4 Interview Questions You Should Stop Asking (and the Ones You Should Ask Instead)

February 15, 2016

When it comes to interviewing, many recruiters and hiring managers stick to the tested, tried, and true questions. You know what they are: “what’s your proudest accomplishment?” and “what’s your biggest weakness?” are just a few.

The problem is, over time these questions have become old news with candidates and they’ve started preparing their answers well in advance. And when you’re deciding if you want a person to join your team, you don’t want to be evaluating them based on staged responses: you want to hear genuine, human, and authentic answers to your questions.

So, which are the interview questions you should shelve? We asked 5 recruiters to nominate the questions that they feel are most useless. Here’s what they shared (bonus: they recommended some pointers for what to ask instead).

Don’t ask this: How would you tackle hypothetical scenario [X]?

What to ask instead: Tell me about an experience in which you achieved [X].

Nominated by: Charlie Ginzburg, Senior Recruitment Team Manager at Huxley Banking & Financial Services

Ever been to an interview where the hiring manager asked you to assess a hypothetical market or developing business line? While these questions may be helpful for illuminating thought process, they might be overlooking the candidate’s ability to execute.

“If the person happened to not come from an environment where they would do things the way your company does, they may get this question wrong. But is that really what you care about,” says Ginzberg. “Interviews should be about learning if someone meets the competencies and values of your firm. Hard work, respect, rapport building. If they have this, teaching them your internal business development strategy is easy.”

Ginzberg further elaborates that recruiters should give all interview questions, even any that might seem hypothetical, an experience-based twist.

“Ask questions that focus more on what a person has done vs. what they would do,” says Ginzberg. “Then you can dig into the specific scenario for details. Try to look out for connections back to your business, and build a mental map between the candidate’s experiences and role for which you are hiring.”

The bottom line is to play a more active role in guiding the conversation and building the connection back to your business. Replace hypotheticals with more relatable experiences.

Don’t ask this: What’s your biggest strength and greatest weakness?

What to ask instead: Can you walk me through your most significant career achievement?

Nominated by: Erin Engstrom, Content Marketing Strategist at Recruiterbox

“Everyone is prepared for these questions and has a stock answer," says Engstrom. "Common responses to ‘What's your biggest weakness?’ are 'I'm a workaholic or I'm a perfectionist.' Come ON. Candidates inevitably come up with a response that amounts to too much of a good thing."

The key, says Engstrom, is to see what a candidate’s strengths look like in action instead. How are interviewees learning from their mistakes and enabling their best strengths?

“Ask a candidate to walk you through a significant career achievement. Ask him or her to tell you about a time they came up short and what they learned throughout the experience. These answers require more reflective, in-depth responses that will give hiring managers more insight.”

The key to getting this question right is authenticity. Give candidates enough space to be transparent and open. Build trust, and make it clear that vulnerability is a welcome part of the interview experience.

Don’t ask this: Can you walk me through your resume?

What to ask instead: Can you tell me about interesting point in time [x] in your career?

Nominated by: Paul Dionne, Business Development at MEIRxRS

At first glance, you may perceive this innocent question as a great way to get a conversation started and break the ice. But you might be raising some unexpected red flags, too.

“It demonstrates you don't take time to prepare for your meetings,” says Dionne. “A good candidate prepped for hours for an interview with your company - reviewing your website, looking your team up on LinkedIn and making a list of intelligent questions. Meanwhile, you probably printed the resume 5 minutes before the interview and are going to ask the same 5 questions you ask every candidate. Instead you should ask questions that separate candidates who prepared from those that didn't.”

Even worse, according to Dionne, the question punishes those who have more experience.

“Attention spans are shorter and shorter and there are fewer ways to bore everyone else in the room then make a candidate talk about what they've done for the past 20 years.”

If you’re looking for a quick way to break the ice with the candidate you’re interviewing, aim to ask a thoughtful question. The simplest way to achieve this goal? Focus on an aspect of the candidate’s resume. Ask for specifics and stories rather than an overview.

Don’t ask this: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

What to ask instead: What professional milestones are you hoping to achieve at our company?

Nominated by: Bill Fish, President at ReputationManagement.com

This question, for candidates, is a catch 22: it’s impossible to come up with the ‘right’ answer.

“People are changing jobs more than ever,” says Fish. “Technology is evolving on a monthly basis. Some of the biggest corporations in the world were barely on the map ten years ago. I’m not even sure what would be the perfect answer. ‘I plan on staying in this same role and growing old with this company.’ That looks like you have no aspirations.”

For a truly authentic answer, interviewers should focus on the position at hand and whether the candidate will enjoy it.

“Not to mention, you are interviewing someone for a job today, not for ten years from now,” says Fish.

Caveat: If you want to get a sense of your candidate’s career aspirations, ask about his or her high-level professional goals. This subtle shift in perspective will tell you how a high-achieving candidate perceives a ‘tour of duty’ with your company. Figure out how you can support your candidates and understand their motivations.

Don’t be afraid to catch your candidates off-guard

Give a new twist to established questions to help candidates think on their feet and speak authentically. Create a safe space that allows for laughter, vulnerability, and true human bonds. The teammates you hire today will be your business partners and supporters. Don’t resort to scripted questions and answers for your first conversations. 

*Image from 30 Rock

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