7 Questions to Ask in an Interview

“Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” – Jim Collins

In all my time as a manager, every employee I hired reaffirmed the same principle: You can teach skills and knowledge, but you can’t teach character.

Interviewing often consists primarily of questions about qualifications, experience, knowledge, professional skills, and the like. But I have not often seen a manager ask an interview question that requires any deep level of thinking and human engagement.

After a while I learned to stop asking the usual questions, because those are the questions people are expecting. Anyone can list 3 strengths they have. They are selling themselves. Typical questions will tell you very little about a person. Everyone knows how to answer “What are you passionate about?” or “How important is your work to you?”

If you really want to see what a person is made of, you have to ask unusual, thought-provoking questions. Questions they haven’t found on Google and prepared for. You have to ask questions that require them to tap deeper into their minds and show you what they’re truly made of.

Here are my 7 favorite questions to ask in an interview (try not to put them in a predictable order):

     1. Tell me about the biggest challenge in life you have had to overcome.

How competently they answer this question can tell you a lot about how self-aware they are, how much attention they pay to their own personal development. Hearing what they considered a challenge, how they went about beating it, and how they are better for it will give you insight into their character.

     2. What drives you personally? Why are you really here?

It seems like it should be the first question on every boss’s mind, but it’s amazing how infrequently it’s asked. A year down the road, after the honeymoon stage is over, it’s important to know what is driving the team member during the tough times. Are they internally or externally motivated? Do they love and believe in what they are doing? Are they personally invested?

     3. If I asked all of your former co-workers and managers, what would they tell me is the biggest thing you need to work on?

It’s a variation on the typical “list your weaknesses,” but this one goes a little deeper. It catches your interviewees off guard. Plus, you’ll get to see how good they are at stepping back and examining themselves from the view of others, and it may get you a more accurate, thoughtful answer. It’s interesting to hear how honest and self-aware people are when they answer this question.

     4. What do you really want to know about a company and environment you might join?

Generalizing the question (instead of asking “what do you want to know about us?“) puts people at ease. It’s easier for them to say “I need to know a team gets along” than “Does your team get along?” So it will give you the opportunity to address their actual concerns, and it’s also helpful to hear how much thought they put into their teams.

     5. What do you know about our company?

How much people have done their homework and learned about your team will tell you a lot about them. Do they really want to work with your specific team? Do they engage and invest in their causes? Do they plan ahead for their success?

     6. What have you been learning lately?

It’s absolutely essential to know that your potential team members are eager learners. You only want to work with people who value continuous self-improvement. I have rarely gotten a confident answer to this question, but the few people who gave the good answers turned out to be excellent additions to the team and very open to feedback.

     7. Are you sure this is the right fit for you? Are you sure you still want to be here?

Between the beginning and the end of the meeting, your interviewees’ minds may have changed drastically. They’ve learned a lot about the team, revealed a lot about themselves, and gotten to interact with their potential new boss. But they might feel committed–it’s tough to back out. So it’s important to be very honest and open with them. Let them know you care just as much about whether this will be good for them as you care about whether they will be good for you. If they’re not going to be truly excited and enthusiastic, it’s not a smart hire.

(Notice the questions are of a general nature. Where it comes to very specific qualifications and focuses of their job, the questions will likely be a lot more obvious and straight-forward.)

Those 7 questions helped me learn a lot about people before it was too late. They helped me find great team members and avoid wasting time and money on poor fits.

The bottom line, though, is this: If you ask typical interview questions you will hear rehearsed answers. You need to really get to know the person and whether they will be a good fit for you. You need to engage them at a very deep level. You need to know what makes them tick.

It might be helpful to try this: Don’t just “interview” them, talk with them.

Author: Peter Elbridge

I am a lifelong learner and avid reader, which translates into doing smart work for myself, my team, and my clients. I have a passion for effective leadership and an even bigger passion for helping others do and feel better. I have a lot of experience in communication, public speaking, and writing. Above all, I have a deep and genuine care for every life I touch. That's why I write. (My opinions and endorsements are my own and do not represent my employer.)

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