The Best & Worst Interview Questions to Ask During the Hiring Process

by Chris Young

best and worst interview questions to ask during the interview process resized 600If you have read our blog before, you know that we emphasize the importance of hiring using a valid pre-employment personality assessment.  However, I do not think we stress enough that this should be used as a guide as you go through the face-to-face interview.  The personality assessment should account for no more than 20% of the hiring decision.  Thus, the interview, along with references and resumes, are very important to hiring high performing employees.

In this post, I want to discuss one of the most important aspects of the interview, which often gets overlooked as a priority - the questions.  The questions are often overlooked because the interviewers will use the same questions they have been asking for years.  However, psychological research shows that some questions are better than others.

The Worst Interview Questions to Ask

Is your family originally from the area?

Questions that could give the interviewer any insight into nationality, religous beliefs, or race are illegal because they potentially give the employer an opportunity to hire discriminatively.  You may be asking the question or similar questions nonchalantly, but there can be serious consequences when you ask questions that may promote discrimination.

Do you have kids?

It is also illegal to ask any questions related to pregnancy, children, or medical conditions.  Avoid these questions and be especially careful when making small talk.

When did you graduate from college?

Do not get confused with this one.  You can ask if they graduated from college but not when.  Asking when could indicate the age of the candidate.  Any questions that hold potential for age discrimination are illegal.  Usually this information is displayed in a resume, but it is illegal to discriminate based on the information if the job does not have age restrictions.

Can you tell me about yourself, your strengths, weaknesses?

These questions are not necessarily illegal, but they are expected by the candidate.  Candidates have most likely gone through the interview before and probably have done so recently.  Thus, they have had time to rehearse this question.  Asking any of the typical interview questions is setting yourself up for a well-rehearsed answer.

This job requires you to be competitive.  Do you think you can fit in with a competitive culture?

Asking questions where the answer is a sort of "duh" statement will give you little to no information into who the candidate is.  When you hint the answer to a question, you will get the answer you are looking for.

The Best Interview Questions to Ask

Now that you know what not to ask, what types of questions should you ask?  Leadership IQ offers two great approaches to use when asking questions.  They are the tried-and-true behavioral interviewing technique and the hanging questions technique. 

Tried-and-True Behavioral Interviewing Technique

According to Leadership IQ,"The first is the tried-and-true behavioral interviewing technique. (e.g. “Tell me about a time when …”) This well-known question construction is designed to elicit a past situation and how your candidate reacted to it." 

Asking questions that are situational, as well as emotional, are particularly more effective because humans are more likely to remember things that have an emotional connection.  For example you could ask the candidate, "Tell me about a time when a coworker disagreed with your plan of action."  People are emotionally connected to their own creations, which means asking this question is likely to stir up an accurate memory.  Great candidates will explain how they resolved the situation without you even asking for it.

The Hanging Question Technique

The hanging question technique involves finding a dilemna often encountered in the job position.  Then you position a statement that leaves the question hanging.  For example, "Tell me about a time when you encountered a dissatisified customer."  Do not add statements at the end like, "How did you resolve it?" or "How did you react?"  Leaving the question hanging does not lead the person to elicit a certain response.  If you hint the answer like saying "resolution," you lose a valid answer.

Dig Into Their Past During the Interview

Make the candidate believe (and you might actually do this) you are going to contact a past boss.  Do this by mentioning a previous bosses' name from the resume before positioning a question.  For example, "I see that Mary Johnson was your last supervisor.  When I ask Mary what your strengths are, what do you think she will tell me?" This makes descriptive questions about the candidate much more accurate than simply asking self-descriptive questions on their own.  The candidate does not want to be a liar and knowing you are going to check answers keeps them telling you the truth about who he or she really is.

Also while doing this, ask if the contact information is up-to-date.  This will really make the candidate feel like he or she needs to be honest during the interview because you are going to verify the answers.  During this time, you should also ask the candidate to tell you about their previous boss or bosses.  This will give you a good idea as to whether the candidate will fit well with your leadership.

Questions that Display Flaws

Of course you want a candidate to be close to perfect, but we are human and perfection is impossible.  If a candidate appears to be perfect during the interview, you are either asking very cliche' questions or the candidate is an expert actor.  Ask questions that are likely to display vulnerability like, "Tell me about the last time a coworker got upset with you," "Tell me about a difficult decision you have had to make recently, or "Tell me about a time you were unable to meet a deadline or sales number."  Those who are willing to display vulnerability are not "acting" their way through the interview. 

Using the right interview questions consistently with every candidate is important in hiring the right talent.  Obviously, some questions need to be tailored to the candidate based on resume and assessment results, but you need core questions that are asked of every candidate.  We also suggest using two to three interviews rather than just one face-to-face interview. 

Asking the right questions during the interview accompanied with a valid pre-employment personality assessment will help you get the right talent on your team. 

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