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Interviewing new employees is part of any thriving business. Finding the right questions sounds easy, because questions are a basic building block of conversation and most of us talk all day! But ask a few wrong questions during an interview and you could cost your business thousands of dollars.
Keep reading to learn how to ask the best interview questions and hire the right person for your business.
When preparing for an interview, there are many details to think about. Reviewing resumes and cover letters, filling busy calendars, and finding the right interviewer are all time-consuming. Fitting interviews alongside hundreds of other tasks leads many of us to put off preparing the best interview questions.
No one wants to reinvent the wheel, and there are endless lists of questions to borrow from online. But will those lists produce the best results?
Why the Best Interview Questions Are So Important
Asking the wrong questions can lead employers to dismiss a great candidate or hire a wrong fit. Both decisions waste an exceptional amount of money and time.
Personality matters, and 91% of managers in the US say the most important trait in a new hire is cultural fit. A prospective employee’s motivations and characteristics are just as important as their hard skills. And soft skills aren’t only important because of the personality and team-building skills that the right hire can bring to your business. It’s what the wrong hire can cost you in wasted time, management hassles, and misused resources.
Recruiting and hiring are the top concerns for businesses. In an active job market, competition is fierce between businesses looking to hire the right candidate for demanding roles. A great interview acts as more than a filter for unqualified candidates. It is a crucial opportunity to connect and engage with the next person who could change your team and help grow the business.
Quick Tips To Improve Your Interview Questions
Writing the best interview questions is about focus. When our team is interviewing, we’re balancing a range of demands on our time and attention. If we don’t take the time to focus and prepare before an interview we end up relying on standard interview questions like “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” that don’t give us the information we need. You want to write questions that help your team make an informed decision about a new hire.
As you begin drafting questions ask yourself:
- Do you want to ask questions specific to the role right away or are you looking for a cultural fit first?
- Does the format of the interview–phone, video chat, in-person–affect the questions you want to ask?
- What inspired you to add this role to your organization?
Often an interview can be a performance, and nerves can lead candidates to overstate their best and worst qualities. A great interview question will help to figure out what a potential employee is like in the office on a normal day.
These are a few quick tips we use to ensure that we’re asking the right questions during an interview.
Use the job description as a starting point
Do you want to ask questions specific to a candidate? You can build questions from a prospective employee’s resume. Another option is to prepare the same questions for every candidate applying for a specific role. Some businesses find it helpful to develop a list of questions that highlight specific skill sets and qualities, often in line with the business vision or mission statement. Zoho Recruit also offers some helpful webinars on how to simplify and automate your hiring process.
If you haven’t already included ideal traits in your internal job listing, jot down the qualities that have made employees in the role successful or a challenge in the past. Use these traits to guide some of your interview questions.
For example, an employee might be highly motivated and hardworking in a sales role, but if they aren’t also punctual the business will get customer complaints. In this situation, you’ll want to include questions about deadlines and tight timelines.
Next, think about what made employees successful in the role you are hiring for in the past. Do they excel at conflict resolution? Were they skilled in the role but new to the industry when they started at your org? Is this is a new role? If so, think about why you created the role and use that insight to guide your questions.
Start with open-ended questions, then narrow the focus
The most effective interview questions are specific to your organization, the role, and the candidate you’re speaking to. If you’re crunched for time, one way to simplify your question writing is to start with common behavioral, strategic, and tactical questions. Then edit these questions to align with your organization.
Say you’re a growth-driven software startup looking for a social media director. Instead of asking the standard “How would you describe your working style?” try asking “What strategies do you use to balance the fast pace of a startup with the high level of detail in social media?”
This will help your team get a picture of what the candidate knows about your business and the role. It will also help applicants get a better idea of what information is most important to your team. Remember, your revised questions should still be open-ended and begin a dialogue with the prospect.
Structure questions in small phrases and organized groups
When candidates are nervous they can sometimes answer a question with less detail, or they might forget to use specific examples. It’s a good idea to start with a question, then create follow-up questions you can ask if the answer to the first question isn’t enough.
For example, say the interview question is “Tell me about a time you made an educated guess to solve a problem.” After they answer, follow up with questions like:
- How did you handle the situation?
- What was the outcome?
- Would you have handled the situation in a different way if it came up again?
