Job interview questions: We all have them ... and we all wish we had better ones.
Sometimes we do things simply because that's what everyone else does--and that's especially true where interview questions are concerned.
Say you're about to conduct your very first interview. While you've been an interviewee before, you've never been an interviewer. What do you do? You ask the questions you have been asked. Or you do a quick Google search for "best interview questions."
Either way, you wind up asking the same worthless questions everyone else asks.
Or worse, you ask questions that are too confrontational and borderline combative--and that misses the point. It's an interview, not an interrogation; the purpose of the questions is to drive a conversation that helps both sides learn about each other.
Very few interviewers ask questions designed to truly evaluate a potential employee's skills, qualifications, and experience. Even fewer ask questions to evaluate a potential employee's cultural fit, which is something we obsess over at HubSpot.
Instead interviewers ask the same old tried-but-in-no-way-true interview questions that provide little insight into whether a candidate's work style and personality complements their team, much less whether the candidate will thrive in their organization's unique environment.
1. "What is your biggest weakness?"
Every candidate knows how to answer this question: Just pick a theoretical weakness and magically transform that flaw into a strength in disguise!
For example: "My biggest weakness is getting so absorbed in my work that I lose all track of time. Every day I look up and realize everyone has gone home! I know I should be more aware of the clock, but when I love what I'm doing I just can't think of anything else."
Okay--your "biggest weakness" is that you'll put in more hours than everyone else? Wow. How terrible. Who would hire you?
Here's a better question: "Tell me about the last time a co-worker or customer got angry with you. What happened?"
Conflict is inevitable when a company works hard to get things done. Mistakes happen. Sure, strengths come to the fore, but weaknesses also rear their heads. And that's OK. No one is perfect.
But a person who tends to push the blame--and the responsibility for rectifying the situation--onto someone else is a candidate to avoid. You'd much rather choose candidates who focus not on blame but on addressing and fixing the problem.
At HubSpot, part of our culture code states the following: When things go right, share the credit. When they go wrong, shoulder the responsibility. [For more pithy insights on how culture helped us build a startup into a publicly traded company, check out the HubSpot Culture Code slide deck].
Every business needs employees who willingly admit when they are wrong, step up to take ownership for fixing the problem, and, most importantly, learn from the experience.
2. "Where do you see yourself in three years?"
Answers to this question go one of two basic ways. Candidates try to show either their incredible ambition--because that's what they think you want--by providing an extremely optimistic answer ("I want your job!") or their humility--because that's what they think you want--by providing a meek, self-deprecating answer ("There are so many talented people here. I just want to do a great job and see where my talents take me.")
In either case you learn nothing, other than possibly how well candidates can sell themselves.
Here's a better question: "What business would you love to start?"
Granted I'm biased since I'm a startup geek, but the question applies to any organization (if only because I believe every employee at every company should have somewhat of an entrepreneurial mindset.)
What will you learn by asking this question? The business a candidate would love to start tells you about her hopes and dreams, her interests and passions, the work she likes to do, the people she likes to work with--that is, if you turn this question into a conversation by asking simple questions like "why?" and "how?" you'll learn what the candidate really likes to do, and that will tell you a lot more about her potential for growth in your organization.
(Quick note: "Where do you see yourself in three years?" is a great question to ask a current employee since the best development plans are plans created by the employee, not by the employer.)
3. "Tell me a little about yourself."
The candidate's resume and cover letter should tell you a lot. LinkedIn and Twitter and Facebook and Google can tell you more.
So you should already know a lot about the candidate before the interview starts. (And if you don't, shame on you--even though way too many interviewers use this question for an opportunity to scan the candidate's resume for the first time.)
Your goal is to determine whether the candidate will be outstanding in the job--and that means evaluating the skills and attitude required for that job. Does she need to be an empathetic leader? Ask about that. Does she need to take your company public? Ask about that.
Don't expect the candidate to connect the dots--connect your own dots.
If you want to understand her career path, ask why she took certain jobs. Ask why she left. If you want to understand her education, ask why she chose a certain school. Ask why she decided to go to grad school. Ask why she took a year off to backpack through Europe.
Know as much as you can about the candidate ahead of time, and then ask questions designed to connect your own dots.
4. "Out of all the other candidates, why should we hire you?"
Hmm. Since a candidate cannot compare herself with people she doesn't know, all she can do is describe her incredible passion and desire and commitment and... well, basically beg for the job. (Way too many interviewers ask the question and then sit back, arms folded, as if to say, "Go ahead. I'm listening. Try and convince me.")
And you learn nothing of substance.
Here's a better question: "What do you feel I need to know that we haven't discussed?" Or, even "If you could get a do-over on one of my questions, how would you answer it now?"
Rarely do candidates come to the end of an interview feeling they've done their best. Maybe the conversation went in an unexpected direction. Maybe the interviewer focused on one aspect of their skills and totally ignored other key attributes. Or maybe candidates started the interview nervous and hesitant, and now wish they could go back and better describe their qualifications and experience.
Plus, think of it this way: Your goal as an interviewer is to learn as much as you possibly can about every candidate, so don't you want to give them the chance to ensure you do?
Just make sure to turn this part of the interview into a conversation, not a soliloquy. Don't just passively listen and then say, "Thanks. We'll be in touch." Ask follow-up questions. Ask for examples.
See this question not as a capstone to the interview but as an opportunity for the candidate to begin a broader conversation. Otherwise you're really just using different words to ask, "Why should we hire you?"
Ask the right questions and you'll never need to ask, "Why should we hire you?"
You'll already know.