Ian Joseph shares his best ever interview questions

As we gear up for a busy interview schedule this Autumn, I want to share with you some interview questions that you might find helpful for your own recruitment campaigns.

I asked a few of my colleagues (Cathy, John, Peter, and Neil) to give me their favourite interview questions of all time and the reasons why. I hope I will not embarrass any of them but between us we have well over a century’s worth of recruitment experience, so plenty of time to figure out what works!

In no particular order …

Question One: Can you describe a time where you have had to ask for help?

Talk about cutting to the chase. Is the candidate humble or proud? How self-aware are they?

When we recruit, we recruit against values and skills. But values trump skills every time. This is because you can teach skills, but you cannot teach values. And hubris is not something you want in your organisation.

In my experience, the most confident people are often those who are the most secure. Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength.

Question Two: What is your single greatest achievement, the one that you are proudest of?

How someone answers this question reveals a lot about them. 

If they want to give multiple examples, then they have not listened properly to the question. So, probe their ability to listen.

Their answer also reveals what really inspires them about their work. Is it growing the top line/market share; the bottom line/margin; developing people; handling complex multi stakeholder projects etc.?

If the example they give is in the distant past, then it begs the question what they have achieved more recently.

A simple question that can take you in all sorts of directions.

Question Three: If you were one of our products which would it be?

A famous sport brand once asked this question. The winning answer – “The backpack, because it is tough on the outside and comfortable but when you open it there are all sorts of useful pockets and strengths that you did not expect.”

Now that is a good answer! My suggestion, if you get an answer like that, just hire them.

Question Four: If I were able to ask your wife/husband/partner/friends about you, how would they describe you?

Because the candidate only has a few seconds to adapt to the twist in the question, one often gets the truth – after they have said “hard-working” of course. Granted, the answer might not be directly connected to their performance at work, but it will give an insight into their character.

And when it comes to recruiting people for your organisation, isn’t so much of it about character?

Question Five: Tell me about your biggest mistake?

I love this question, for so many reasons. Successful people know that failure and success are bedfellows. Without failing there is no learning, no growing, and often no success.

But it goes deeper than that. Sometimes people see failure as weakness. In the US it is often considered a badge of honour, or a rite of passage. I like that. We should embrace our failures. There are too many people who have lived unfulfilled lives because they have played it safe, they have not taken risks, not put themselves in uncomfortable situations … and yet this is where the personal growth happens which makes you a better employee and person.

I have had many candidates refuse to give me an honest answer. They immediately go into my ‘No’ bucket.

The best answer I ever heard to this question? The CEO of a global organisation told me he asked this question to a candidate who answered, “Where do I begin?”. Of course, this chap got the job.

Question Six: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I often save this question until after the formal bit of the interview has concluded and the candidate thinks the interview has finished. Such an innocuous question but my, what a treasure trove of insight into the person!

I have had people say things like … “I love to study business books” or “I just like to keep on working”. Of course, I am trying to understand what matters most to the person, what really
matters. This will tell me so much about them. Answers that ring my bell? … “Spending quality time with my partner and children/my voluntary work at such and such/my faith community etc.”

I am inclined to favour candidates who have a meaningful hinterland.

There are hundreds of questions out there; we would love to hear your favourites!

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