smart answers to stupid interview questions

Smarter-Than-the-Usual-Stupid-Interview Questions for Managers to Ask Job Candidates

In this story I gave job-seekers alternative answers to the usual boring, uncreative job-interview questions. Here are ten questions interviewers can ask job-seekers if they want to avoid the awful, traditional job-interview questions like “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “What’s your greatest weakness?”

The best interview questions, of course, are organic ones that spring from a standard conversational opening like “So, what can I tell you about the job as we get started? What would you like to know?” The best job interview is always an unscripted one, and you’re going to learn a lot more about a candidate by letting him or her ask you questions than you will by asking questions of your own.

Still, even if you turn the tables in the way we teach at Human Workplace, and encourage the job-seeker to ask you questions for as long as s/he wants to, you’re eventually going to have to ask a few questions of your own.

Don’t treat the job interview like an oral exam. The more free-flowing the conversation can be, the better! You’re looking for neural activity on the part of the candidate, not canned answers. Of course, your brain has to be moving, too!

Here are ten thoughtful questions you can ask applicants the next time you have a job opening to fill.

  1. What’s the project or accomplishment in your working life so far that best illustrates how you operate? I’d love to hear that story.
  2. If we end up working together and I’m your manager, tell me how I can support you best. How do you like to communicate, to check in on projects, to give and get feedback, and anything else you care about from a managerial or coaching standpoint?
  3. You’ve looked at our website and researched our company somewhat, I’m sure. What would you say we’re doing right, and what are we doing wrong or could be doing better?
  4. How does this job, as you understand it, advance your career? Feel free to ask me questions about the role and the organization before you answer my question.
  5. Here’s a situation that comes up all the time around here. (Explain.) What’s your take?
  6. You’ve heard a little about this job now. What sound to you like the biggest challenges or steepest learning curves to climb?
  7. Having heard about the role and our team, what do you think would be your first project to take on or obstacle to knock down in this job?
  8. Tell me about the best manager you’ve had so far, and why it was such a good fit.
  9. What else can I tell you about this job?
  10. If we were to work together, what sort of compensation package would it take to get you on our team?

Got more good interview questions for managers to ask? Leave them in the comments below!

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34 replies
  1. Eric Roth
    Eric Roth says:

    Thank you for sharing those ten much smarter and more humane questions!

    And, building on your third question, I’d also be tempted to hear them analyze the advantages and disadvantages of working at our institution/company/non-profit to two or three competitors. This question could also be modified to focus on consumer products, etc.

    Perhaps because I teach at a university, I’m also quite curious about how students chose their majors and which courses (and why) they found most satisfying. I’ve also found, like in many more natural conversations, that sometimes the most revealing comments come from indirect observations. Therefore, I’d be tempted to add these two additional questions:

    1. You’ve earned an outstanding GPA at an elite university. Can you describe your most satisfying course and share what made that class so significant for you?

    2. You’ve had a wide range of collaborative experiences as a competitive student. Can you tell me describe a collaborative project that you found satisfying? What role did you play in contributing to that positive collaboration?

    Thanks, again, for sharing these tips.

    Reply
    • Kristine Gevorgyan
      Kristine Gevorgyan says:

      I must say I liked very much your two questions ! I am a student at this period and I would like to be asked those questions as I believe they reveal somehow each student’s ambitions, preferences, his/her knowledge background, if he/she is collaborative or not, active or passive, initiative, innovative and so on. Just two questions but so much information about someone !
      Thank you.

      Reply
  2. Mary Jane Wahl
    Mary Jane Wahl says:

    I’m preparing for a job interview this Thursday. I’ll use the questions above to prepare as well as to develop my questions for the interview. Great suggestions.

    Reply
  3. naima
    naima says:

    Thank you. I like these questions. They are more thought provoking and you get a better understanding of how the candidate feels about the position and the company.

    Reply
  4. Xenamarie Deering
    Xenamarie Deering says:

    These are great questions even though my company uses behavioral based interviews, I still like to ask different questions that might not apply to all potential employees based on experience or lack there of.

    Reply
  5. Wilbur Pereira
    Wilbur Pereira says:

    1,5, and 9 have been my favorite questions. It feels good to ask such questions and also helps the other person feel comfortable. Hope more people start asking these humane/sensible/smart questions. Thanks for sharing these questions.

    Reply
  6. Lou
    Lou says:

    Liz – What an excellent, refreshing way to get to know candidates. This approach also takes the pressure off of having to drill applicants with the same, rote questions time and time again. Moving the interview into a conversational format, in my mind, will eventually evoke the “true” individual – and that’s what we want in the end.

    Thanks for the post – very helpful.

    Reply
  7. Dawn Hinze
    Dawn Hinze says:

    What a refreshing perspective. As someone who not only conduct interviews but has been interviewed a few times over the last several years it is high time we revisited this stale convention. I can anticipate the top 8 – 10 questions on each interview and wonder if the interviewees feel there are any fresh responses left!

    Thank you for sharing this. I will definitely use this and see what I uncover.

    Reply
  8. Kasthuri Kothand
    Kasthuri Kothand says:

    I technically interview a lot of candidates.
    First of all, I read their resume in full and note down their resume claims.
    Then, I prepare a problem to solve based on those claims.
    Example :- He claimed to be, An Informatica near guru, 12 years experience graduating from 6.1 Ver to 9.6 Ver.
    So, the problem was so framed that he build a Workflow of Informatica Components in a specific order
    He solves it along with me in a Video conference, where his table should be empty & he alone is in the
    room in front of me with only a notepad and pen. He then puts the WF roughly on his notepad for the 9.6
    ver. Then I ask him to do the same for 8.1 ver & again for 6.1 ver.

