3 Interview Questions You NEVER ask! (And the 1 you do)

With the hiring market as tight as it is, it’s easy for hiring managers to focus on casting a wide net to bring as many candidates to the interview table as possible. However, not all potential hires are good potential hires. So, how can an employer know if a candidate will translate to an ideal hire?

It’s all about asking the right questions…

As recruiters, we work hard to prepare our candidates for an interview – helping them develop strong answers to traditional questions, coaching them on how to showcase their unique value proposition, for example. (We may even throw in a prayer to the traffic gods for them.) Then we anxiously wait for the follow-up call, only to learn the interview was a complete disaster.

Did the candidate drop the ball? Not necessarily. A positive interview experience lies equally on the shoulders of the interviewer, as well as the interviewee. Ideally, during the process of developing the job description, employers will have done their homework and created a picture of the ideal candidate, including skills, experience, seniority, strengths, weaknesses, and education. This checklist should play a significant role in the direction of the interview.

With so many potential interview questions out there, which ones are best for making the perfect hire?

3 Questions Interview Questions You Should Never Ask, and the “One” You Should Never Forget

Never ask candidates about their age, race, religion, family life, or sexual orientation.

(To some, this might seem obvious; but you’d be surprised how many organizations are still asking these questions.) Any question that asks a candidate to reveal information about such topics without the question having a job-related basis will violate various state and federal discrimination laws. There is nothing wrong with getting to know a potential hire. In fact, understanding what makes him or her tick will provide insight regarding work ethic, commitment, leadership skills, etc. However, those clues to your candidate’s interests should evolve organically, driven by the candidate as they choose to share.

Never ask a candidate to describe his or her greatest strength or weakness.

These questions have been overused and any candidate can produce a canned answer they found online. Keep in mind, few people are going to be completely transparent and admit they are habitually tardy or like to do the bare minimum on any assignment and knowing someone is “loyal” or “works too hard” is not an indicator that they will thrive in your company. A good interviewer will have specific questions that will allow the candidate to highlight his or her successes and experiences and this will show his or her strengths and even some weaknesses. Better yet, ask a candidate to describe a situation they would’ve handled differently now that they have the benefit of hindsight. Someone who can acknowledge their growth areas is someone you want on your team!

Never ask a candidate where they see themselves in five years.

According to recent surveys, the average tenure is 2.5 years for Baby Boomers and 2.8 years for millennials. Chances are this candidate won’t be with you in 5 years. Obviously, want to hire someone looking to make a long term commitment to your company, making your hiring and onboarding dollars worthwhile, but the odds are not “ever in your favor.” Broadening a question like this gives the candidate space to demonstrate they have long term goals and has begun mapping out a trajectory to get there. This is much more telling answer. Rephrase the 5 year question into something like this: “How does this position align with your broader professional goals?”

Always ask a candidate questions which provide them the opportunity to demonstrate who they are as a professional while giving you a glimpse at their personal attributes, as well.

The most effective questions address topics such as teamwork, problem-solving, handling conflict, and career path. Excellent examples are:

  • Why are you currently looking for a job? Why are you leaving your current position?
  • What motivates you? Where is your passion?
  • How will you contribute to the company?
  • How will your skills help us meet the needs of this role?
  • What type of oversight and interaction would your ideal boss provide?
  • How would you solve… (Give them a real-life scenario that has occurred.)

To hire the best people, you have to ask the right questions. Using an interview to discuss information that is clearly available on the candidate’s resume, only allows for yes or no answers, or elicits canned answers that can be found simply by Googling “Best interview answers.” This is a waste of everyone’s time – and your budget! They also mean more follow-up interviews, dragging out the hiring process, and risking the loss of the ideal candidate. From the moment stakeholders sit down to create a job spec, they should be developing quality interview questions that will allow candidates to demonstrate why their skill set, experience, and passion will meet your needs.

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