How to Write the Best Interview Questions
Avoid tired clichés like "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Get the right person for the job by learning how to write better interview questions. Here are some of the best interview questions to ask and why.
Finding and hiring the right candidate for your company is difficult. People aren’t always who they appear on the page. When you receive a resume, you may feel like the candidate’s education and professional background meet all your requirements, but how can you determine if their personality, communication style, and work ethic are a match as well? That’s where the interview comes into play.
But coming up with interview questions can be tricky. Do you go with the tried-and-true questions that have lasted decades or should you replace the old script with something new? What information do you consider? How do you reveal a person’s true nature? Will any questions get you into legal trouble?
How to Ask Better Interview Questions
Before we discuss specific interview questions you can ask, let’s go over some ground rules:
- Remember to always ask the same questions to each of your applicants. It’s important to remain consistent.
- Use the job description as the basis for your interviews. Prepare the interview questions in advance. Write them out and have them with you while conducting the interview.
- Plan your questions around the essential functions, qualifications, skills, knowledge, and abilities necessary to perform the job. You should be very clear about what the company needs in a candidate.
- Always have extra questions on hand. You don’t want to be stuck in an awkward silence with nothing left to say.
- Plan ahead by reading the resume and any document attachments in advance. With a little research, you will already be acquainted with the candidate, allowing you to be more relaxed and ask better questions.
- Remember, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a qualified applicant with a disability. Employers can’t refuse to consider someone because they require a “reasonable accommodation” to interview or perform a job. For more information on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), contact Resourcing Edge or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
- Give interviewees a tour of the work area. This can help you determine if any reasonable accommodations may be necessary.
- When writing your interview questions, stay away from any yes/no questions and ask flexible, open-ended questions instead. Open-ended questions are more likely to lead to engaging answers. Make your interviewee feel comfortable so you can get more honest answers.
- Ask one question at a time. Don’t overwhelm or confuse your interviewee with multiple questions at the same time.
- Avoid these topics in an interview:
- While state and federal equal opportunity laws do not clearly forbid employers from asking questions related to the above topics, “such inquiries may be used as evidence of an employer's intent to discriminate unless the questions asked can be justified by some business purpose” (EEOC). It’s best to avoid them entirely.
- Similarly, never ask for a photograph of the applicant. If you need a photo for identification purposes, you can obtain one after an offer is made and accepted.
- Document all your hiring decisions.
- Contact Resourcing Edge for help developing a legal and effective interview questionnaire. We offer Recruiting Services tailored to your needs.
With some careful preparation, you can conduct a successful, lawful interview that will help you choose the best candidate for the job. Here are some tips for writing the best interview questions.
Let them ask their questions
Asking what questions the interviewee has for the company will tell you what he or she knows about the company without directly asking “What do you know about our company.”
Many times, interviewers end the interview by letting the interviewee ask their questions, but you may want to start the interview this way. It’s a great way to get the interview flowing and can easily lead into your next questions.
Regardless of when you allow for questions, don’t forget this important part of the interview process. The candidate should be curious about your company and have done some research. You will learn a lot about your candidate by listening to their questions. If they don’t have any questions, that’s a clear red flag.
Ask about their background
A good way to open the interview and get the conversation going is by asking a question pertaining to their background, such as “Tell us about your background.” This open-ended question can reveal a lot about the person.
Remember, the best interviews feel like conversations, not oral exams.
Ask about their behaviors
One way to find out how a candidate might behave is to give them an example. Provide an example of a project they may be expected to complete in their role and ask them how they would approach it.
Consider describing a typical day on the job and then ask which parts of the job they find most challenging and how they might overcome those challenges.
Another way to get insight into a candidate’s behaviors is by asking them about a past situation or project. For instance, you may ask them to provide an example of a past project and the step-by-step workflow used to ensure the outcome was successful. You can also ask them about a more challenging time when they had to collaborate on a project with a team member who had a different vision.
Tailor your behavioral question to a scenario they have experienced or may experience on the job. The idea is to see how they would react in various real-world situations.
Obtain basic skills and qualifications
Get specific. If the job requires the candidate to know how to use a specific program or platform, ask a how-to question and allow the candidate to show off their knowledge. You will get the assurance you need that the candidate meets the basic qualifications and get a sense of their communication skills.
Assign a small project
Sometimes the best way to interview someone is not to ask a question at all, but rather to give them an assignment and observe how well they handle it. Turn the interview question into a real-world task that gives you a deeper sense of the candidate’s abilities and character.
For example, if it’s a copy editing job, give the candidate an article to edit. Go over their work with them once the time is up. If your company is based off of a team dynamic, have them sit in on a team meeting or speak with the team leader. You can get a much better idea if the candidate will gel with your team and be able to handle the work by conducting a small trial run right on the spot.
Don’t be afraid to get tricky
Don’t be afraid to challenge your interviewee with more difficult, thought-provoking, or unexpected questions. This will show you how the interviewee thinks on their toes. It will also demonstrate their skills, qualifications, and knowledge of your company, depending on the question.
Here are a couple examples of “tricky” interview questions:
- "Explain to an 8-year-old what a modem/router is and it functions." (At-Home Advisor, Apple)
- “How would you find the square root of 1.2?” (Hardware Engineer, Jump Trading)
- "How do you explain a vending machine to someone who hasn't seen or used one before?" (Global Data Analyst, Bloomberg L.P.)
Remember, your candidates are learning about you and your organization just as much as you are learning about them. Clichéd, thoughtless, childish, or insulting questions can turn top talent away.
Some questions that interviewees hate are:
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Why do you want this job?
- What’s your greatest weakness?
- What’s your greatest accomplishment?
- What’s the lowest salary you would accept?
- What would your old boss say about you?
- What’s your spirit animal?
- Why should we hire you?
- Why are you leaving your current job?
- Describe yourself in three words.
Avoid questions that seem to come from a worn-out script. There are better ways to find out about someone’s behaviors, work style, skills, and qualifications. Ask thoughtful questions, not a one-size-fits-all script you find online.
Be present, polite, engaged, and offer a firm handshake and smile. Make your interviewee feel relaxed, but don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. Find out what you need to know to make the best decision for the company.
Here is a list of sample interview questions you can use in your next interview. Consider adding one or more of these ideas to your hiring process.
Watch our Interviewing and Hiring Webinar to prevent any hiring discrimination issues:
Resourcing Edge offers Recruiting Services tailored to your individual needs. We can take on all or a portion of sourcing, screening, and interviewing for you. For more information, contact Resourcing Edge.