There's a six-word question Salesforce asks in every job interview.

The question is: "What is the compensation you expect?"

I think it's a very smart question. It turns out, my fellow Inc.com writer Jeff Haden disagrees. He thinks it's something you should never ask.

That's OK, of course. We can agree to disagree. But it got me thinking about what really are the smartest questions to ask in an interview. 

Over the years, many of my Inc.com colleagues (including Jeff) have taken a hard look at that issue. They've come up with some very smart takes. 

So here are some of the best, most interesting, and most effective interview questions -- along with an invitation: If you have another idea, email me at billmurphyjr@inc.com. Maybe we'll do a follow-up.

1. "If you worked for your top competitor, how would you beat yourself?"

The point of this question, writes Jessica Stillman, who looked at ex-Salesforce executive David Priemer's interviewing advice, is to gauge a potential employee's emotional intelligence.

"It's easy to imagine this curve ball flummoxing plenty of candidates, which is the point," she writes. "Those with exceptional EQ know not only their strengths, but also their weaknesses."

2. "What skill do you possess that will most impact our bottom line?"

Jeff Haden came up with this one -- and it's at the core of why he objects to the six-word Salesforce question above. With this question, you're focusing quickly on two things:

  • Has the applicant done the research to understand your company ahead of the interview?
  • Can he or she articulate how he or she might fit?

As Haden puts it: "You begin to get to the heart of what value the employee might provide, and whether his or her strengths truly meet your needs."

3. "Can you type without looking at the keyboard?"

I suspect this kind of question is for a certain type of applicant. You're probably not going to ask a candidate for chief marketing officer or lead developer this question, especially since it's designed to "tell you how technical of a person they are," according to Brent Oxley of Ox Ranch (No. 246 on the Inc. 5000), whom Malak Saleh interviewed.

But, if you're interviewing for less-skilled jobs -- the kinds of people who (no offense) still include things like "proficient in Microsoft Office" on their resumes -- it could be a smart, timesaving thing to ask.

4. "Are you smart, or do you work hard?"

I love this one, especially since the advice that Jim Haudan gives is to never let the candidate say, "Both."

(Just in case I ever apply for a job again: Future employers, for me, it's both, but if I had to pick one, I'm one of the hardest working people I know.)

5. "On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?"

This one's a favorite of Zappos founder Tony Hsieh. 

"Shouldn't everyone ask this one?" suggests Chris Matyszcyck. "How pulsating it would be to hear all the different answers. ... I'm a 9.3. And you?"

6. "Discuss with me a time when you pulled your team together and raised morale through a transition or difficult time. Walk me through the process."

This one is for people you're recruiting for leadership positions, as opposed to individual contributors. I like the fact that it's not so much a question as an invitation to tell a story. It comes to us from  Marcel Schwantes.

7. "On your very best day at work--the day you come home and think you have the best job in the world--what did you do that day?"

OK, I love this one because it's geared to tease out some crucial insights, but I also don't love it because it puts the applicant on the spot to answer a thoughtful question without enough time to think. That said, even after a 20-year working career, I think could come up with a good answer. 

But, my colleague Scott Mautz took this question (a Facebook favorite, apparently), and used it to trigger some smart self-reflection: "Are you doing enough of what you love? Or are you just doing?"

Published on: Jun 21, 2019
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The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.