?
It’s important to know what drives the candidate outside of work, so you know what constraints they’re working under. If they say, they teach their kids their schoolwork or play with them in their free time; you’re dealing with a family-oriented, responsible candidate.
Someone who likes to read in their free time demonstrates a desire to improve oneself. Someone who volunteers in their time off is conscientious and dependable.
4. Do you play any sports?
Your employees are not just a bundle of skills. Their physical and emotional well-being affect their work performance at least as much as their job-related expertise.
People who play sports regularly are invested in their health. The sport they play is an indicator of whether they are team players or solo actors. Given a choice, I’d pick a candidate who played a team sport. Being part of a team automatically teaches you to trust your team members, have their backs, pick up the slack when someone else doesn’t perform as well and put the team above self-interest—all key attributes in a potential employee.
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5. Tell me one thing you’d change about our company.
Asking a candidate what they like about your company is simple. They’re probably prepared with a list of things to rattle off. Turn the question on its head and ask them instead what they think is wrong with your company.
This question will show you how well they have studied your company—a high degree of preparedness is a great sign for employees at any level. The way they convey the negative aspects of your company to you will demonstrate their diplomacy. Whether they offer a solution to fix the flaw will tell you whether the person is a problem solver or a complainer.
6. How will your current or last boss describe you?
This is a test of the candidate’s honesty. We all know that candidates embellish a little on their resumes. They spotlight their best performances while sweeping the bloopers under the rug.
With this question, you’re actually asking the candidate to drop the act and tell you what they really bring to the table, warts and all. The best part? You’ll be able to verify the candidate’s reply when you check back with their references at a later stage in the recruitment process.
7. Which of our core values resonates most with you? Explain with an example.
An excellent way to elicit an unprepared response is to offer a candidate fresh information and ask them a situational question based on it.
I like telling candidates about our company’s core values and then asking them to pick the one that they identify with them the most. I then prod them to tell me how that value relates to their professional life.
Usually, I get an example of a past situation where they applied the value they endorsed. It tells me how well the candidate can think on their feet, how honest they’ve been with the rest of their answers so far and what to expect from them when you throw them into a high-stress situation.
8. Tell me one thing in your past that you would do differently. Why?
This does not have to be a career related anecdote. Simply knowing what a person regrets from their past is a peek inside their history and helps understand what made them who they are.
It puts the candidates’ personal values on display and reveals their vulnerable side. A candidate who tells you they have no regrets at all, is lying and probably not worth pursuing.
You might be tempted to pick the first person who is “good enough” for the job. That would be a mistake. As in most other cases, here too patience pays huge dividends. Even if it means you struggle for a while without enough employees, wait till the right person walks in.
If you would not settle for anything less than Mr. or Ms. Right as a life partner, why would you palm off Ms. Nearly Right as a prospective employee for your company?