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Talent Talk: The Five Best Questions to Ask at Job Interviews

TAGS: Business
Image: Vectorfusionart/Adobe Stock job interview
Last week we highlighted five of the worst questions you can ask a candidate in an interview. Today we flip the page and give you examples of questions that will give you more relevant insights on the applicant's fitness for the position.

Last week we highlighted five of the worst questions you can ask a candidate in an interview. A common theme of the questions was that they did not advance the objective of determining critical things like job and culture fit, or the candidate’s career motivations. Another commonality was the likelihood of getting a scripted answer.

Today we flip the page and give you five examples of questions you could use to replace those. Are they magical questions that will ensure you hire only rock stars? Of course not, but you can see significant incremental improvements in your interviewing by understanding why these might be better and, in that process, come up with your own questions. To put this in context, remember that we are — and will continue to be for many years — in a candidate-driven market. That means you must be in recruitment mode and will not be able to treat candidates like “applicants,” because they do have other options.

“Tell me about yourself” has become an interview cliché first question. Instead, consider asking “What questions do you have for me, and nothing is off limits.” Rather than making this the bookend cliché final question, move it to the top. This will provide its own pattern interrupt, because candidates expect this to be the last question, and it will allow you to learn a lot about the interviewee from the questions they ask. For those of you who still love the tell-me-about-yourself question, put a twist on it: “What three adjectives would you use to best describe yourself?” Then pick one and ask how it has helped them in their career, and also how it may have hurt them at times.

Instead of asking where they see themselves in five years, ask “What have you learned about our company so far? Here is what we are dealing with in the department. What are your thoughts about our challenges and opportunities for the coming year?” A year is a more reasonable time frame for drilling down. Five-year plans assume that a lot of things either do not change or change in a predictable way. If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it is that things often change in unpredictable ways.

Instead of asking about their “biggest weakness,” ask some questions that get right to skills that are non-negotiable for the role. For example, if you need someone to elevate your performance in the statistical process control area, ask a question like “Tell me about a time you used data to make a decision.” If their answers to specific must-have skills questions are not good, you may have found a weakness that is significant in the position. Who cares about their biggest weakness if it has nothing to do with the position you are trying to fill?

Instead of asking about their current salary or total compensation, ask questions that get to their motivation relative to your opportunities and career path. If someone is a good fit, they will be much more likely to accept a reasonable offer. “How does this job move your career forward? What does it give you that you don't already have?” Or, “If you were to be offered three jobs on the same day with three different companies, how would you decide which one to accept?”

Funny, weird, and random interview questions came into vogue as word spread of tech companies becoming quite fond of them. Is there something to be said for this? Sure, but in the plastics manufacturing world, I would suggest that you could find a better question to test a person’s ability to think on the fly and be creative than “What do you think about garden gnomes?” A couple I have used over the years are “Make me laugh” and “What is something you tried once but will never do again?" You can have some fun with this and your team — just remember that even these questions need to serve the purpose of the interview.

Paul SturgeonAbout the author

Paul Sturgeon is CEO of KLA Industries, a national search firm specializing in plastics, packaging, and polymer technology. If you have a topic you would like to see discussed, a company that is growing, or other ideas for this blog, e-mail Sturgeon at

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