Better Job Interview Questions That Get You What You Want


Have you ever felt “deceived” (by your judgment) when an applicant you hired that was so good in the interview turned out to be a bad hire?

You can’t help but scratch your head or do a facepalm!

… and sometimes you’d want to recall what you did and dissect how you got tricked into believing he’s the right person (though you used other selection methods – testing, etc.).

Did you happen to ask these questions during such interviews?

  • Tell me about yourself?
  • Why are you looking for a new job?
  • What are your biggest strengths?
  • Describe your responsibilities at your current job.
  • Would you rather work on a team or alone?

If so, you’re probably not doing a good interview or not doing it right.

Getting accurate information requires asking the right questions. Assessing the quality of the responses is another thing. As an implied Recruiter’s rule (at least based on my nine years in Talent Acquisition – conducting and teaching it),

“We, Recruiters, don’t believe in everything an applicant says.” We’re not supposed to. That’s unless we’ve done some fact-finding (might not be 100% accurate, but way better than nodding and assuming the applicant is honest).

Interviewing seems easy.

But it’s not.

The post-interview part is what’s more difficult – the verdict time. Can you recall a time when you’ve finished a one hour or more interview session…but… you still didn’t seem to know whether the applicant needs to move forward to the next process or not? Or a time when you still felt clueless whether the applicant at least qualifies (may not be the top candidate)?

Those are times when your job interview didn’t seem to fulfill your need.

But, why do we, Recruiters, still use interviewing in our hiring process despite such challenges? Here are some reasons:

  1. There’s a high response rate. Because your applicants exert the effort and time, groom themselves, and either travel to the office or show themselves online for the interview, you expect that the applicants will try their best to answer your questions – whether responses are true or not.
  2. It humanizes the recruitment process. Technical exams, simulations, even the use of automated screening tools – these could not totally replace the psychological aspects of getting people that will fit the environment, culture, and climate your organization has.
  3. It lets the Recruiters know the candidate on a more personal level through valid and well-craft questions – how he thinks about certain matters (feelings, perceptions, opinions) that might impact the quality of his future work.
  4. It allows Recruiters to get more information on the candidate’s true intent through both verbal and non – verbal cues (from spoken words to facial expressions, body language, nuances, gestures).
  5. It gives Recruiters the opportunity to clarify ambiguous data, ask follow-up questions at the right timing, and verify critical information that might not be obtained through other techniques.

And the list goes on… and on. So, why not use it effectively?

Either you master interviewing skills to reduce interview subjectivity and mistakes, or get better in using other verification tools and procedures (fact-finding, testing, evaluating work samples, simulations, reference checks, etc.). Or master both. The quality of the questions you ask and how you ask decide the quality of the answers you’ll get.

Isn’t it satisfying to own a useful skill, get what you want from the interview, and create excellent results?

How huge is its impact on your effectiveness as a Recruiter? Immense. You become more reliable, more dependable, more valuable.

And value is what gets you paid more. It’s not your time, but the value you bring to the marketplace, to your company.

Honing your Recruiter skills will help you make an impact in the company by bringing in critical talents and assets that contribute to the goal of the business – compete and win locally and globally.

Now, why don’t you look back, check your interview questions, and see where you can do better?

It’s challenging to ensure that 100% of the new hires we get are performers but…we can definitely increase the accuracy of our interview results.

The questions you see above – answers to those can easily be faked, framed better to highlight positive traits, or tweaked to hide flaws. How many times have you asked those? And how many times those have failed you?

Whatever your answers are, you have to make choices once you conduct an interview.

  1. Will the applicant move forward to the next process?
  2. Do you need to find out more?
  3. Will you reserve him, in case, you couldn’t find a better candidate?; or
  4. Will you say “No” and tag him “Not Qualified”?

You need to get helpful information to assist you in these decisions. You should be able to justify your interview conclusion confidently.

To guide you, here are better job interview questions that get you what you want:

Again, your aim is to get an accurate picture of the candidate’s fit – general and job-specific attributes – critical to succeed in the job.

Ensure you conduct some rapport-building first before trying to grill the applicant (kidding!) You don’t want to get a shy too nervous candidate to stutter. Nervousness doesn’t mean a candidate isn’t a good fit right away. Make him feel comfortable, at ease – have some flexibility.

1. “We’re looking for a _______________. The key aspects of the role are 1)_____2)_______3)_____. Can you give some quick highlights of what you’ve done in these areas?”

… instead of “Tell me about yourself”.

Remember, you have limited time – one hour or a little more! Don’t start by asking a very general and broad question and let it waste your opportunity. Make sure you start right and ask questions targeted to the information you need and want.

