The best interview questions to ask – based on candidate feedback

January 5, 2021

We recently asked our followers about the interview questions they dread, and, unfortunately, there was plenty of feedback. The good news, however, is you and other hiring managers can use this insight to adapt your typical questions and make sure you’re avoiding these. Interviews can be tough on both sides of the table, and by improving them for the candidates, you might find you’ll get better responses. 

“Why do you want this job?” 

When asking this one, you’re probably looking for motivations, priorities and interests – so ask about those instead! Many candidates perceive this question as having an obvious answer: to pay bills. For better responses, you could try “What in the job description was appealing to you?” or “What sounds the most interesting or appealing to you about this job?” Reframing this question allows the candidate to highlight their abilities, talk about the good things in your post and at your company (demonstrating if they have done their research), and you to witness their critical thinking. You might also learn a new perspective about this role. 

“What’s your biggest weakness?” 

This used to be *the* question to ask, giving job seekers the opportunity to stealthily brag about themselves. From responses like “I get too focused on my work and am a perfectionist” to “I take on too much,” you and other hiring managers have caught on to the strategy. When asking this question, you might be looking for their actual weakness, but the original intent was to determine the candidate's level of self-awareness. Instead, you could ask questions about how they have prioritized professional development, self-improvement or learning new skills. Examples: “In what areas have you been improved that you are really proud of?” or “What soft skills have you learned throughout your career?” 

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” 

Some responses felt this was a semi-loaded question – the job they were interviewing for was the potential ticket to a new career, lifestyle or step in their path. And especially now in the midst of a career-altering pandemic, this question can be out of touch, as well as potentially too personal and limiting for the candidate. There are several reasons for asking this type of question, including to understand ambition and career goals. Just be direct! Try asking about their knowledge of the industry and how they see themselves fitting into it, or how they want to grow their skills and contribute to a team.  

Any form of “What’s your spirit animal?” “Describe in detail how to make a PB&J sandwich.”  

Candidates are in your office (or Zoom interview) to talk about their skills, experiences and contributions to your company. While it seemed like it was the trend for a while to ask these off-the-wall questions to gauge someone’s ability to think on their feet, there are other ways to assess that ability. Focus on scenarios where the candidate could demonstrate skills you’ve discussed or how they relied on experiences to complete a project.  

Anything that can get too personal, too quick

Many candidates expressed their frustration with questions about previous employment and reasons for leaving, confrontation styles, when they have gone “above-and-beyond", and more. Instead of potentially wading into a very awkward experience, be upfront. If your company has a hustle-and-grind culture, own it and say it. If you want to understand how someone solves a problem, offer an example and ask for the candidate’s initial response and plan.  

At the end of the day, you want to have a conversation with someone. Career goals and paths are winding and evolving anymore, and just as you want flexible and skilled workers, candidates want a real opportunity to prove they can do the job. Providing a candidate every opportunity to talk about their skills and experiences means they will be more confident, give more relevant answers and demonstrate how they might fit on your team.

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