The best job applicants have qualifications that are more than skills-deep, but it isn’t always easy uncovering them. As hiring managers identify their top candidates, the challenge becomes finding out the less-obvious qualities that may put one ahead.
Here at Kabbage, we’ve created a series of questions that we save for our final panel interview, which are designed to help us understand how job candidates think about themselves, others, and the toughest types of problems they’re likely to face on the inside. Here are five of them.
This question can tell you a lot about a candidate’s self-awareness, and it’s useful for any company that really prizes transparency. By asking this, we’re looking for candidates who not only understand what their true negatives are, but also those that are willing to admit them.
So there are actually a number of unacceptable answers here. We don’t allow answers like, “I’m a perfectionist” or “workaholic” or other positives-disguised-as-negatives. In fact, when we get answers like that, we actually buzz candidates using actual (harmless) buzzers! Then we ask them to try again. If they have trouble coming up with three personal drawbacks on their own, there have even been occasions where we’ve had candidates “phone a friend.”
We might ask, for instance, “What’s three-quarters plus one-half?”
This simple arithmetic question elicits some of the best responses. The point is to determine how a candidate handles being put on the spot unexpectedly. This isn’t really about math skills, of course–we’re fine with them grabbing their phone to use the calculator or just Googling the answer.
But if the typical workday at your company is pretty unpredictable, it’s worth finding out how a prospective hire deals with curveballs. Do they panic? Blurt out a lot of wrong answers? Do they freeze and get stuck? Do they give up? You want to hire someone who’s resourceful, capable of thinking outside of the box, and quick on their feet.
It’s sometimes worth seeing how candidates believe they stack up once you define “10” as the absolute best in the world at their current role, and then finding out what they think separates them from it.
Like the first question, this also helps suss out a candidate’s self-awareness, but it also leads to discussions about growth and ambition. Promising hires may not rate themselves as 10s across the board–there’s nothing wrong with humble confidence–but that’s not the point: You want to know why and what they’re doing to get there.
We want employees who care deeply about their work, its impact, and other people, so this is one way to see how they relate to others. The only answer that’s off limits is “interesting,” because it really doesn’t say anything. At worst, “interesting” may be a codeword for something negative in disguise, and at best, it’s just too vague a way to characterize other people.
This, too, ties into caring deeply. If a candidate answers this question quickly and can easily handle several follow-ups about that working relationship, it’s probably a safe bet that they’re good at building and maintaining them. This question can also help you understand whether they’ll be committed to your community.
You want to hire people who can take ownership–not only of the products you create and offer, but also the environment and culture in which they work. And that’s all about genuine, interpersonal connections around the office. If a job candidate has trouble talking specifically about those, it may be a red flag.
You may meet with plenty of candidates in the earlier rounds of your hiring process who’ve got the skills and qualifications you’re looking for, but only a few will be the right fit in the end. So as you narrow down the top contenders throughout the interview process, zero in on your company’s values and focus on finding the personality types who seem most likely to share and thrive under them. To do that, it’s sometimes the curveball questions that work the best.
Amy Zimmerman is head of global people operations, and Jen Richard is the head of learning and development, both at Kabbage, an Atlanta, Georgia–based financial services data and technology platform.