Underrated Interview Questions: Why Ask Them, And What the Answers Can Tell You

So you’ve carefully combed through the resumes, paying special mind to the sometimes subtle clues that identify people with real potential. You’ve done all your interview prep, and you’re finally ready to start the in-person interviews.

This could be your last chance to get to know a candidate better before you make the hire. You need to learn as much of the meaty important stuff about them now while you still can. Do you know what you’re going to ask? Not to discount the classics, but there are more revealing questions out there than “Tell me about yourself” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Before the interview begins, make sure you provide a review of the role as well as a high-level look at the company’s culture and your team’s dynamics. The best candidates will make sure their answers speak specifically to how they would contribute to the role and how they would fit in on the team.

It’s good to decide early on which answers are deal breakers, keeping in mind that most new employees will need a little extra training or support to get ramped up. Knowing where that line is between “a little help getting started” and “isn’t going to work out here” will make the process easier for you.

What to ask: a few of the overlooked questions

Below are some examples of more strategic questions that will help gauge somebody’s abilities beyond the standard line of questioning.

These questions can reveal a lot, so make sure you structure the interview in such a way that you’ll learn as much as possible from them.

Be empathetic to how nerve-wracking an interview can be for an applicant, and give them time to remember examples and frame their answers.

What do you know about our company? Has the candidate done their homework? Do they care enough about the job to learn as much as they can prior to speaking to you? This one will help you quickly identify whether the answer is yes or no.

Describe your career progression and the story it tells about you. This question focuses a spotlight on the reasons behind the different roles you might see on a resume and the guiding goals and interests behind them.

Why do you want this job/think you can do this job? This is another question that probes whether the person you are interviewing took the time to learn about your business and genuinely believes they have something to offer. Do they want this job, or do they want any job?

Describe past team dynamics that either inspired your best work or held you back (or both). This question gives you some insight into what kind of work environment the candidate thrives in and whether your company culture can provide it.

Give an example of an unsuccessful project you’ve worked on. Personal growth and self-awareness are important qualities, not only for an employee but in people in general. The gist of this question is to identify whether the person you are interviewing is able to learn when things don’t turn out the way they might hope and if they possess that grit and accountability to better themselves and try again. If a candidate can’t name an example or points the finger elsewhere, that’s not a good sign.

Of course, these questions aren’t an exclusive list, but they should help you uncover some valuable insights. And for questions that are specific to the role you are interviewing for, read through your job description again and write down a few questions you think will get to the heart of what the role requires.

Meanwhile …

Don’t forget the follow-up questions

Did the applicant provide an answer that tickled your curiosity or raised more questions? Ask them! Here are a couple of examples of some good follow-up questions to ask.

How did you do that? When talking about professional successes, the interviewee should be able to speak to everything that went into it, from planning to innovation, to rounding up the necessary resources to accomplishing it. Having an answer to this question speaks to the ownership they took, and – if they included others in their victory – their integrity.

What was the result? Does this person have the drive to see a project through and follow up on the impact it had? How invested in their own work is the candidate? How interested are they in learning from its success or failure to improve their work in the future? This will help you find out.

After the interview

You may have heard about federal investigators rushing from an important high-level meeting or interrogation to their cars or offices in order to frantically type out a memo about what was done and said there. They do this so that they can remember and document every little thing that happened. You should do the same: big points may last in our memories, but those revealing little nuances and ideas don’t. Don’t delay. Write it down.

Be sure to list out and weigh the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses as well as what you think they’d need from you to be successful. If others were involved in the interview process, don’t forget to follow up with them to consolidate everyone’s notes.

By now, you should have a pretty comprehensive picture of who the person is and whether they’ll be right for your business. Next, it could be time to extend an offer – and we’ll be looking at that soon!

Aaron Schwartz is Senior Manager, Employer Insights at Indeed. 

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