Use these questions to fill in any blanks an interviewee leaves in their responses. These extra questions can help your team gather all the information around that situation.
Also, try not to throw different types of interview questions together. For example, don’t ask a few technical questions in a row, then jump to a cultural or behavioral question, then back to technical know-how. These shifts can feel abrupt. They can also lead to more canned responses. Instead, group your technical questions together, then move to other question types, one category or group at a time.
Go beyond standard questions
Go beyond questions that interviewees can rehearse for. Consider adding several behavioral or scenario-based questions. Prospective candidates should be able to form a response in real-time. Interview questions should clarify which candidate is the best fit for the role, not just disqualify applicants that aren’t a fit.
You’ll also want to include some questions that ask candidates to pinpoint challenges and failures, and how they resolved those issues. These questions not only provide insight into a candidate’s ability to assess and solve problems, but they also give you a sense of their growth mindset.
Long-Term Strategies for Asking the Right Interview Questions
In the last few years, we’ve made some high-impact hires that highlighted bigger changes we wanted to build into our hiring process. The best interview questions are more than what we ask during an interview. They consider timing, who is asking the questions, and how those conversation starters create an experience for each applicant.
A great interview question can help prospective employees understand our culture, business cadence, and work philosophy. These details can get them more excited about the work we do and the open position. It also ensures that we hire the right person for the job every time.
These tactics take a little more time and effort, but they’re worth it in the long run.
Build your interview team
Hiring is often based on a gut feeling, so the people you select to conduct interviews should be carefully trained and aware of the responsibility. Just about anything from appearance to the school an applicant attended can create subconscious bias. Help your interviewers with tools like Workable’s Assessments to choose questions that challenge any possible bias. This way your team will always ask the most helpful interview questions for the role.
Be creative with your questions and find ways to challenge your prospective candidates. At the same time, think about how people from different backgrounds and experiences might react to your questions. A simple way to avoid potentially controversial questions that could put your business at risk is to test interview questions with your team. The goal is to ask questions that are interesting, useful, and inventive while still being considerate and appropriate.
Interviewers should also be mindful of how they feel during an interview. Create cues that help them see whether they are responding out of habit or emotion instead of gathering useful information.
Choose interviewers who can ask questions that can improvise and go beyond the stock list of questions. When determining whether a potential employee is a right fit for the business, it is important to dig beyond the first response. This will get you the information that you’re looking for.
Hire for future potential
How does your ideal candidate fit into your long-term plans for the business? Instead of asking candidates where they see themselves in five years, ask questions about their interests and career goals. You want to learn how they see themselves within your industry and the larger business community.
Ask interview questions that help you understand how a candidate will engage with the whole organization. Often the best candidates for growth are those that take an interest in the overall success of the business.
Make sure to ask at least one question that gives the interviewee a chance to offer their opinion. You may want to ask how they feel about your industry as a whole or how their thoughts on how recent news could impact your business. These questions will give your team a sense of how engaged the candidate is in your community. It can also help you understand their problem-solving interests and abilities.
Develop a feedback process
How do you record interview responses and get feedback from your team after an interview? It is important to build a process to assess and continually improve your interview questions.
For example, we recently went through the process of hiring a new manager. During the interview, we found that three questions in our process prompted similar examples of their event experience. We changed the wording on two of those questions for the second interview. This gave us more information on the specifics of their event management experience. With these revised questions, we were able to determine that we had the right candidate for the job.
Interview questions are also an opportunity to track trends in employee expectations. Ask questions about:
- How candidates wish to receive feedback and recognition
- What opportunities for advancement they’re looking for
- Work-life balance
These can help your team figure out how to continue to engage new and current employees. They are also a great way to get a sense of long-term fit and how your business might shift to stay current.
You may also want to repeat questions with different team members. Keep detailed notes to measure how the responses may change between different interviewers.
The best interview questions can help you build the best possible team for the business. This guide may lead you to take a closer look at your full hiring and onboarding processes. This review of the best onboarding software is a great place to start.
If your business doesn’t already have a clear outline of your culture, start the process soon. It’s an essential long-term step to building a strong hiring process.
Don’t forget to continue the conversation after the interview. A great start can quickly unravel if the conversation your team begins during the interview process grinds to a halt after hiring. Find ways to creatively connect during the first three months of every new employee’s tenure and use team management software to make sure communication stays strong.