When you’re asking interview questions day in and day out, it’s easy to fall into a rut. Even the most intuitive and engaging hiring managers may find themselves rattling off the same set of stock questions every day, and thanks to Google, these prompts are less effective than ever before. Applicants search online for common corporate hiring questions and then simply memorize their responses. It’s hard to learn anything about your candidates when they’re telling you exactly what you want to hear.
If your company could use a little help making better hiring decisions, it’s time to give your stock interview questions a badly needed makeover. Try these creative alternatives to break through the scripted dialogue and assess candidates for who they really are.
Hated Interview Question #1:
Bad: Tell me about yourself.
Better: What’s the most exciting thing that ever happened to you?
As one of the first interview questions posed to most applicants, this opener is meant as an ice-breaker. The problem? Most candidates will recite a response that tells you nothing you didn’t already know from the cover letter and resume. To help them ditch the script and open up, ask interviewees about the most exciting thing they’ve ever experienced instead. The answers you get might surprise you.
A candidate who talks about the birth of his son shows that he’s committed and loyal. An applicant who beams while describing his first published piece of poetry gives you a glimpse of his creative side, and someone who’s gone skydiving or deep sea diving reveals that she’s not afraid to take chances and try new things. Remember, when your questions are interesting, your answers will be too.
Hated Interview Question #2:
Bad: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Better: What do you want your job title to be when you retire?
Some interview questions have no good answer. This is one of those questions. If candidates say, “Right here,” they seem ambitionless. If they reply, “Moving on to the position I really want,” then they seem uncommitted. If they say, “Sitting in your seat,” they come across as predatory, and if they steal Mitch Hedberg’s line and answer, “Celebrating the fifth anniversary of you asking this question,” they might get points for humor, but you won’t learn anything about their passions and goals.
Making the time frame less immediate will help you to uncover what applicants truly enjoy and what drives them to succeed. That’s the kind of information you need to make the best employee selection decisions you can.
Hated Interview Question #3:
Bad: Tell me about a time when you had to overcome an obstacle.
Better: Let me describe a problem you might encounter while working here. How would you solve the problem?
Most applicants are prepared to tell you a story that paints them as the business equivalent of a superhero flying into a burning building to rescue orphans. Sometimes these stories provide valuable insights into a candidate’s character, but often these tales are unrelated to the kind of work the new position requires. To get an idea of how your new hire would handle the decisions she’d have to make in her new position, use a real, concrete example and ask her what she’d do. You can even formulate questions designed to reveal different qualities.
For example, the question “What would you do if you found out a colleague was fraudulently inflating his sales numbers?” is a lot different than “If your business to business sales took a dip a few weeks before your performance review, what would you do?” Pointed questions can tell you a lot about a person’s social skills, integrity, technical knowledge and expertise.
Conducting an hour-long Q&A session that’s stuffed with clichéd interview questions is no way to start a business relationship. It’s trite, it’s uninspired and above all, it’s boring, both for you and for your interviewee. Energize your interview sessions by revamping your questions. Not only will the process become more enjoyable, but you’ll get the information you need to make even better hiring decisions. Remember what Tony Robbins once said. “Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.”