Categories: Marketing

Bye-Bye Brainteasers: 9 Interview Questions You Actually Should Ask Candidates

Why are manhole covers round? How many times heavier than a mouse is an elephant? How many golf balls can you fit in a school bus?

Most hiring managers have heard about using these “creative” questions to identify the best candidates. Fortunately for smart, well-qualified candidates everywhere, studies have found in recent years that the brainteaser interview questions made famous by Silicon Valley and Wall Street are just as silly as they sound. (In fact, Google banned brainteasers from their interviews several years ago.)

But when you’re interviewing people to join your team, you have to get creative somehow. There’s only so much that questions like “What was the last book you read?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?” reveal about who your candidates truly are as professionals and as people.

To help give you some ideas for the next time you’re screening candidates, here are nine interview questions you should ask.

9 Great Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

1) “Tell me about a time you set difficult goals. What did you do to achieve these goals? Walk me through the process and purpose.”

If you’re looking for a candidate who is goal-oriented and results-driven, as most hiring managers are, then this question will help you gauge whether they’ll be able to handle the audacious goals you have in store for them. A great answer shows they understand what difficult goals are, and they put a lot of effort into attaining their goals while maintaining a high standard of work quality.

2) “Tell me about the relationships you’ve had with the people you’ve worked with. How would you describe the best ones? The worst?”

Each team is different, so this question helps you tease out whether the candidate would be happy, productive, and well-liked on your team. Their answer will tell you how they interact with others — and which kinds of interactions they want to happen. Many candidates are hesitant to “bad-mouth” their coworkers and bosses, so it will be interesting for you to hear how they navigate a question about their worst working relationships.

3) “What single project or task would you consider your most significant career accomplishment to date? Walk me through the plan, how you managed it, how you measured its success, and what the biggest mistakes you made were.”

Lou Adler, author of The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired and Hire With Your Headspent ten years searching for the single, perfect interview question that will reveal whether to hire or not hire a candidate — and this was the one. Their answer tells you about their prior success, their sense of ownership. A great answer will show they are confident in their work and professional choices while being humble and giving credit to others. 

4) “Is it better to be perfect and late, or good and on time?”

For most companies, the correct answer is “good and on time.” We’ve written before about the importance of letting something be finished when it’s good enough — because let’s face it, every blog post, email, book, movie, etc. can always be tweaked and improved — but at some point, you’ve just got to ship it. Most managers don’t want someone who can’t hit deadlines because they’re paralyzed by perfection. 

If your candidate responds with “it depends …”, then hear them out — the interview question itself is phrased in such a way that candidates can sense there is a right and wrong answer, and they’ll be looking for signs from you they’re heading in the right direction. Try to remain neutral as they feel out their response. If their conclusion errs on the side of “good and on time,” then their priorities are probably in the right place.

5) “In five minutes, could you explain something to me that is complicated but you know well?”

This is a much better test of intelligence than a college GPA, and it’s also a great gauge of a candidate’s passion and charisma. The “something” in this question doesn’t have to be work-related — it can be a hobby, a sports team, something technical … anything, really. Their response will tell you how well your candidate comprehends complex subjects and how well they can articulate a complex subject to someone who doesn’t know much about it. Candidates who are passionate and knowledgeable about something and can convey that well are more likely to be charismatic, enthusiastic, and influential at work.

6) “What’s your definition of hard work?”

This is a favorite of our very own Leslie Mitchell, Recruiting Manager here at HubSpot. Some organizations move at very different paces, and this question is an effective way to tell whether your candidate will be able to keep pace with the rest of the team. It also helps you identify someone who is a “hard worker in disguise,” meaning someone who might currently be at a slow-moving organization or in a role that is not well-suited to them, but wants to work somewhere where they can really get their hands dirty.

7) “If I were to poll everyone you’ve worked with, what percent would not be a fan of yours? Then, if I were to interview these people, what words would they most frequently use to describe you?”

At work, you can’t please everyone all the time. The answer to this question will help you find out if your candidate has enough drive and conviction to have alienated a small percentage of their colleagues, but not so many that they are a polarizing figure. The word-cloud follow-up is more important than the percentage they give in the initial question. In their answers, you should be encouraged by words like “passionate” and concerned by words like “stubborn.”

8) “Tell me about a time you screwed up.”

An oldie but goodie. This is a tried-and-true test for self-awareness. (Honestly, well-prepared candidates should see it coming and have an answer ready.) Someone who takes ownership of their mess-up and learned something from it are humble and mindful, both great signs. Candidates who blame others or give a “fake” screw-up (something like “I worked too hard and burned out”) are red flags.

9) “Who is the smartest person you know personally? Why?”

These questions test what the candidate values and aspires to by forcing them to think of a real person they know, and then articulate what makes that person smart. Ideal answers vary, but could include specific examples of the person they’ve chosen’s ability to think ahead several steps and execute. They could also touch on the person’s decision-making skills or their ability to connect, desire for learning, or application of the things they learned.

Which interview questions do you like the most? The least? Share in the comments below!

Source: Hubspot


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