6 Questions to Ask Your Job Interview Candidates

By Madison White on July 27, 2019

Interviewing candidates for a position can often be a long and grueling process whether you’re the person being interviewed or the one asking the questions. It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare for an interview, regardless of which side of the table you’re on. You’re nervous, they’re nervous, the whole ordeal might feel a bit forced. So how can you make the interview process better?

As a recruiter or hiring manager, you might find that candidates start to blur together, or that you keep getting the same answers from everyone. This isn’t exactly surprising. When none of them seem to stand out, how are you supposed to decide who is going to fit best with your company?

Your first issue might be that you aren’t asking the right questions. The questions you’re asking might be a bit generic and bland. They aren’t giving the interviewee space to really show you who they are because they are just spitting out what they think you want to hear. By now, most people in the job market know some of the standard questions. We’ve all heard them before. Tell us about a time when you’ve faced a challenge. What is your biggest weakness? While these might end up being helpful if you have an honest candidate, many interviewees will just spit out the same basic response that they gave in all their other interviews. This doesn’t showcase their real skills, it just shows how well they can memorize a set answer and repeat it.

Asking the right questions is crucial because it can shed light on what that person is really like. If someone is just great at spitting out answers, the unexpected question might show you how they actually respond when surprised with something. On the flip side, a candidate might seem a bit uninteresting until you ask a great question and their real personality starts oozing out. These questions will help you determine a candidate’s true personality and what talents they might be hiding beneath their prepared answers.

1. Describe yourself in one word.

This one is a twist on an old favorite which is to describe yourself in three words. The interviewee is likely prepared for that one, but will have to think a little bit more about which one, single word describes them best. This really allows you to see what they truly value above all else. For example, someone’s three words might have been creative, responsible, and a leader. However, which of those they choose as their one word will showcase a lot better where their loyalties really lie.

Another thing to try with this question is to ask them to make the word negative. When you ask it the first time, you can bet that they’re going to choose something positive. Asking them to pick something negative, alongside the positive, of course, really forces them to think about what they think is their true downfall. Most of us can name a long list of traits that we feel we are weak in, but picking the one that happens the most, or perhaps sticks out, can be a lot more difficult.

2. What activities or subjects did you enjoy most as a child?

This is a great question because most people will know right away what they loved to do as a child. When you’re a kid, you aren’t worrying about how others perceive you, but just doing what you enjoy the most. As we grow up, we’re often forced to change things about ourselves and our personalities, but the true enjoyment still lies within. What the person answers can tell you a wide variety of things about what they truly enjoyed then and probably are still good at now.

For example, if their favorite thing to do was play on a sports team, they probably still excel in team tasks and seek out connection with others. If they loved doing individual activities, like ice skating or painting, they are likely to be very disciplined and responsible for their work. If they loved learning about a certain subject like the Egyptian gods, they are probably keen on doing research and learning new things.

All of these answers give the candidate a chance to showcase something about themselves that probably wouldn’t have come up otherwise. In the process, you’ll learn some valuable information about where their true strengths lie.

Infographic by Madison White

 

3. Do you consider yourself lucky?

You candidate may take an extended pause after you ask this question, and rightfully so. A loaded question like this forces them to consider their past on a large scale. Of course, nobody’s life is all good or all bad, so how will they go about determining if they’re lucky? You will likely get many different answers to this one, and each of them will showcase something very important about that person’s attitude.

A level-headed candidate will likely recognize that they are sometimes lucky and sometimes not. They will explain how they were lucky that a certain person gave them an opportunity, but also explain how they used their own initiative to act on it. This person shows that they can recognize what others have done for them, but also value their own work and contribution.

A person that believes that luck has led them here blindly may have issues with taking responsibility for their work. They may do great work but have issues with accepting praise and recognizing their role in the company and in their life.

A person who discredits luck completely and only speaks of how they’ve molded their life could be problematic. This person may not recognize how others contribute and take credit for everything around them, even if they haven’t been directly involved.

4. Tell us your pet peeve.

This is a great question to ask mostly because people will think of one right away. Lots of people get annoyed by lots of different things and their answer can really illuminate what kind of person and worker they may be.

