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4 questions that employers should ask every job candidate

A CEO and head of HR share what they ask job candidates in interviews in order to gauge their focus and hesitations early on.

4 questions that employers should ask every job candidate
[Photo: Flickr user WOCinTech Chat]

When it comes to recruitment, good hiring managers look beyond credentials and the idea of finding someone they’d want to “grab a couple of beers with.” That kind of approach is rife with unconscious bias and isn’t always an accurate prediction of how good they’ll be as an employee.

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Good interviews examine candidates holistically. Among other things, this means asking questions that gauge their level of emotional intelligence, how they go about problem solving, and their motivation and driving force at work.

We like to ask the following questions when we’re interviewing applicants. They tell us a lot about the individual, in just a few words.

“Do you have any questions for us?”

If you’ve been in a job interview, you’re probably familiar with this question. Hiring managers tend to ask this question at the end.

However, we like to ask this question both at the beginning and at the end. When we ask this at the beginning, we want to know whether you’ve spent time researching our firm and your prospective role. A question like, “What benefits do you see in your day-to-day to your firm being 100% employee-owned?” for example, demonstrates your willingness to really understand us.

When we ask this question at the end of our conversation, we want to find out how you perceive the company as you learn more about us and the role. It’s helpful for us to understand what type of hesitation you might have about the company, and address it early on.

The questions you ask can also demonstrate your experience in the field. The more open-ended and higher-level they are, the more we’ll be able to see your operating style. Are you a quarterback, a wide receiver, or a cheerleader? Are you interested in our autonomous teams and how they operate, or are you more curious about the specific type of software you’d use in a project?

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Remember, there are no stupid questions. The only way you can screw this up is by not having any questions at all.

“Say we hire you, but six months down the line you decide to resign. What has happened?”

This one’s harsh, we know. But is there any better way to gauge your hesitations about our firm and address them right then and there? This question says a lot about how accommodating the employer will be. We use it as a way to flag any possible long-term problems, and we want to identify how we might overcome those roadblocks together. In addition, this question can also help us train and onboard you in an effective way.

“What would your dream project at our company be, and what would you need to make it happen?”

Yes, we’re interested in your passion, but we also want to know what you focus on at work. Can you get stuff on your own? Do you need guidance? Are you able to ask for help? Do you delegate non-important tasks, or get bogged down by the minutiae? Are you thinking big or small? Where do you see yourself in a hierarchy?

There are no right answers here: It all depends on the type of person we’re looking for. If we’re looking for a project manager, for example, we want someone who can think about the big picture, and delegate the appropriate work to the appropriate team member. If we’re looking for a customer service representative, we want someone who knows how to stay calm under pressure.

“When was the last time you said you were sorry?”

This question is my absolute favorite. We all make mistakes at work, but unconditionally, human employers understand that screwing up is part of life. What matters is how we bounce back from setbacks, and how we take others around us into consideration.

Whether it’s yelling at your fiancé the previous evening because they didn’t make a restaurant reservation, or pulling a teammate aside to apologize for an off-handed comment, how you deal with your mistakes is an indication of your willingness to reflect and grow. Just don’t tell us that you’ve never been sorry.

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We’ve learned that in order for an interview to be effective, you need to have a two-sided conversation rather than an interrogation. These days, people no longer see work as a place to clock in and clock out–so it’s only in everyone’s best interests to ensure that what we offer as a company is consistent with the employee’s priorities and goals. At the end of the day, that’s the key to a productive and happy workplace.


Eetu Blomqvist is the North America CEO of Reaktor. Nikke Ruokolainen is Reaktor’s head of talent and human resources. 

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