I’ve interviewed and recruited quite a lot of people over the years and with time, I’ve found that there are really two best job interview questions that shed the most light on candidates and help choose the best person for the job.
During an interview, obviously you’ll do a run through the candidate’s resume to get an understanding of their work history, ask them about themselves, ask about their interest (and knowledge) in this position and your business, but in addition to this, there are two powerful questions that really get to the heart of what you’re trying to figure out…
Presuming you’ve done your preparation before recruiting and you are very clear about the type of traits / characteristics that you’re seeking. (There are 6 things to do BEFORE recruiting which help with this.) So knowing what you’re looking for, you should also know that the best indication of future performance is past performance. So, what you really want to see is that they’ve got a history of demonstrating the quality/ies that you’re looking for. So the best job interview question to ask is…
Best Job Interview Question – Number 1
Tell me about a time [during your last position] when you….
- Set up a new process
- Won over a difficult client
- Sorted out a difficult customer service issue
- Completed a long and detailed project
- Or whatever other skill / trait is most required for your position
Whatever their response, probe deeper to understand the full situation. Was this something they did on their own or in a team? What was their contribution? What was the background to the situation? Was this something extraordinary or a regular occurrence?
This question should be focussed on the most important characteristics that you’re looking for. If there are more than one, you might choose to ask the same question again in different formats. For instance;
- When would you say you’ve demonstrated the most [creativity / initiative / organisation] ?
- Tell me about a time when it was difficult to be [organised / empathetic / focused on sales]. What did you do?
- Were you able to use your [customer service / sales / technical problem solving skills] in your last position? Can you give me a specific example?
Best Job Interview Question – Number 2
While the question above aims to uncover the candidate’s ability (or inability) to perform a specific task or demonstrate a specific trait, this second question aims to uncover any negatives about the candidate that might not (yet) be evident.
This question is best asked towards the end of the interview. Normally I would ask about their references – either confirming details or asking them to send me references. (Here’s some tips on how to do a quick but effective reference check.)
Once the candidate knows you’re likely to actually speak with their references, it’s time to ask them this question;
What do you think [your last manager / employer ] would say about you?
Normally the candidate will state a whole lot of positive qualities and confirm that their manager was very pleased with them. But the really useful part comes when you follow this up with…
And what do you think they would say would be areas for improvement or areas to work on?
Often candidates appear stumped at this question and might actually say something like; “nothing really, we worked well together and he/she was always full of praise”. To which you should continue probing by saying; “well we’ve all got areas to improve to work towards the next level. What do you think [manager’s name] would say would be your opportunities for improvement?”.
This tends to get the candidate to open up about their true weaknesses and is usually very insightful. Often it’s something that you might have suspected during the interview, but sometimes something new crops up and gives you a much more complete picture of what it would be like to have this person on your team.
Don’t think of this question as a sneaky way to uncover weaknesses as absolutely everyone has areas to improve on and they’re only a deal breaker if those areas are key to the position requirements. At the very least, this question will help you know how manage this person to get the best performance out of them.