5 Clever Interview Questions to Uncover Candidates' Hidden Strengths

July 9, 2018

Say you’ve narrowed your search down to the top two candidates for a role. You eventually pick the one with slightly more experience—without ever realizing that the other is an incredible strategist who made a huge impact. Unfortunately, they didn’t even know it themselves, so they couldn’t tell you—and the interview failed to reveal it.

Some experts argue that talent is just personality in an ideal setting. Along these lines, some employees surprise themselves with hidden strengths that are discovered on the job. But as a recruiter, these strengths don’t have to catch you by surprise. After all, you’re a master at matching candidates with their ideal roles.

To help you learn things about candidates that they may not even know themselves, here are five interview questions designed to shine a light on what’s hidden in plain sight.

1. "Do you find people often compliment you on skills that seem easy?"

Executive coach Whitney Johnson argues that the strengths that come naturally to people are also the ones they’re likely to downplay. If you’re inherently talented at something, you might not think of it as a strength at all—it would be like accepting praise just for breathing.

Whitney says that asking a candidate to think about the compliments they typically brush off can reveal what others find particularly valuable about their contributions. Maybe they’re a naturally engaging public speaker and people can’t help but gush over their talents after every talk, but they always shrug off the compliments. If people have thanked and praised them for something, then they were clearly doing something great (even if it felt like nothing to them).

You might also ask your candidate to elaborate on the situations that usually lead to these compliments. The powerful public speaker, for example, might be excellent at giving presentations during meetings, but is shakier in front of an audience of strangers. This can help you get a feel for the type of environments they work best in and the tasks they will excel at, giving you a good idea if the role is right for them.


Related: What These 5 Leaders Would Ask If They Only Had Time For 1 Interview Question


2. "Are there any activities you’ve performed at work that make you lose track of time?"

When a task is super engaging and interesting to you, it doesn’t feel like work. That’s why career coach Christie Mims advises jobseekers to think about the activities that make them lose track of time to figure out what they love and what they’re good at—from brainstorming ideas in their current job to blogging in their spare time.

As a recruiter, you can use this question since it’s a great way to hear what a candidate is passionate about. They might tell you that they found problem-solving for clients really absorbing, or that chances to collaborate with other departments made the time fly.

This can reveal traits they’ve never thought of as strengths before, simply because those tasks never felt like work to them. In the right environment, those instinctive strengths could develop into truly valuable skills.

3. "What exasperated you the most in your previous role?"

Another favorite question for Whitney is asking what exasperates a candidate. She believes this is often an effective way to see which skills come easily for them. When something seems really simple to them, they might get a bit frustrated when others can’t seem to keep up—whether it’s ensuring the moving parts of a project remain organized or thinking outside of the box.

A great answer will show that the candidate recognized their approach was good for the company, even if they didn’t realize it was a strength they possessed. They’ll also show that they handled their frustration diplomatically, either by helping others become better or simply by working around the problem.

4. "When you were in elementary school, what activities did you get excited about—and what were you best at?"

Children rarely do things because they think it’s important for their future career. They do them because they’re enjoyable. As Doug Wilks, director of StrengthsLauncher, points out, this can often translate into tasks they have a knack for later in life.

Doug’s company aims to help people discover their natural talents. He recommends that jobseekers reflect on what thrilled them as children to discover hidden strengths that just feel like normal behavior to them as adults. You can also use this question to predict how successful they will be in a role.

Say your candidate loved working on group projects in the classroom and got other kids excited about what they are doing. Doug points out that they might still thrive in team-oriented tasks in the workplace and emerge as the natural leader in a group at the office. Knowing this, you might realize they’re perfect for a position that involves a lot of collaboration, even if they hadn’t emphasized that on their resume.

5. "Tell me about one of your hobbies—how might you bring those same skills to the workplace?"

You probably ask candidates about their hobbies already—it’s a great way to build rapport, help candidates loosen up, and learn a little more about them. Malika Oukil, director and recruitment consultant at The Creative Movement, encourages all recruiters to ask about interests and hobbies and to get the candidate thinking about how they might bring those same skills to work.

For example, maybe your candidate plays rugby on the weekends. As Malika points out, they may not realize it, but the communication skills, teamwork, and tactical thinking they’ve developed on the field are also major strengths that they bring to their work.

Candidates might not think to include these strengths on their resume because they view their hobbies as separate from their careers. But they can bring a lot more to the workplace than they realize. By finding that out, you might discover a surprise contender for the role.

Ultimately, the more you know about your candidates’ strengths at the end of the interview, the better. Asking smart questions that get a candidate thinking beyond their resume can help you more accurately predict their job performance, making it easier to find the best of the best for every role.

*Photo by Clement127

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