Do you ever go into an interview and just ask the first thing that pops into your head? Or make the candidate walk through her resume point-by-point while you fight back yawns? Use these five questions instead and be alert for what the answers might predict about your candidate’s motives, skills, work style, judgment, and approach to problem solving.
1. Why do you want to work for us?
This question immediately lets you know if your candidate wants a job (as in any job) or if they want YOUR job. If they can’t offer a few specific reasons of why they’re interested, then they aren’t taking the interview very seriously. Beware of vague answers to a question like this. I’ve interviewed people who couldn’t even tell me what our company did, so this is definitely a “weed out” question.
2. What sets you apart from the competition?
You’re interviewing people who probably all have similar backgrounds. What makes one candidate stand out from the next? Asking this question directly is a great way to see if a potential employee can articulate why they are unique and why their particular background makes them best suited for the role. Look for answers that are focused and specific, like: “I don’t think you’ll find a better project manager or communicator and I’m really proud of the experience that I bring to the table.” Watch out for answers like: “I just think I’m really qualified and would be able to do a great job.”
3. Tell me about a time when you overcame a conflict. How did you handle it?
This question shows how resilient your candidate is and how well they handle stress. Do they handle conflicts appropriately and diplomatically, or do they escalate the issue and cause an even bigger problem? A good answer to this question will address a specific conflict and will give an example of how it was resolved professionally. Ideally, she’ll tell you what she learned. Beware of people who say they’ve never had to deal with conflict before—this is a red flag.
4. Describe a time when you had a problem come up that you hadn’t been trained to handle. What did you do?
We all want employees who can effectively problem solve. And let’s face it, problems arise daily (sometimes hourly) in most companies. You want to look for answers that show your candidate is confident and will take the initiative to problem solve on their own. This means you want to look for people who naturally exercise good judgment. Regardless of the example they give, look for answers that show they are resourceful, independent, and conscientious.
5. Where do you see yourself in the next couple of years?
This question gives you great insight into what kind of expectations this prospective employee may have regarding timelines for promotions and new opportunities. If he talks about being in another department, this may be a candidate who wants a foot in the door to your company, but doesn’t really want your specific job. Or this candidate may plan to go back for an advanced degree and hasn’t told you of that competing priority. It’s amazing what people will tell you in response to this unexpected question. They have probably prepared a canned answer for the question of what’s planned five years out, but this one will take them by surprise and they may let down their guard a little. The insight gained is almost always very powerful.
Interviewing can be just as stressful on the hiring manager as it is on the job seeker. Making smart hiring decisions takes a lot of thought and intuition, so trust your instincts. If you get a sense that a candidate isn’t the right fit, you’re probably right. Happy Hiring!