Powerful Questions to ask in an Interview

Powerful Questions to Ask During an Interview


Recruiting the right team is every business leader’s top priority. More important than your products’ marketability or the size of your customer base, hiring first-rate talent will drive your company to the top of your industry. The opposite also holds true. A bad hiring decision can cost your company thousands in lost productivity and do irreparable harm to your company’s culture and reputation.

Making great hiring decisions is so important that it’s no wonder companies do all they can to get it right. As you’ve developed your own recruiting strategies, you’ve probably considered everything from offering competitive pay to improving your employer branding. But you’ll never be successful at recruiting top talent if you don’t know how to ask powerful interview questions.

The Importance of Interview Questions

Everybody wants a great job. And that’s why interview questions are so important. Your recruiting efforts will yield quality applicants, but also some not-so-great candidates. Powerful interview questions are your most effective tool to weed out undesirable candidates.

Job seekers have an overabundance of tools to help them during the application process. Professional resume writers, mock interviews, and even Google aid candidates trying to make a great impression. And while being prepared is a plus for any potential new hire, your job as the interviewer is to uncover shortcomings that would prevent the candidate from being successful in the role.

If you’re like most hiring managers, your interview process isn’t as effective as you think. In 1979, the University of Texas Medical School was compelled to admit an additional 50 students long after the admissions board had selected what they considered to be the best candidates. The additional 50 applicants were initially rejected largely based on their performance in unstructured interviews. Researchers later assessed the performance of these late-comers and found they performed just as well as the first round of accepted applicants. In other words, the interviewers’ impressions were wrong.

Researchers conducted a group of studies to find out how well volunteers could predict students’ GPA based, in part, on their interview performance. In each study, the researchers found that interviews were the least effective tool for predicting future performance. The interviewers were unable to tell when the students being interviewed were providing random or false answers. Furthermore, volunteers were more accurate when they made their predictions without interviews, relying on previous GPA and the student’s course schedule.

Of course, you wouldn’t want to hire someone you haven’t interviewed in person. But how can you conduct an effective interview that avoids the perils of poor judgement and gut instinct?

Good Interview Questions

Good questions to ask when interviewing someone begin with a thorough assessment of the qualities and skills required for the job. You already likely did a version of this assessment when you wrote the job description for the purposes of placing job ads. Revisit that assessment and dig deeper.

Evaluate the position and develop interview questions based on the following key competencies, according to the University of Portland.

Experience. Open-ended questions that ask applicants about their accomplishments, disappointments, or ongoing skill development will help you assess their current skills and their willingness to learn new skills.

Teamwork. Even employees that work independently need to see their contributions as part of the larger organization.

Communication. Teamwork is only possible if employees are able to communicate clearly and listen well.

Problem Solving. The whole team is more effective when employees take initiative to solve problems. But if they aren’t competent problem-solvers, their efforts could create even more complications.

Leadership. Not just for management, leadership skills include the abilities to motivate others, be assertive when necessary, and be self-disciplined.

Motivation. Employees motivated by an internal drive to do well will be more consistent than those motivated by pay or recognition.

Organization. The abilities to plan their time, prioritize their tasks, and organize their workspaces will help employees complete their work. A high level of organization will also help anyone who may need to step in if the employee is sick or on vacation.

Mission Alignment. Don’t overlook the importance of every employee working to promote your company’s mission. A company’s values, mission, and culture combine to create the standard for all of your employees’ behavior.

For each role, assess how these competencies are demonstrated. Then, create questions tailored to the open position to gauge the applicant’s mastery of these key qualities.

Fun Interview Questions

Weird and fun interview questions to ask an interviewee have been trending since reviewers on Glassdoor revealed that Google challenges its applicants to estimate how many piano tuners there are in the entire world. From there, it came to light that some of the biggest companies in the world use weird and fun questions in an attempt to reveal the applicant’s true self.

These questions attempt to circumvent the candidate’s research and preparation to elicit a candid response. Interviewers want insight into a candidate’s ability to think quickly, logically, or creatively. There is no right or wrong answer to these questions. But if interviewers are discerning enough, weird and fun questions can reveal personality traits that are otherwise difficult to spot in an interview.

The key is knowing why you are asking the fun interview question and what you are looking for in the response. While unusual interview questions can be useful, be careful to not give undue weight to applicants’ responses. Even Google admitted that their brainteasers weren’t a predictor of employee success.

Best Interview Questions

When it comes to predicting employee success, researchers and business leaders agree on a few best practices for creating powerful questions to ask during an interview.

The evidence supports using structured interviews. These interviews rely on a format and a pre-made list of open-ended questions focused on key qualities. And unlike an unstructured interview, the interviewer doesn’t improvise based on the candidate’s response.

Interviewers should use the same questions for each candidate, along with a scale to evaluate each response. By using the same questions, interviewers can compare all the candidates fairly. And by using a scale to measure their response, interviewers avoid relying on their intuition, memory, or even the candidate’s likability.

Questions should focus on the candidate’s past behavior. Experts agree that past behavior is a powerful indicator of future behavior. Ask the candidate to describe situations in which he or she demonstrated key qualities required for the job.

Interviews should be done by teams or panels, with the final decision resting on one person. By inviting more than one person to interview candidates, hiring managers get the benefit of multiple perspectives. Hiring team members should include at least the position’s immediate supervisor, a member of the new hire’s team, along with a final decision maker.

Final Round Interview Questions

Ideally, by the time candidates make the final round of interviews, they have already demonstrated they have the skills and experience to perform the job. At this point in the interview process, you’re looking for personality traits that will drive or hinder their success.

The knockout questions in the final round are behavioral questions. These questions seek to determine if the candidate has character weaknesses that would make her a poor fit. An inability to handle pressure or a tendency to become angry will make even the most qualified candidate difficult to work with. For these questions, use the same format which asks the candidate to describe how she overcame challenging situations in the past, but focus on character traits.

Supplement Interview Questions with Assessments

Interviews can be notoriously poor predictors of employee performance. By using proven strategies, interviewers can increase the likelihood of choosing the best candidate through the interview process alone. Using a structured format, a consistent scale to evaluate performance, and the input of a hiring team, companies can make the best use of powerful interview questions.

Employee assessments can fill the gaps that even powerful interview questions leave. Consider using assessments to objectively measure job skills, personality, and leadership potential. The team at Exact Hire can even help you develop a custom assessment specific to your industry.

By combining assessments with proven interview question techniques, you can further take the guesswork out of hiring. Avoid the costly headache of bad hires. Call us today to find out more about how assessments can improve your hiring decisions.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash


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