I’m Interviewing Someone: What the heck should I ask them?!

The only thing worse than preparing to be interviewed, is preparing to interview someone.  I mean, what the heck are you supposed to ask them?!

Should you try and throw them off with “If you were an animal, what would you be?”  Or test their reasoning skills with something like “How many quarters fit in a school bus?”  It’s tempting to ask some off-the-wall stuff, but what do those kinds of crazy questions really help you understand about the candidate?  When you only have a limited amount of time for an interview, every question counts.  Each question should be prepared in advance to help you better understand if the candidate should be hired or not.

When conducting an interview, there are 3 types of questions that will help you determine if the candidate is the right fit for the job and your business.  First, you want to find out how they think they’ll add value to your business.  Second, you want to understand how they’ll overcome any challenges that come with the position.  And finally, you want to evaluate what types of questions they have for you.

How will you add value to my business?

This seems simple enough, but it’s easy to dance around this topic in an interview.  As an employer, I’m most interested in learning why someone has applied to work for me and why they think they’d be a good fit.  In other words, why should I hire you?  What makes you the best choice?

Typically, I like to ask an open-ended question like this: “Tell me what you know about (insert the business name) and why you would be a good fit to work here.”

Asking an open-ended question gives the candidate plenty of opportunities to show they’ve done their research on your business and understand what makes it unique.  This type of question also allows the candidate to highlight their strengths and any prior experience that is relevant to working for you.

It’s a softball question, yet you’d be surprised—many people simply don’t put in the time to learn about the companies at which they interview—which makes it really easy to separate someone seeking a job from someone who is genuinely interested in working at your business.  If I interview someone who can’t articulate what my business does or how they’d contribute in a positive way, then I will not be hiring them.

Do you get easily discouraged?

Every job has its challenges.  During an interview, it’s important to understand how a candidate would overcome these challenges and not get easily discouraged.  The best way for an employer to figure this out is asking the candidate to explain past experiences in which they overcame adversity or demonstrated the ability to meet a challenge head-on.  Questions like:

Tell me about a time when you started working on a project only to be told later that there were major changes.  How did you handle that?

Have you ever found a mistake in something you were working on?  What did you do to fix it?

Tell me about a time where you were confronted with a big obstacle or problem to get something finished.  What happened and how did you deal with that?

Tell me about a time when you were frustrated at work.  What did you do to overcome this?

Candidates should be able to easily articulate past examples from work or life that demonstrate they are capable of being flexible, handling stressful situations, and moving on from past mistakes.  The more detail given, the better.  Everyone has countless examples of overcoming adversity or meeting a challenge.  If the candidate finds it difficult to answer these types of questions, they either aren’t prepared or are afraid to be honest about how they handle problems—not qualities I’d be looking for when building my team.

What questions do you have for me? 

This question might be the most overlooked in an interview, but it is important to give the candidate a chance to get their questions answered.  Or … for you, the employer, to see if the candidate is prepared and has intelligent, thoughtful questions.  If the candidate asks questions directly related to something previously discussed in the interview, then I know they are actively engaged and interested in working for my business.

Having the candidate ask you questions is a great way to figure out if this person is really passionate about working for you, or they simply want a job and a paycheck.  If someone doesn’t have any questions for me at the end of the interview, I know they aren’t serious about working for my business.

Each question in an interview should help you make the decision about whether to hire someone or not.  First, you want to find out how the candidate thinks they’ll add value to your business.  Second, you want to understand how they’ll overcome any challenges that come with the position.  And finally, you want to evaluate what types of questions they have for you.  By asking interview candidates questions in these 3 categories, you should get closer to making that final hiring decision with confidence.

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