by Tammy Binford
It’s a rare HR professional who hasn’t struggled with the question, “How can I make certain I’m getting the most useful information during job interviews?” Asking insightful questions goes a long way toward addressing the problem, but figuring out just what to ask can be tricky.
Will a particular question elicit a thoughtful, truthful, and worthwhile response, or will it just hand the candidate the opportunity to recite a practiced answer? If the interviewer tries to go beyond typical questions, will the queries be seen as off the wall and not related to the job?
Careers website Glassdoor recently compiled a list of tried-and-true questions, including:
- What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?
- Why are you interested in working for [company name]?
- Why do you want to leave your current company?
- Why was there a gap in your employment?
- What can you offer us that someone else cannot?
- Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
- Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
- How do you handle pressure?
- What questions do you have for me?
Of course, the Glassdoor team also has a list of “oddball” questions, including:
- What do you think of garden gnomes?
- Just entertain me for five minutes, I’m not going to talk.
- How would you cure world hunger?
- Does life fascinate you?
- How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator?
Personal vision statements
While some questions are predictable and others bizarre, some experienced interviewers have some other helpful ideas.
Frank Evans, HR director at Alliance Credit Union in Fenton, Missouri, says he likes candidates to complete a “personal vision statement” during job interviews. In part one of the statement, he asks candidates to give him a sentence or two about what type of employee they want to be. For part two of the statement, he asks for a list of behaviors or traits he should expect to see from them every day on the job that would allow them to be what they said they wanted to be in the first part of the statement. He gives the candidate examples for both parts.
“This serves a few purposes,” Evans says. “It provides me [with] what should be a carefully considered opinion about what they think will make them successful. It indicates whether they can make the connection between how they behave and their success–or lack thereof.”
This technique also gives Evans a tool to manage performance once a candidate is hired. “If an employee is not showing the right behaviors, nothing helps make the point more than revisiting their personal vision statement and reminding them of what they essentially promised you before they were hired,” he says.
A group of executives was polled about their favorite interview questions in a post on AOL Small Business in September 2010. Here are a few of their responses:
- “If I left you with a large, long-haired dog for 15 minutes and asked you to count/estimate the hair on the dog’s body, how would you approach getting me the most accurate hair count?” – a question from Julie Jumonville, cofounder and chief innovation officer at UpSpring Baby. She said candidates replying that they wouldn’t bother trying to count hairs but instead would make friends with the dog are the candidates likely to get hired.
- “Are you good at troubleshooting?” – from Warren Brown, founder of CakeLove and Love Café. “If they ask me what I mean, the interview is over.”
- “What is your favorite book or favorite movie?” – from Steve Strauss, columnist and author of The Small Business Bible. “That’s good because it makes the interview more personal and usually ends up revealing something interesting about the person.”
Tammy Binford writes and edits news alerts and newsletter articles on labor and employment law topics for BLR web and print publications. In addition, she writes for HR Hero Line and Diversity Insight, two of the ezines and blogs found on HRHero.com.