Interviews and insightful interview questions can help you gauge a person’s cultural fit in your organization and whether their experience or expertise reflects what was listed in their resume or CV. However, only if you pose the correct inquiries.

When you ask the right questions during interviews, you gain valuable, relevant information about candidates that helps you make the best hiring decision, like what motivates them, what their values are, and how they work.

The responses to these questions can quickly weed out unsuitable candidates and identify the ones who meet the needs of the specific role and your organization.

Questionable questioning

We’ve all likely been asked a bizarre, irrelevant question in an interview for which we were completely unprepared. Likewise, it’s probable we’ve experienced mundane questions that feel more like filler than filtering.

For job seekers, interviews can be stressful and make it difficult for them to perform their best. For interviewers, it can be challenging to ensure they’re asking the right questions.

To gain the most insight from your sessions, we’ve listed the questions to abandon — and what to ask instead.

1) Could you walk me through your resume?

This question can be a glaring red flag to candidates that their interviewer didn’t bother to review their resume or is trying to catch them in a lie. Walking through a candidate’s resume and discussing every role they’ve previously filled (which can be a lot if you’re interviewing senior candidates) is a poor use of your interview time.

Instead: I’ve read over your resume, but I’d like to know more about you and how you came to be here today.

Every candidate who applies to your job advertisements is a unique individual with various strengths, weaknesses, and past experiences. You already know what their resume says, but getting to know the talent behind the paper is more important.

This question is a great way to open an interview and dig deeper into a candidate. You can then build it to ask what inspired them to choose their course of study, how they decided to move into their niche, if applicable, and more. Their response can give you a clearer picture of what motivates and inspires them.

2) What is your greatest weakness?

A quick Google search for “how to answer what is your greatest weakness?” yields over 64 million results, which reveals two things:

  1. This question is asked far too often
  2. Many people answer this question dishonestly

Asking candidates to share their greatest weakness is an overused question that can easily be misused during an interview. No candidate will admit to having time management issues or that they struggle to get along with others, which means this question will yield little in the way of useful information.

Instead: Can you tell me about a time when a project you were working on failed or didn’t go to plan and how you handled it?

Even the best laid plans go awry sometimes. Rather than asking your candidate to expose their greatest weakness, ask them to tell you about a time when a project went off the rails and how they reacted.

The answer to this question can reveal a lot about the candidate. If, for example, someone tries to tell you they’ve never had a project go awry, they likely either lack project management skills, haven’t been in a position to manage a project yet, or are simply simply. Most candidates, however, will be able to tell you stories from the trenches that clearly showcase their capabilities.

Look for strategic thinking examples, communications skills, and how your candidate explains the situation, remedies, and outcome. If a candidate can set the scene and walk you through their experience, it’s a good indication they can unify a team of people to work on new projects using those same skills.

3) How would you handle [hypothetical situation]?

Spoiler alert: Almost every candidate groans at a hypothetical situation question.

Double spoiler alert: These questions don’t evoke useful answers.

Hypothetical questions don’t require first-hand experience to provide a good answer, and it’s easy to guess at what the interviewer wants to hear. This means candidates can easily make something up on the fly that makes them look good.

If the hypothetical question is about personality clashes on a team, the interviewee might discuss team building opportunities or personality testing to help team members understand their personality types and how to work best as a group.

In short, hypothetical questioning will receive hypothetical answers.

Instead: Tell me about a time you felt proud about a project you worked on. Or, What have you done in your career to date that makes you most proud?

Ditch the hypothetical question and go straight to one that’ll uncover more about your candidate’s genuine experiences and provide a glimpse into what makes them tick.

Interviews should give candidates the opportunity to discuss their career highlights and the times when they shined the brightest.

Similar to the question about a time when a project went off the rails, asking candidates to recount positive experiences allows you to test their communications skills, hear about their strategic thinking and planning, and more, depending on how responsive they are.

4) Why are you changing jobs?

If you’re expecting a candidate to respond to this one honestly, you’ve got another thing coming!

More often than not, candidates change jobs for one of the following reasons:

  • They want to make more money
  • They don’t like the leadership or management at their current place of employment
  • Their work-life balance isn’t satisfactory
  • The culture at their current company is toxic
  • There’s a lack of or disconnect between honesty/transparency/ethics at their current workplace

When you ask a candidate why they’re changing jobs, you’ll likely hear a well-rehearsed answer about how they feel ready for a change or that they like their current job a lot but want a new and exciting opportunity. What you won’t get is a true indication of how they view your job opportunity in terms of their overall career.

Instead: How do you see this role fitting into your career plans?

Asking your candidate how they fit the role for which they’re interviewing into their future plans will help you determine two things:

  1. How well informed the candidate is about the opportunity, your company, and the duties for which they’d be responsible
  2. What your candidate is seeking in their career

If a candidate has familiarized themselves with the job opportunity and your company, they should have a good sense of how they’ll grow within the role. You can dig deeper by asking them to discuss their career goals and motivations — do they see themselves on a managerial path? — and what drives them.

Carefully listen to their answers. If a candidate is looking to jump into a new industry by joining your company, it’s possible they’ll treat this role as a quick stepping stone to their next big opportunity.

5) Where do you see yourself in X years?

A lot can happen in a relatively short time (e.g., all of 2020). Asking candidates where they see themselves in two, five, or 10 years’ time is like asking a child what they want for Christmas: It’s subject to change, and quickly.

Gone are the days when employees regularly joined companies as junior staff and remained for decades with the same employer. According to the United States Department of Labor, men hold an average of 12.6 jobs and women an average of 12.3 jobs between ages 18 and 54. So, asking your candidates to predict their futures will yield information that’s irrelevant to your organization (i.e., cookie-cutter responses like, “I hope to have grown my skills and experiences and be in a more senior role”).

Instead: What professional milestones do you hope to achieve while working at our company?

Asking candidates about the professional milestones they hope to achieve whilst working for your company is a great way to find out what they really want in their career while also helping you determine how much they really know about the role and what your company does.

6) Why should we hire you?

Asking a candidate why they should be hired is one of the most useless questions you can pose.

Instead: Based on your knowledge of this role, can you think of a past experience or experiences that you believe would help you be successful?

This is a great chance to let candidates expand upon their past experiences and demonstrate their knowledge of your company and the role.

Pay attention to key skills and knowledge they mention and how they relate those to the expected duties and responsibilities of the role. This will give you a good indication of how closely they’ve considered what the role entails and how they would perform in it.

7) What would your last boss or colleagues say about you?

This is another question that almost never receives an honest answer. A candidate can respond however they like to make themselves sound like a great choice, and it forces you to check their references to verify their answer, which prolongs the hiring process unnecessarily.

Instead: If you accept this position, how would you bring yourself up to speed on the job and any tasks or projects we’ve discussed?

A great way to gauge how your potential hire will shape up is to ask them directly. This question reveals how your candidate approaches new situations and projects. It also gives you an estimate of their strategic thinking and how they work as part of a team.

Some important things to look for in their response include:

  • Meeting with other team members
  • Establishing KPIs
  • Setting a timeline
  • Questions they have (if any) about the onboarding process

The most important interview question to ask

The most important question to ask in interviews is, “Do you have any questions for me?”

The questions candidates ask you about the role, the work culture, or the company itself can tell you a lot about how engaged and interested they are in the job opportunity. If your candidate has no questions, that’s a big red flag.

Remember, your candidate is interviewing you as well.

About the Author: Jocelyn Pick