5 common & alternative interview questions
From behavioural questions to more direct enquiries into a candidate’s education and experience, there are common interview questions that most interviewers ask.
But sometimes, when a candidate hears a question they’re expecting, they give a scripted answer, which may not always give you an accurate view into their fit for the role. Here we’ll outline why certain questions are almost always asked, and what you should really listen for to get an insight beyond a scripted reply.
We’ll also provide you with a list of alternative ways to ask questions, which will help you move candidates away from rehearsed answers, and towards the answers that give you a true insight into the person in front of you.
5 of the most common interview questions.
There’s a reason why certain questions are asked in almost every interview as they give you a benchmark with which to compare one candidate against the rest. These questions are also useful for uncovering a mix of hard and soft skills.
Here are some common interview questions and what to listen for from your candidates.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
This question lets you get a sense of the person behind the skills and qualifications, before covering what’s outlined on the candidate’s CV.
A candidate should use this chance to tie their background to your job description, and demonstrate how their previous experience will apply to this role. Listen for an answer that explains not just what the candidate did, but why.
What’s your biggest weakness?
Most candidates are fully prepared for this question by now and answer by picking a perceived weakness before explaining how it is actually a strength.
Look for an answer that demonstrates high levels of self-awareness and candidates who, rather than choosing a textbook weakness, such as 'being a perfectionist' - discuss something that is a real weakness, like a struggle to prioritise work. This shows signs of honesty and demonstrates how much the candidate is willing to work on their weaknesses.
Where do you see yourself in three years?
The main function of this question is to understand what the candidate is looking to gain from the role as part of their bigger plan. This is important because this will help you understand if they will get what they are looking for from your role.
If you incorporate this question into your interview process, you want to hear candidates outline realistic ambitions they can achieve within your organisation. Not only does this allow you to explore what the candidates ambitions are, but it also allows you to see if their goals align with the growth of the role and your organisation
Why have you applied for this role?
This question, or the ‘why are you leaving your current role’ version, is asked to better understand a candidate’s motivations.
It’s an opportunity for you to understand if a candidate has simply outgrown their current role, or to uncover evidence of any interpersonal conflicts present in their current role. The answer to this question can tell you a lot about a candidate’s personality and culture add.
What separates you from the rest of the candidates we’ll speak to about this role?
This question is designed to let the candidate give their sales pitch outlining why they’re the best person for the role.
A great candidate will not just talk about their culture fit, but about being a culture add. To do this, they will articulate how their experience provides them with a unique perspective above other candidates.
5 alternative interview questions you should consider.
The goal of using alternative interview questions is not to trick a candidate, but to gain an understanding of how they perform when presented with something unexpected. Their reaction may be indicative of how they’d react to similar situations in their day-to-day work.
The questions that follow can uncover a lot of the same information about experience and soft skills as common interview questions. But, by asking them in a different way, you may get a more honest answer and an even better understanding of the candidate.
Are there any tasks in your current role you find too easy or too difficult?
This is an alternative to asking about strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes, a candidate knows what your job description requires and so will list the strengths that they think you want to hear.
By phrasing the question in this way, it can allow you to uncover a candidate’s true strengths and weaknesses - usually the tasks they find too easy, can be those where their greatest strengths lie, and visa versa for weaknesses. It can also give you an indication as to why the candidate is leaving their current role, if they are finding most tasks too easy, it can be a sign they have outgrown their current position.
What activity do you currently perform that you find drains most of your energy?
This is an alternative way of asking ‘what parts of your current role do you like the least?’.
By approaching the question in this way, it allows you to understand why the candidate dislikes an aspect of their current role. For example, it could be a process issue they feel like they have no control over, or it could be simply that the candidate has outgrown that role, and is ready to progress to the next level of their career.
Is it better to submit a project that’s perfect and late, or one that’s good and on time?
This question allows you to get a sense of how the candidate might prioritse things and their ability to get things done.
And a neutral answer such as ‘it depends’ is not necessarily unwelcome. As an alternative to ‘what’s your biggest weakness,’ this is a great way of discovering if a candidate knows the difference between work that’s ‘good enough’ but makes the deadline, and a project that is perfect but late.
If you were to start in the role today, where do you see yourself making an impact first?
Asking this question can be particularly useful if you want to understand how realistic a candidate is about their role within your organisation and their understanding of your company’s goals.
This is a good alternative to asking ‘why should we hire you?’ as it gives a candidate the chance to showcase what impact they could have in the role. A good candidate will demonstrate a desire to meet with their stakeholders to really understand their role and ask follow up questions about your key performance indicators.
Tell me about a project you’ve worked on outside of your professional career that you’re especially proud of?
Sometimes, to get a better sense of a candidate, it’s good to start at the bottom of their CV to understand what they can bring to your team.
This question allows you to see how the candidate might be a culture add to your organisation. If they highlight something that brings diversity or a different experience, it helps you to assess what they bring to the role. It can be used as an alternative to the 'tell me about your hobbies' question.
A chance to reinvigorate your interview process.
There is a reason that the same interview questions are asked time and time again, and it’s not just because they give you a benchmark against which to judge all candidates against each other, and previous talent. Some of the most frequently used interview questions are still effective at gaining real insight into a candidate’s hard and soft skills.
However, there is an alternative approach to the types of questions you ask. You will still get the same information about a candidate’s experience, and what they could add to your culture.
But, by asking the question in a slightly different way, you also get to see a candidate’s creativity, adaptability, and problem-solving ability. These soft skills are some of the most in-demand in today’s competitive talent landscape.