5 Interview Questions That Actually Help you Hire

With the hiring stakes so high, many companies are following Google’s lead and trying to throw people off their guard with oddball interview questions designed to highlight the best candidates.

But, do questions like “how many table tennis balls could you fit in a Boeing 747” really tell you how suitable someone is for your company?

Here are five questions that will help you dig deep and help you actually find the right people to drive your company forward. These are all questions that we’ve used to great success at Beamery and friends at other companies have found helpful.

If you woke up and had 2,000 unread emails and could only answer 300 of them how would you choose which ones to answer?

We’ve all been faced with the seemingly unconquerable inbox, but even for high flyers 2,000 unread emails is significant. Despite the subject matter though, this question isn’t about email.

The point of this question is to demonstrate how candidates approach work and how they prioritize tasks. You want to understand their process for attacking a project that, on the face of it, seems difficult to deal with.

How would they divide the task up into smaller, more manageable sub-tasks? How would they prioritise which emails to answer? How would they decide which ones to answer? What is important is their reasoning and thought process, not what they say.

What single project or task would you consider your most significant career accomplishment to date? Walk me through the plan, how you managed it, how you measured success, and what the biggest mistakes you made were.

Lou Adler, one of the world’s foremost recruiting thinkers, has made no secret of his 10-year search for the perfect interview question. After all his research, this is the question that he landed upon. He believes it’s the best indicator of whether you should, or shouldn’t hire someone.

This question is the whole package. Candidates have an opportunity to give you a behind-the-scenes tour of the professional accomplishment that they’re most proud of. You’ll get insights into how they plan and run projects, as well as how the bar they set for success.

Top candidates will also use the “biggest mistakes” part of the question to display a sense of ownership for any weak points in the project.

How do you set goals? Outline the process.

Most of your best employees will be highly goal-oriented and results driven, hardly surprising then that hiring managers want more of the same!

This question is great at ensuring that candidates are going to match up to the goals that you set them, and should show you whether they have sufficient initiative to set their own targets.

The best candidates will articulate their exact goal setting process. This should involve: how they select goals, how they split these lofty goals up into smaller tasks, how they plan to tackle these tasks, and ultimately how they measure success.

If I gave you £50,000 to start your own business, what would you do?

“Hold on a second, I thought we were trying to hire them not invest in them!” Relax. This question is a great way to illustrate business acumen and creativity.

£50,000 is not to be sniffed at, but when it comes to starting a business it’s hardly a king’s ransom. As a result, candidates should think carefully about how they would spend it and what early hires or decisions would give them the best ROI.

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The best answers will get specific. They might touch on logistics, hiring, product decisions and services. You’ll also be surprised at how creative candidates can get when you challenge them like this.

Why are you leaving your current job?

The goal here isn’t to find out if candidates have any major skeletons in their closet when it comes to their last role — reference checking is a more efficient way to find this out. You can tell a lot by how people speak about their previous employer.

It’s a great way to spot “the victim.” For these candidates everything is someone else’s fault. Their previous boss hated them. Their old company was out to get them. They were ignored for promotions. The list goes on …

You should also look out for candidates who are leaving their previous company because there’s “nothing left to learn.”

While there are occasions when this can be a legitimate complaint, it’s usually a red flag. There is pretty much always something to learn.

Whatever your company size, (and no matter how mundane the work), there are opportunities to learn and improve. If you find yourself faced with a candidate who does nothing but complain, ask yourself how happy they’d be at your company and how much they’d have to “learn.”

Bonus: “The airport test”

This one is pretty simple. How would you feel if you were stuck at an airport with the candidate for five hours?

If you’re immediately struck by a sense of dread, then maybe you need to prolong your search! If you’d be happy to sit and chat, it might be a match.

The airport test when you’re on the fence with a candidate, or when you’re trying to weigh up cultural fit between a few people.


3 Comments on “5 Interview Questions That Actually Help you Hire

  1. Excellent pointers and good, solid questions Ben.
    My favorite however is the bonus. I used something similar in the past, but the airport, now that puts that question into a completely new realm of thought.

  2. Apologies to Ben, but for those “in the know”, this is more evidence that Behavioral Interviewing is BROKEN IN THE FIELD. With just 1 in 5 of Ben’s questions being behavioral, and the bonus question being as subjective and undisciplined as it possibly could be, I have lost all hope that interviewers can hew to the best practices discovered in research. And I wrote the book on Behavior Description Interviewing (Janz, Hellervik, and Gilmore, 1986, Pearson). Blaming won’t help. Fortunately, natural language analytics now provides a solution—- the Objective Online Interview. Delivered over the web, candidates can view video behavioral questions and respond by speaking or typing their answer, receive behavioral answer coaching, and have their final answer objectively scored. The bottom line– employers can be shown the very best three candidates based on a composite of objective test and interview scores. The hiring manager can watch the three (or more) finalists handle tough questions and view how credible third parties confirm or disconfirm their answer. Only then does the hiring team need to incur the cost of bringing in the most qualified and aligned candidate/s for a final decision.

  3. I have had a large range of questions when being interviewed, and the questions that are specific about my resume and not as general, give the impression that the company is doing research on each candidate and not just judging based on looks or dress. I know it is always a part of the process, but some of the best co-workers I’ve ever known or had were not the best at self presentation. I like Tom Janz response because he suggests a way to eliminate some of the bias.

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