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“What Can You Teach Me” and Other Ways to Begin

A good interview leaves both parties feeling strong. Along with power posing and opening yourself to having a real conversation, asking great interview questions will get to the heart of the matter. Better interview questions also expose your company culture to the applicant. If you’re pitching out the same list of 5-10 canned questions they’ve been asked by everybody else, you are missing an opportunity to distinguish your company and your culture.  Take the time to do an interview properly and ask them some questions you actually care about!

Also, even if you’re under time stress, it is critical to keep an open mind to really listen to the answer. Don’t just feel like you have get to the next question. If you’re making progress and both learning by diving deep into one question, go with your gut and keep asking the follow up questions and learning the “why” behind the candidate’s actions.

That said, I think there are some things you can put on auto-pilot and that’s this list of great interview questions that I’ve culled over the years. These get interesting responses and are just open enough to help the candidate tell a story.

Better Interview Questions: The Top 10

  1. Tell me about someone you admire and why
  2. What’s something you can teach me?
  3. What bothers you most about other people?
  4. What do you do if you don’t agree with the direction of the company?
  5. What’s one thing you’re really proud of and why?
  6. What do you think you can accomplish here in the first year?
  7. If you were in charge of a project with about 15 people, none of whom report to you, how would you go about doing that?
  8. What other types of companies would you like to be a part of and where else are you interviewing?
  9. How has your leadership style evolved over time?
  10. Tell me about the thought process you went through when you left your previous job.

See how you’d actually not mind to answer these yourself? It’s not a bad idea to just bounce these off colleagues and other hiring managers to actually get to know them better.

Unconscious bias

Even if you try your best, you are going to be biased unconsciously toward people who are like you. That could mean they have your skin color, they are in your demographic, or they answer questions the way you do. Maybe it’s our essential narcissism. But this is one of the things I think we have to be cognizant about as a culture. Unconscious bias is one of the things that prevents talented people from getting great jobs. So even as you are doing the good work of asking meaningful interview questions and considering your hire thoughtfully, as someone who’s doing hiring you have a responsibility to understand the ways your preferences are affecting the final hire decision.

To identify bias in your own hiring process, ask questions of the other members of the hiring team about their experience and impressions. To go a little deeper, make yourself take an “implicit bias” quiz. This test from Harvard helps educate you about your own implicit bias:

Finally, interrogate again- what are the most essential skills required for this job and are we looking at all the qualified candidates? For example, there are plenty of jobs that might not automatically require a college degree, but really need someone who can be the best at entering cash receipts, selling the heck out of your product, or communicating your warranty policy to your customers in a way that increases the value and attractiveness of your company. So much can come out of just re-thinking this stuff. Asking better interview questions is just the beginning.



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