how to ask better interview questions

How to ask better interview questions

Last week I talked about pro tips for a hiring manager that is out of their depth. This week I want to focus on the rest of the interview, specifically how to ask better interview questions.

Asking one good question isn’t going to cut it. You need to get to know your candidates and often, you have limited time to do so. You’re making a big decision based on a small sample of information. Candidates are trying to show you only the best of themselves. You might think you’re trying to figure out if the candidate is a culture fit by asking a quirky question. Or understand their critical thinking process by asking them how to fit a football field in a paper towel tube, but you’re wasting your time with these.

I asked our Slack Community what were some of the worst interview questions they’d heard and here is what they told me:

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” I said “Celebrating the 5th year anniversary of you asking this question”.

“What is your biggest weakness?” questions, or the more abstract ones like “If you had an elephant, what would you do with it?”

“What is your biggest weakness?” questions, or the more abstract ones like “If you had an elephant, what would you do with it?”

“how many tennis balls can you fit in a school bus?”

Why are manholes round? How much do you charge to wash every window in Seattle? How do you move Mount Fuji?

“How many gas stations in America? How big is a baseball diamond?”

“If you were a fruit, what fruit would you be and why?”

“My first start-up asked me to explain what the company values meant to me using famous 90s hip hop songs.”

And of course – from Chris:

“How do you deal with stress?” By punching people.
“How do you handle strong personalities?” Also by punching people.
“What’s your biggest weakness?” Honestly? My right hook.
“How would you describe your work ethic?” I work and try to be as ethical as my employer will permit me. How ethical is your company?
“Tell me about your previous positions.” That’s what the resume is for, dummy.
“Tell me about yourself.” Well, I’m 5’3″, I like long walks down dark alleys, and I own more knives than you probably own shirts.

So – why are these questions a waste of time? Because you’re not getting to the heart of what you need to know. Yes, you need to know about the candidate’s experience. Yes, you want to determine if they might be a good culture fit. Yes, you want to know if they can problem solve. But bad questions like these tend to elicit bad answers. And then you’re stuck making decisions based on bad data. Which is bad.

If you want to figure out if someone would be a good culture fit, directly ask what their ideal working culture entails. Ask them what red flags they look for. Ask them what the culture was like at previous jobs and what they liked best and least. This will give you a better sense of whether they will be able to adapt to your culture.

If you want to see how someone solves problems, ask them about a real problem related to your business and the job function. “Our community engagement has gone down the past few months. How would you approach this problem to bring the numbers back up?” Show the candidate real data and ask them to come up with an action plan.

You can ask unconventional questions, but make sure they provide value to you. Bad questions lead to bad answers and bad decisions.

The questions you ask should help you decide who to hire. There will be time once you’ve made your hire to ask about someone’s favorite balloon animal.

Want to share your worst interview questions? Tell me in our Free Slack Community, Analytics for Marketers


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