We’ve all been there: when preparing for an interview, the first place we’re likely to go is Google. “Typical interview questions”, “most asked interview questions”, “how to answer interview questions”, etc.
But here’s the problem: a lot of these questions are ineffective.
These commonly asked questions are ineffective and don’t provide opportunities for candidates to reveal what they’re truly capable of. Common questions, like “What is your biggest weakness?” create common responses, which benefit no one.
How do you know when you’re asking useless interview questions?
Here’s an easy test: next time you’re interviewing a candidate, ask yourself, “What exactly is the candidate supposed to say?” With the above question, do interviewers really expect candidates to provide a soliloquy of their biggest weaknesses and shortcomings? Chances are, 99% of candidates will attempt to present to the interviewer a semi-weakness that ultimately ends up being a strength.
This serves no purpose except maybe to see if the candidate took any time at all to prepare for the interview. You can achieve that while also gaining more valuable information about the candidate by asking better questions.
Question #1: Tell me about yourself
This question is often used to identify personality traits of the candidate, but here’s the problem: this question is just too vague. To fully understand the personality of a candidate, the question needs to be more specific. Instead of asking the candidate to talk about themselves, ask them about their hobbies and how they relate to the company’s industry.
For example, if a graphic designer is applying for a job at a gaming company, it would be pertinent to ask questions like “What’s your favorite video game art and why?” Then, follow up by asking them what they would do differently. The interviewer could also inquire about the types of games the candidate has recently played as a way of measuring how engaged they are with the gaming industry as a whole.
While not exactly a downright horrible question, it shares some of the same problems as the previous example: it’s just too vague and generic to inspire an interesting answer from the candidate. Ask this question and you’re likely to get a rehearsed answer which will necessitate further questions to get a more detailed response.
Instead, ask the candidate to elaborate on a specific skill, project, or responsibility listed on their resume. This not only allows your candidate to paint a more complete picture of their experience, but it also allows you to distill any strengths or weaknesses as they go into more detail.
Asking a candidate this question is akin to asking a high schooler what they want to be when they grow up: you might get a decent answer, but chances are, the person is not likely to be 100% sure.
Many employers use this question to see how interested the candidate is in staying with the company over the long-term; however, many candidates will respond by declaring that they would indeed want to be working at your company.
These sorts of answers are more than likely to be a ploy: sure, they may really want to work for your company, but who’s to say for how long? If it’s loyalty that you seek from the candidate, you’ll get a better idea of how long they will stick around by looking at their work history.
Ask this question and the room is bound to go dead silent. This question almost always makes for an awkward situation, not to mention it is illegal to ask in some states now.
Instead, ask what their desired salary range is. This will give you a better idea if you and the candidate are on the same page.
This type of question elicits a canned response.
All candidates will respond to this question by presenting as many unique value propositions about themselves in the most positive light possible, which in the end, doesn’t add anything to the conversation.
This question will only force the candidate to speak negatively about an individual, or, provide a response like “I get along with everyone”.
Instead, ask the candidate to describe a situation where they had to work through a difficult problem with a team, and encourage them to provide as many details as possible. This way you get to the root of what you are asking (how the candidate deals with tough people situations) without making your candidate feel like they can’t be honest without seeming like a poor team player.
Ask this question and you’re likely to be bombarded with a series of generic accolades: hard worker, smart, quick thinker, team player, reliable, and on and on.
Simply put, no candidate is going to tell you what their bosses would say about them; instead, rely on the responses when checking the candidate’s references. Although references are also fairly biased, they are usually less prepared for these questions than a candidate. making it easier to tell through inflections in tone or stumbling over words whether they are being truthful.
There are a bevy of reasons as to why a candidate might’ve been out of work for an extended period of time, and none of them are worth talking about. All that matters is the candidate’s experience, skill set, and how they handle the interview; there’s really no need to dig into personal matters 99% of the time.
Experience, money, opportunity—these are all answers that make an appearance here, and for you, the interviewer, these give you nothing.
Why else would the candidate be sitting before you? They are there to better themselves and to make a living, and you can help both them and yourself by avoiding these types of time-wasting questions.
Instead, ask them what they find interesting about the company or what they look for in a company culture. This way you can see how much time (if any) they spent preparing for the interview and if they are even interested in the company/space and are not solely applying just to get a paycheck.
While asking this question might reveal character flaws, you’re still unlikely to receive an honest answer as to why a candidate was let go from a previous employer.
Additionally, this question may inspire the candidate to speak negatively about a previous employer, which can bring about unwanted awkwardness and hostility during the interview.
You can get the same information in a more honest fashion by simply going through a candidate’s resume and asking them about their role and thoughts about each one.
As a final thought, remember that the goal of an interview is to gauge how a candidate might help your company become more productive and a better place to work. However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for general questions designed to gauge a candidate’s “workplace fitness”; but this does mean that all questions asked should inspire the candidate to provide you with unique and honest answers.
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