Most of us prepare for an interview by polishing up our resumes and practicing answers to questions like, "Why should we hire you?" or "What are your weaknesses?"
But your time might be better spent in deeper reflection, because seasoned human resource professionals have discovered they cull better information by asking questions that reveal a candidate’s character through more subtle means.
"My goal as an interviewer is not to trick the interviewee or be overly clever in my approach; I simply want a transparent conversation that reveals the best of what they bring to the table and the potential pitfalls or liabilities they have," says Liz Brashears, director of human capital at TriNet, a San Leandro, California-based human resource service provider for businesses.
So Brashears gets to the point. One of her favorites questions is, "Can you tell me about a time when you were able to build a successful relationship with a difficult person?’’ she says. "This tells me what kind of individual they have thought to be difficult to work with in the past and shows me how they overcome the people challenges around them."
The goal of any interview is to establish enough rapport with a candidate that their authentic self shows up and shines or reveals that they’re a better fit for someone else’s organization, says Brashears. We asked eight more human resource professionals to share their favorite questions and the insight it provides about a potential candidate:
1. "What's one thing about you as a leader that if you changed today, would make you a better leader tomorrow?"
—Mark Ehrnstein, global vice president of team member services for Whole Foods Market
"I ask this question primarily to gauge a candidate's ability to accurately self-assess, which is a marker of emotional intelligence," says Ehrnstein. "The content of the answer is important in that it should reflect a genuine area of opportunity, not ‘I care too much,’ or ‘I’m a workaholic.’ A great answer to this question also suggests some leadership maturity and humility."
—Karen Miller, senior vice president of people for the online food delivery service GrubHub Inc.
"We're looking for the extent to which people are capable of having opinions grounded in data and are passionate and effective enough to persuade and influence others," says Miller. "We value attributes like innovation, accountability and passion, and we focus on attracting and recruiting individuals who share these values."
—Brigette McInnis Day, executive vice president of human resources for software solution provider SAP
"This question allows me to see how self-aware or self-reflective the candidate is," says Day. "To me, the interview is more about potential as opposed to what experience you have on your resume. I am more concerned with whom the person is and how they could potentially develop into a future leader at our company."
—Tim Cyrol, human resources coach for Universal Studios Hollywood theme park
"I like to ask this question as a way to see how creative a candidate could be on a moment’s notice," says Cyrol. "Most people respond with the expected: pay off debt, go on a vacation, or give to charity. However, one candidate answered with using the money to help fund a food truck business. He explained that he would then film his adventures of cooking as he took a cross-country road trip. This was his way of getting the best of both of his passions: reality television and cooking."
—Patty Pogemiller, talent acquisition and mobility leader for the financial consultant Deloitte Services
The answer gives an indication of a candidate’s internal motivation and sources of pride, says Pogemiller. "An interviewee once answered the question with ‘volunteer work for a charitable organization,’" she says. "They went on to explain how they lost a parent to a disease and decided to raise money for a related charity by organizing a series of fitness challenges. The candidate raised $50,000 over two years through the events, enabling them to honor their parent, raise awareness, promote fitness, and make an impact on society."
6. "If your best friend was sitting here, what would they say is the best part about being your friend?"
—Glenn Bernstein, chief operating officer of the Execu|Search Group temporary staffing division
"Something about [this question] brings out a sense of honesty and candor in a candidate," says Bernstein. "It helps me get to know them better as a person, rather than an applicant, so I can get a better feel for whether or not they would fit in with our company culture."
—Lisa Fabiano, executive vice president and chief talent officer at the advertising agency Grey NY
"When asking a candidate about their personal heroic failure, we're looking for people who take risks and are not afraid to try and fail," says Fabiano. "If a candidate can demonstrate a professional heroic failure, their story tells us that they are a force, a thinker, and an innovator whose energy inspires those around them and fuels growth."
—Ragini Parmar, human resources director for credit score provider Credit Karma
"This helps me see how a candidate thinks on the spot," says Parmar. "It’s not a question they can answer by pulling from past experience."