Business information written specifically for newspaper advertising departments

Ask the Right Questions

Avoid asking the questions that always seem to be asked in interviews, but don’t really tell you anything about the applicant. Just because everyone else asks them, doesn’t mean you should.

It’s time to re-think the questions that you ask during the interview process. If the goal is to find the best person fit for the job opening, then some of the stereotypical interview questions are no longer going to cut it, such as, “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” Some hypothetical questions are good, but they should be based in the reality of your industry. For instance, present interviewees with a possible conflict scenario and ask what their resolutions would be. Their answer will help you discover something tangible about them as a potential employee. Avoid asking the questions that always seem to be asked in interviews, but don’t really tell you anything about the applicant. Just because everyone else asks them, doesn’t mean you should. Instead, ask questions about their actual work experiences that are relevant to the position you are trying to fill. Below, we show the questions typically asked at interviews, and suggest what questions you should ask instead.

The Question: How many years of work experience do you have in the industry?

What You Should Ask: Can you give examples of work experience you have had that prepares you for this position?

When looking at applicants’ résumés, it’s relatively pointless to mentally mark off how many jobs they have had or how many years of experience they have. Instead, take what’s on their résumé and ask questions that tell you whether or not they’re prepared for the tasks and projects that will face them at your company. Does their past experience sufficiently prepare them for the position you’re looking to fill? You will learn a lot more useful information about them if you ask what they’ve done at their past jobs, rather than just asking what kind of jobs they have had.

The Question: What skills did you learn during your time working for ABC Company?

What You Should Ask: What projects have you executed and accomplished successfully?

Asking interviewees to list off a group of abstract and vague skills won’t actually tell you that they have what it takes to fulfill the duties of the job. Learn about their skillset by asking questions about projects they have accomplished in the past. By asking for details of projects they have worked on, you will find out more about their work ethic, their response to conflict and their answer will give you a real sense of their skills, like communication, organizational or multi-tasking skills. If you need to know if they are familiar with certain computer programs and software, come out and ask about their experience with it. The key is asking for tangible examples of their work experience and skillset, rather than asking for lists that won’t tell you what they have actually done or know.

The Question: What are your weaknesses?

What You Should Ask: Give me an example of a project you didn’t accomplish?

Asking for times applicants didn’t meet others’ or their own personal expectations will tell you a lot about the job candidates. However, asking age-old questions will get you age-old (and meaningless) answers, for instance, asking “What are your weaknesses?” will get you “I’m a workaholic.” Not only would you be wasting interviewees’ time, you would be wasting your own time. Instead, find out relevant information about how applicants respond to work situations. Learning about times they didn’t quite succeed at a task will tell you what they did wrong, if they learned from it and if that experience will help them overcome the obstacles of your job opening.

The Question: Why do you want this job?

What You Should Ask: What would you do in this particular work scenario?

It’s actually somewhat insulting to ask interviewees why they want or why they applied to your job opening. After all, they did apply to it. They have already shown interest just by sending in their résumés and taking the time to meet with you. Don’t ask questions for the sake of passing the time. Make the interview worthwhile and learn something substantial about each candidate. So instead of asking why they want the job, give them real-life examples of work situations they may face if they are hired, and then ask how they would react and respond to the given scenario. This will tell you about their professionalism, their knowledge of the industry and if they have the skills needed to fill the position.