For example, lots of pet peeves will revolve around having different priorities than other people. Some pet peeves may contradict each other entirely. One person may say that their pet peeve is when an office or manager is completely unorganized, while another may hate it when someone micromanages their schedule. These answers will show which environment that person would work best in, a structured or a more relaxed one. Some people will hate loud places while others can’t stand the silence.

These answers will be especially helpful in determining whether or not this person would fit into your company’s environment. If you have a very busy office with many things going on, someone who needs calm and quiet may not thrive there. This will be essential in finding someone who will not only be a good worker, but will also enjoy working within your specific work situation.

5. What food would you bring to a potluck?

 

This one is a personal favorite, mostly because I’ve been asked it before! Like any candidate, I like a fun surprise question that feels a little less serious and allows me to expand a little more on my personality and life outside of work. Besides just being fun, and also allowing you to talk about food for a while (try not to get hungry), this question can provide some insight into the person as well.

You can gain a little bit of background on what that person enjoys. For example, I answered with dessert because I have a massive sweet tooth. My answer also clues you into the fact that I like baking which requires someone that can follow directions and be precise. Those statements are accurate to my work life as well.

If someone suggests bringing an entrée, you might guess that they like to be the center of attention and don’t back down from the spotlight. Someone who wants to bring a side dish might be more of a team player and allow others to shine. Someone who says they’d bring something that takes a lot of effort suggests that they are willing to take on a challenge, while someone who says they’d probably buy something from the store or bring napkins might want instant results.

This question is also great if that person has a particular ethnic or cultural background. Many people might answer with a dish their family loves to make. This can expand into them telling you a little bit more about their history and how their culture has impacted their life.

6. What are your hobbies?

If you’re looking to really get to know your candidates, this is the question for you. Nothing reveals more about a person than asking them to tell you about their life outside of work. You might be thinking, why is it important to know their life outside of work when all I care about is what they do at work? This may be true, that which hobbies they have won’t directly affect their work life, but it can still give insight into what that person is really like as a whole.

For example, if someone suggests that they have a fairly plain life, then you can guess that they aren’t someone who really goes against the grain. These people are likely to have some pretty typical answers like going to the gym or hanging out with friends and family. There isn’t anything wrong with this answer, and if you’re looking for someone who will fit in, this might just be the person for you. On the contrary, if you’re looking for a leader or people who will come up with inventive ideas, then this person might not be the best fit.

On the other hand, you could get some really cool answers that you wouldn’t have expected. From things like mountain biking to swing dancing to rock climbing, you never really know what people are up to. People with hobbies like these show that they aren’t afraid to take risks and that they work hard to achieve a good work-life balance. They will probably be up for anything.

This question can also showcase an entirely different side of that person that maybe they didn’t think was important. For instance, as a writer and creative person, I often choose to showcase my work within writing, education, and publishing. When I was asked this question, however, I chose to talk about the time I learned to code in Python and created a video game. This question allowed me to showcase my interest in the technology sphere when I might not otherwise have gotten to. It is a great time for candidates to really stand out and make themselves memorable.

As with any interview, remember to always take interviewees’ answers with a grain of salt. The entire situation will often make people nervous and say, or not say, things that they would normally. Remember to follow your instincts and don’t let a few flubbed answers completely eliminate someone who might actually be a great fit. Remember that you are looking for someone who can perform the job at hand, not someone who just interviews really well.

Finding out more about the person you’re interviewing may seem like a hassle when preparing for the interview process, but can really pay off in the end. Questions like these shed light on what that person is going to be like inside and outside the office. Ultimately, you want someone that is going to fit in with your work environment and love coming to their job. Knowing a bit more about their personality can help you and the rest of your panel decide if it is going to be the right fit. Although the process can definitely be frustrating and difficult, just remember to keep going and that eventually, the right person is going to show up.

By Madison White

Uloop Writer
Wichita State University
Madison graduated with her Master's degree in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester (UK), and holds Bachelor's degrees in English and Creative Writing from Wichita State University. She currently teaches English at Wichita State University and works as a freelance writer and blogger on her website Madison White Writes and elsewhere.

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