Some steps:

  1. Give a 2-minute summary of the job and why it’s important. Do this by describing at least three essential performance descriptions/indicators. What does he need to do to be considered successful in the job?
  2. Ask him to to provide some quick highlights of what he has done in this area. It could be in his previous job, freelancing work, volunteering, schooling, etc.

What’s important is NOT TO KNOW WHETHER HE’S EXPERIENCED IN IT, but, whether he’s done something comparable to the job’s complexity, or a related potential.

Make sure to do some fact-finding. Get exact verifiable details through the 5Ws and H questions (What, Who, When, Where, Why and How.) Ask the candidate to describe the task, project, or problem. What exactly he did and what has changed after he acted on it (e.g., did it become better, check for quantifiable data – %, numbers)?

What were the results? How long did it take, what are the challenges and complexity? Get all the details you need; subtly identify whether he’s telling the real thing, or inflating some of his accomplishments, or owning others’ work. You’re not cynical. You’re being truthful because that’s what you need to do to get accurate results.

For example, an applicant may say he delivered a 2-month critical company project. See what his actual function was in such a project. Was he the leader, project manager, documentation staff, or planner, or coordinator? You’ll be surprised to know how this same person purchased some finishing materials to complete the project, not necessarily played a critical function.  How significant was the gap!

Do this every time, and you’ll see how a lot of candidates tend to inflate their accomplishments in significant projects. Unless you take note of this, dig a little deeper, it’s not readily noticeable on the surface.

Many times, we get tricked by these inflated accomplishments – in interviews, in resumes. The key: Get as enough details as you need with your calculated time.

2. “Can you tell me why you’re looking for a new opportunity/job? (Based on his given reason), why is having ___________ important to you, and why do you think this job meets that criteria?”

… instead of “Why are you looking for a new job?”

Aside from asking why he’s looking for new opportunities, ask:

  • why this new job in your company is important to him, and
  • why he thinks this job in your company meets the criteria of what’s important for him.

You want to get the source of his motivation (extrinsic, intrinsic). It can also give you insights if he’s leaving something in his current job (check for red flags as well), is in a rush to transfer, wants to develop new skills, or want to change careers.

3. Can you please tell me your top 3 major accomplishments that best represent your strengths? If you can provide more, much better.

… instead of “What are your biggest strengths?”

 Any applicant can enumerate as many and appealing strengths and competencies as possible, …and he can do that in his resume too.

And that may be a trap for you – don’t fall into that trap.

But take note of the time, of course. If you have more to find out, if you’ve gathered enough, know when to stop. Ask fact-finding questions (5Ws and How). Someone who claims to be excellent or topnotch in an area can give examples of works or accomplishments – e.g., past projects, output/work samples. Be cautious if the person claims strengths but could not provide strong examples or shreds of evidence.

4. “One important project (or mention a critical deliverable) for X company Department is ____________. Can you please describe something you’ve been involved with that’s most comparable or most similar?”

… instead of “Describe your responsibilities at your current job”.

 What exactly is your purpose for asking “Describe your responsibilities at your current job” question? To know whether he’s experienced in the job or not? And what if he is? What’s your next question?

This could work if you perform more digging and connect it to the needs of the position – a skilled Recruiter can do that. But, if you ask this question and see whether he has done the same responsibilities in your post, that will mislead you. Hiring for experience – hiring someone because he has already done the job in the past – is not an effective strategy.

What you want to know are:

  • whether he can succeed in the position you have by overcoming the complexity of previous job comparable to your position’s needs
  • whether he has the potential to produce the needed results by showing examples from the previous job where critical skills were used; and
  • whether he has done something comparable in the past, that’s above the average

Again perform fact-finding.

5. “Can you please describe a significant individual accomplishment you believe best represents one of your individual strengths (where you worked alone)?”


“Can you please describe a major team accomplishment you believe represents a great example of you leading, building, or working on a team?

… instead of “Would you rather work on a team or alone?

Preference isn’t equal to competence.  See if he can provide at least three clear examples and evidence. Ask the fact-finding questions. (You may also check Lou Adler’s Performance-based hiring framework).

Remember, interviewing is not about asking witty questions. It’s like peeling an onion – you peel off layer by layer. Your goal is to try to enter his previous world through his story and your fact-finding – what he has done or his potential to do what he needs to do to succeed in the role you’re offering.

In the long run, mastering practical interviewing skills become your indispensable tool; you become more marketable and valuable. As the fundamental principle in business strategy says, “If everyone can do it, it’s difficult to create and capture value from it”. In contrast, “If not everyone can do and master it, it’s easy to create value from it.

Master it now and create more value!

For more of the better job interview questions that get you what you want, interviewing techniques, hiring strategies, and how to conduct these, contact TALENTLUSH team.

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