- Job interviews are not fun.
Candidates hate to do them, and hiring managers struggle to find the time to squeeze them in. For most executives, they’re viewed as a necessary evil to building a team — a box to be checked, a hurdle to get over, so they can get back to business.
Worse, interviews are notoriously bad at predicting a candidate’s success. Studies show that a quarter of new hires wash out within one year and nearly half by 18 months.
This makes sense given that no one presents their most authentic and honest selves in interviews — after all, the game is to be wanted so you have the best negotiating power. And hiring managers fall prey to self-deception as it’s continually shown that perception bias plays a huge role in interviews. We form decisions quickly about whether we like the candidate, then ask questions and seek information that supports our viewpoint. We take it easy on the candidates who give a great first impression, and drill the ones who don’t.
So how do you get more adept at hiring solid employees with initiative? What can you do to determine culture fit and aligned expectations?
Considering how heavily weighted the interview is in our hiring decisions, our best bet is to get better at them. If we want more credible information, we need to ask revealing questions even if it feels forced or uncomfortable to do so. The standard vanilla interview questions simply don’t cut it, nor does the tendency to scrap the questions mid-way through and devolve into friendly chit chat.
Interviews are your chance to save yourself a lot of time and money so it pays to get a script of illuminating questions and listen hard for the answers (even if you don’t always want to hear them.)
I’ve conducted more interviews than I could count as an entrepreneur, and put together my own favorite questions that get to the heart of how a person thinks, works, and is motivated. I owe this list to colleagues and fellow business owners who’ve shared what works, plus lots of personal trial and error over the years. I’m not claiming these are the holy grail of interview questions, but they elicit far more than the standard “tell me your strengths and weaknesses” fare. More importantly, they reveal thought patterns and prior behavior — the surest predictor of future behavior.
Interview Questions for the Candidate
1. Tell me about our company. Give your top-line analysis.
Look for: initiative, analytical ability, values, confidence.
2. Walk me through the first 5 things you would do if you got this job.
Look for: strategic thinking, prioritization skills, execution style.
3. What 3-5 things do you need to be successful in this job? What are the deal killers?
Look for: culture fit, expectations, work style.
4. Talk about a time that you took a risk and failed, and one where you took a risk and succeeded. What was the difference?
Look for: risk-taking ability and tolerance, self-awareness, honesty, conceptual thinking.
5. Tell me about one of your proudest moments at work.
Look for: drive, personal motivators, preferred work style (team builder, solo contributor, etc.)
6. What do you want for your career two jobs from now, and how does this position help you get there?
Look for: initiative, long-term thinking, self-awareness, personal motivators, professional development expectations.
…And Now Questions for References
Now that you have a bevy of information from the candidate, you need to check it against the person’s references. I am stunned at how often hiring managers skip reference checks or delegate them to HR to cover basic employment history questions. This is one of your best sources of information! Off-the-record references are generally the most revealing, but you can still get solid information from the ones the candidate provides. Yes, references are primed to say positive things about the candidate. Still, few people will risk their professional reputations by being overtly deceptive. If you want honest answers then try these pointed questions:
1. How would you rate the candidate on a scale of 1-10? What would they have to do to be rated a [+1 from the ranking given]?
2. What kind of situation would you not hesitate to put the candidate in? What kind of situation would give you pause?
3. Provide an example of how the candidate raises the bar for herself and for those around her.
4. If you could create the perfect work environment for the candidate, what would it look like?
5. What kind of development plan was communicated to the candidate, and how did he respond?
6. Would you rehire the candidate?
Hope these questions can add to your own list. Have any favorite interview questions to share? Tell me here or on Twitter @kristihedges.
If I get enough great questions, I’ll write a follow up and we’ll pay it forward.
(Post also appears on Forbes.com.)