Stop asking these interview questions

Bad interview questions by Profile Screening

(They’re not getting you the information you need.)

As part of our Screening practice, we’re talking to recruiters, HR managers, and department managers all the time. Lately many of them are saying the same thing: “Interviewing and finding the right candidates has always been tough, but now that we’re having to hire people without ever meeting them in person, it’s harder than ever.”

They’re right, of course: Making significant hiring decisions based on nothing more than a resume, a couple of 30-minute meetings, and a couple of reference checks has always been difficult. An interview process in which you never meet the candidate in person (and don’t know when you will be able to meet in person) is even worse.

The ‘old standbys’ need an update.

So how can you improve your chances of hiring the right person? Start using more effective interview questions.

DON’T SAY: “Tell me about yourself.”

This tends to be a popular question from people whose main job isn’t recruiting/hiring, because they need a way to sort of ‘ease in’ to the interview conversation. The problem is that if the candidate is already nervous, or isn’t an extrovert who feels comfortable jumping in with a personal monologue, it can start the whole interview off with a cloud of awkwardness that could derail the entire conversation. A more specific question can get the ball rolling more comfortably.

INSTEAD, TRY: “It’s been so interesting to see all the new or unusual things people have been doing during lockdown. Have you taken up any new hobbies or fallen down any rabbit holes?”

DON’T SAY: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

This has always been a dumb question, since it’s almost guaranteed to get an untruthful or evasive answer: Even top talent don’t always have their career paths mapped out 5 years in advance, and more junior candidates are really thinking “I don’t know, man. I’m hoping I can get a job, work hard, and then see where the opportunities take me.” And after a year of COVID, the truthful answer for many people is simply “I just need a job. My old workplace closed 4 months ago.”

INSTEAD, TRY: “What appealed to you about this job? What made you apply – and it’s okay to say that you really just need something steady and reliable.”

DON’T SAY: “What are your weaknesses?”

The best candidates have prepared a cheesy answer to this (“Well, I can be a little too detail-oriented, and I definitely take my work home with me when I know I should take a break!”); the merely decent candidates will stumble around listing irrelevant stuff like “My mother says I’m a slob”. You’re not getting an honest reflection of the person or how they might work out on a day-to-day basis.

INSTEAD, TRY: “Tell me about a time you made a big mistake at work – and how you handled it.”

DON’T SAY: “Why should we hire you? Why are you better than everyone else?”

Here again, you’ll either get canned, opaque responses (“I saw on your site that your company vision is all about empowerment, and I really feel I can bring empowerment to everything I do”) or underwhelming ones (“Well, I really want a job. And I will work hard.”). Either way, it doesn’t open up the kind of conversational flow that you need in order to get to know a potential hire. And in a market where the competition for top talent is strong, giving the impression you want candidates to jump through hoops is going to get you more rejections than acceptances from top candidates.

INSTEAD, TRY: “What kind of workplace/job/role do you think would make a good fit for you? What does your ideal job look like?”

Remember the goal: To get to know the candidate

Experienced recruiters and HR managers all say the same thing: The best hires are made when the interviews allow the candidates and the interviewers to have an actual, genuine conversation that allows both parties to get to know each other. So instead of going into an interview armed with a checklist of questions, think about finding ways to open the conversation in a more genuine way.