    Once he is done with all that, then I question his claims w.r.t. the results of the above
    and then further on his expectations about the Co., His future Manager, Compensation etc.

    This way, he is practically tested of his technicalities including his thinking on his feet capabilities etc.

    How doyou like that ?

    Reply
  9. Srinivas A
    Srinivas A says:

    Very thought provoking questions Liz. A resume gives all the technical information and asking these questions will help the interviewer understand the candidate’s thought process.

    Reply
  10. Douglas
    Douglas says:

    Interviews are getting more and more challenging and could vary with the times or the domain. Pertinent questions at a BPO or Call centre will not fit the other work domains . I should say that there is always a view to eliminate a candidate rather to select him or her.So candidates should be wary of this aspect of the interview

    Reply
  11. Chris Garconnet
    Chris Garconnet says:

    Hello,

    Great questions here.
    As our company want also to see if we have entrepreneurship mindset, I used to ask the questions: if you would have to create your own business (not in your current main expertise), what that business would do? What would be your role? What would be your daily activities?

    Chris

    Reply
  12. Nagaraj
    Nagaraj says:

    1. Tell me some interesting facts about you so as I will know more about you than your CV explains or you describe.

    2. What makes you to think that our company or this job can give a better career than the current one you hold ( except the compensations).

    Reply
  13. Darren
    Darren says:

    Really like your questions, so much so that at the next interview I’m going to prepare by answers to these questions. When it comes to the next interview, at the part where they say, ‘do you have any questions’, I’m going to reply with … ‘I’d like to answer some questions that you [inevitably] didn’t ask me’, then go through all of the questions and my answers.

    Reply
    • Lisa Jensen
      Lisa Jensen says:

      Darren,
      As an executive recruiter, I would probably caution you against the strategy you mentioned above (telling the interviewer that you are going to answer questions they DIDN’T ask). Certain individuals can have a negative reaction to this, thinking you are arrogant or too assumptive in speculating what the interviewer needs. However, they are excellent questions upon which to build your sales pitch which is really all an interview is. Write out your answers to the questions, then use the content to creatively answer their questions and follow up with a brief closing elevator pitch (emphasis on BRIEF!) Your answers to these questions can be wonderful tools to help articulate what differentiates you from other candidates. Just look at it as a creative exercise to help you better craft your value proposition! The more talented you can become at weaving the answers to these questions into whatever questions you are asked, the more job offers will come your way! Good luck!!

      Reply
  14. Hariharan
    Hariharan says:

    All the question were thoughtful and it will be very useful questions for interviewers to hire a experienced candidates.

    Remember always interviewing and evaluating a fresher is bit difficult .There are too many fields and industries but picking a fresher and placing him in the right project is always big challenge for a HR.

    Reply
  15. Robin Smith
    Robin Smith says:

    What a breath of fresh air! People are too prepared for the “same old”, I want to know what isn’t in the resume. My interview is more like a visit at a coffee shop. You would be surprised what you get told once you get off the beaten track. My best employee ever, had the worst interview ever, . . . .until I changed to my current style. Once she no longer felt “judged” she opened up and I knew she was perfect.

    I also like to ask, “what attracted you to this field, what keeps you here, and what would get you to change to something else”.

    Reply
  16. Suzy Bloggs
    Suzy Bloggs says:

    Beats the kind of questions I was asked back when I was young and being interviewed, such as: Do you like to socialise with the people at work because we all like to drink on a Friday? Or …the worst… Please tell me you’re not planning on having a baby anytime soon

    Reply
  17. Suzy Bloggs
    Suzy Bloggs says:

    Beats the kind of questions I was asked back when I was young and being interviewed, such as: Do you like to socialise with the people at work because we all like to drink on a Friday? Or …the worst… Please tell me you’re not planning on having a baby anytime soon

    Reply
  18. Veronika B
    Veronika B says:

    The reason why most of the employers are using standard questions is that they would like to evaluate all the candidates in the same way. I don’t have a concern with this approach.

    The problem is coming from the fact that the questions are not flowing logically and the main important questions are not addressed fully most of the times such as:
    1. Would the candidates be able to look after the job based on their skill, experience and educational background?
    2. Would this position match the candidates’ career goals?
    3. Would the candidates fit the corporate culture?

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] you are an interviewer, I encourage you to read Human Workplace founder Liz Ryan’s take on real interview questions. You’ll be glad you […]

  2. […] they improve on mistakes they have made? What have they learned from successes? Questions like this will give you a much more honest look at their character this way, as well as uncovering insight […]

  3. […] As a manager, you don’t have to ask the standard, stupid job interview questions when you interview candidates. […]

  4. […] In this story I gave job-seekers alternative answers to the usual boring, uncreative job-interview questions. Here are ten questions interviewers can ask job-seekers if they want to avoid the awful, traditional job-interview questions like “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “What’s your greatest weakness?” The best interview questions, of course, are organic …  […]

  5. […] In this story I gave job-seekers alternative answers to the usual boring, uncreative job-interview questions. Here are ten questions interviewers can ask job-seekers if they want to avoid the awful, traditional job-interview questions like “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “What’s your greatest weakness?” The best interview questions, of course, are organic ones that spring from a standard conversational opening like “So, what can I tell you about the job as we get started? What would you like to know?” The best job interview is always an unscripted one, and you’re going to learn a lot more about a candidate by letting him or her ask you questions than you will by asking questions of your own.  […]

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