"Why do YOU think you're a good fit for the job?"

If you've ever asked this in a job interview -- or been asked yourself -- you know how cringe it is. Stock questions are generally rewarded with stale answers. If you really want to uncover the best possible  talent, you need to ditch the script and ask something unexpected. With uncommon questions, candidates won't likely have a scripted answer for you. And what they come up with on the spot will reveal three important things:

  • How genuine they are (If they try to embellish or fabricate, you will likely be able to tell by changes in speech patterns or mannerisms.)
  • Their priorities (Are they trying to please you or offer a helpful answer? Do they value integrity over personal success or vice versa?)
  • Their ability to think "on their feet" (Do they waffle and come up with empty answers or do they appear to think methodically and offer a coherent response?)

What types of questions will bring out these key characteristics? In my experience, they depend on four things:

First, avoid interrogation-style interviewing

I would also recommend that, whenever possible, you keep interviews one-on-one. This allows you to have a conversation -- not an inquisition. Set a relaxed tone early on with small talk, fun personal questions (that don't get too personal), and chitchat. Keep it timely and relevant, throwing in some details you uncovered as you conducted your research.

Example: Thanks for taking some time to chat today -- I know it's a busy time of year. Any plans for the holiday season?

Second, use real-life situations that candidates can relate to

Don't speak in abstractions. This gives the candidate an opportunity to imagine emotional and intellectual elements of the situation you're describing, which allows them to formulate a more realistic response. (Note: You don't always have to ask a question to elicit a response here. Sometimes, it's helpful just to see how they respond to the scene you're painting.)

Example: We love our team experiences here. In fact, our marketing team had an offsite at a trampoline park a few weeks ago. They teamed up in small groups and had some brainstorming sessions for new marketing campaigns, then voted on the best ones. The winners got to spend the most time jumping around -- plus they got some fun tech prizes. (Wait to see how the candidate responds.)

Third, steer clear of obvious job or company details that can be studied in advance 

Don't ask candidates about obvious things they likely uncovered in their job or company research. Go off the beaten path. You can get to some of these elements indirectly by creating hypothetical situations and asking candidates to weigh in, but avoid pulling copy from the job description and plunking it down in a question.

Example (highlighting the need for Excel proficiency in the job requirements): You know, it's funny. Last week, we were scrambling to put together numbers for our quarterly meeting and nobody quite knew which program to use to put it all together or if there was some sort of formula that would automate the calculations we needed. It was a manual mess, to be honest. Have you ever endured that kind of last-minute report frenzy? (Continue with questions about their own experiences with spreadsheet problems and how they responded.)

Fourth, be specific

I mentioned in the second point that you shouldn't talk in abstractions, but this applies to all four bullets in this list. It's challenging to come up with a meaningful response to questions like "How do you feel about ... ?" or "What are your thoughts on ... ?" Instead, leverage specifics and ask for details.

Example: I have a hard time with technology, if I'm honest. And we don't have much of a tech department here -- we're too small for that. Our graphics team lives and breathes their software, though. Do you have much experience setting up design software from scratch?

Granted, these questions will change depending on your company, the job, the candidate, and the circumstances, but the general guidelines apply. And as much as you want your candidates to be genuine and thoughtful, keep in mind that they're vetting you, too -- so be sure you put sufficient energy, research, and time into each interview to show how invested you are.