4 Questions to Get Candidates Out of Performance-Mode

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 3.26.35 PMJob interviews have become nothing more than an audition for a part.

Costumes are laid out the night before. Friends are recruited to judge a dress rehearsal of lines candidates have memorized and prepared in anticipation of the typical questions. Straying from comfort-zone questions is a great way to get candidates out of performance-mode so that you can genuinely get to know them. If you don’t find a way to get them off script, candidates will only tell you what they think will win them the part — leaving you guessing as to what qualities they actually possess. Here are four questions to help get candidates out of performance-mode:

What keyboard shortcuts do you use?

It’s not really about the keyboard shortcuts — it’s about finding someone who is constantly making little adjustments and finding small ways to work more efficiently. Great employees will have analyzed these small inefficiencies and done something about them. You could also ask candidates their organization system for computer files or how they squeeze every ounce of productivity out of their day.

It’s about finding someone who is deliberate. These are the employees who are going to be improving your workplace at every opportunity and encouraging those around them to do the same.

What would your current manager say you should do more of, less of or stop doing altogether?

To have successful employees, look for candidates who are comfortable evaluating and adjusting their performance in order to align with company goals. Asking candidates to analyze their current position helps you filter out those who aren’t self-reflective and teachable. Self-proclaimed perfect professionals don’t work very well together, because perfect people are always right. Self-reflective employees have greater potential because they’re open and eager to grow — so for fast-growing or innovative organizations, that’s the type of environment you’ll want to foster.

What was your very first job?

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You need employees with tenacity and grit — the kind earned from flipping burgers or scrubbing floors at first jobs. You can learn a lot from what an employee says about their first work experience. Perhaps it was terrible — can they laugh? Maybe they were worked to the bone — do they credit that job for their excellent work ethic?

These reflections reveal the true character of your candidate. Things won’t always be perfect within your organization; what kind of attitude will they have? Candidates who are positive enough to reflect fondly and humble enough to learn from their experiences bring the kind of mindset to your workplace that inspires insight and drives innovation.

How do you feel about the oxford comma, or open-source vs. proprietary software, or whether to capitalize or expense the implementation of SaaS?

Dig in. See what gets your candidate fired up. It will help to spend a little time with passionate people in the departments you recruit for. Listen to what industry-relevant news they’re talking about in the breakroom or which subjects they debate at the water cooler. Passionate people love their industry, are well-informed, and aren’t afraid to advocate. Not only that, their passion for their work helps them, and you, become thought leaders in your industry.

Candidates can strategically script answers to fit the role of any job description. If you focus on the qualities of candidates, instead of comfortable questions, you’ll get to know the candidates in a more real way. Giving candidates the opportunity to share their passions and humility learned through past experiences gives them a chance to show their true qualities (as opposed to reciting traits they thought would win them the part). Asking candidates to reflect on their performance — both good and bad — and tell you specific efficiency tricks gives you the chance to find self-starters. Take the opportunity to really get to know your candidate on a personal level, because you need employees who are more than actors — you need employees who enact positive change in your organization.

Kelsie Davis is an HR insights specialist for BambooHR, the leading online HR software used by over 11,000 businesses in more than 100 countries worldwide. Her mission is to help HR create more strategic and impactful initiatives. She does this by researching, analyzing, and writing about all things HR—particularly topics helping HR professionals engage, attract, and maintain employees. Because of their unique ability to influence the most fragile and important asset a company has—it’s employees—Kelsie believes HR professionals are crucial to company success.

Kelsie studied Communication Studies and Journalism at Utah State University where she graduated Summa Cum Laude before pursuing a career in marketing. Kelsie writes frequently for BambooHR’s blog and has written for HR publications such as Talent Culture, TLNT, and about.com.

You can contact Kelsie at kdavis@bamboohr.com or on Twitter at @kelsjonesdavis.


7 Comments on “4 Questions to Get Candidates Out of Performance-Mode

  1. Here’s three questions for Kelsie. HOW did you discover these pearls of wisdom that you have unleashed on the world? How confident are you that they actually boost interview decision accuracy and by how much? And finally— How did you arrive at that level of confidence? It’s one thing to have opinions based on personal experience. We all do. It’s another thing to present them as printed gospel to direct the actions of others when those actions could be of no and even possibly negative value.

    1. Hi Tom, Like you pointed out, we all have opinions based on our personal experiences. These are simply suggestions for finding traits I’ve found extremely valuable in employees— it’s certainly not intended as gospel. Thanks for reading!

  2. Well, Kelsie, if you say it is so, it must be, somewhere. Let’s not forget the first and foremost rule of interview questions: The question MUST have job relativity, or it is invalid, useless, and often illegal.
    The second question you list is an excellent question. However, most people should already have an answer for this question, or similar questions.
    The third question should not stump anyone, nor give you any information that is not already on the resume.
    The other two questions should only be asked of individuals who are applying for a position in which those skills or practices you indicate are in common use. I think that leaves out a very large percentage of job applicants.
    I applaud your subject matter, and your effort, Kelsie.

    1. Hi Buckmeister, I think you’re absolutely right: Every question should relate to the job. Each question is intended as more of a tool—one that can be adjusted based on specific requirements—to find vital traits. Specifically, finding efficient, teachable, tenacious and passionate candidates. I think we can all agree that we would benefit from more employees with those traits! Thanks so much for reading.

  3. Hi Richard, You’re spot on. It’s the principle behind the question that matters, and recruiters should adjust to fit their own needs in order to find genuine candidates. Thank you so much for your comments.

  4. Well, I think this was an interesting read with some good ideas. If people are now taking every article written on ERE, an industry blog, as gospel, then that’s just too bad for them. I don’t agree with some points in the article either (especially your opening, although I get what you’re referring to), but these are some good questions to include to help break through the “How to authentically interview a coached interviewee” challenge. Thanks for sharing, Kelsie.

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