What Are Your Favorite Interview Questions?

I have an article coming out soon in the next Prag Magazine about some questions to never ask in an interview. I thought I'd let you know so you could warm up your fingers to quick click on the magazine. And, then I saw this article, 14 Revealing Interview Questions.

Some of the questions are good. Some? Not so much. I like this one because it asks a behavior-description question that will provide you information about performance and cultural fit:

6. Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.

I like this part of this one. In the article, it has a whole preamble I would not use. Again, this tells you a lot about the culture of the interviewer because it asks about better, faster, smarter, etc.:

Tell me about a recent project or problem that you made better, faster, smarter, more efficient, or less expensive.

I might use this one on a second-round interview, after a candidate knows something about the job. Or, with a manager candidate, after I've explained the position. Otherwise, how the heck would a candidate know?:

11. Discuss a specific accomplishment you've achieved in a previous position that indicates you will thrive in this position.

I like this one. This questions asks about adaptability and how people recover from setbacks. Have you ever had a setback at work or in a project? I have! I have had many Murphy Law projects… I've been turned down for promotions. But that didn't mean I didn't ask for them. This is a great question for that time in your career:

14. Tell us about a time when things didn't go the way you wanted– like a promotion you wanted and didn't get, or a project that didn't turn out how you had hoped.

As for the other questions? I would never ask about a superpower or a spirit animal. Come on. I'm supposed to keep a straight face and answer that question? Okay, you folks know me, and if I burst out laughing at that question, you know that I would not be a good cultural fit for that organization!

The problem with many of the other questions is that they are irrelevant, or they don't provide enough information about how the candidate will perform in your context. Sure, some of the questions try to get at that information. The ones that try to predict the future? They are trying to elicit that information. But they are hypothetical questions, not based on performance.

When you interview people, you want to understand their actual performance, not their supposed capabilities. That's the value of the interview. Don't waste the interview on hypotheticals and predictions, not when you can learn about actuals.

Do you have favorite interview questions? Want me to comment on them? Add them in the comments and I will comment on them. If you like, I will suggest improvements.

Some people use favorite interview questions that are irrelevant because they hate hiring. If you want to enjoy hiring and interviewing, buy my book, Hiring Geeks That Fit.

8 Replies to “What Are Your Favorite Interview Questions?”

  1. One of my favs is ‘what is the last book you read (or have in progress) and what did you take away from it? I often learn some people haven’t read a book since college or they reveal a passion that may or may not be directly tied to their work. FWIW – this is one of my ‘out’ questions. If you haven’t read a book since college – I’m out.

    1. Linda, I like this question, too. Most of my clients (and I) work in cultures that value ongoing learning, or a passion for self-improvement.

      For me, it doesn’t have to be a technical book. It can be a biography, a romance, a sci-fi, or a mystery novel! “What did you take away from it” is a great question.

  2. I like to ask at the end of an interview, “is there anything else that you would like to bring to my attention”. I find that mediocre people simply say no. Trained interviewees, compliment me and tell me I did a good job reviewing their skills and experience. Every now and then someone adds something interesting and it shows that the person has really understood the position and have related it to their background.

    1. Heather, that’s a great meta-question. I like that one, too. I use it on phone-screens a lot. And, some people don’t know that they should ask a question!

      People, if you are looking for a job, listen to Heather. And, read this: https://www.jrothman.com/blog/htp/2012/07/ask-questions-of-the-hiring-manager-and-the-interview-team.html.

      I recently wrote a series for job seekers, https://www.jrothman.com/blog/htp/2013/02/decoding-culture.html about how to ask cultural fit questions, too. Great catch, Heather!

  3. My phone screen question that knocks out the most candidates is: Tell me about a difficult problem you have debugged.

    1. Alan, what’s nice about this question is that it’s not specifically about code. You’re just asking about problems. Hehehehe. I love it. (Pardon my cackle.)

  4. I always ask Linda Cook’s question.

    My favorite question (asked near the end of the interview process) is “Based on what you’ve learned here today, what books and websites would you recommend for us to read?”

    1. Earl, oh, that is such a great end-of-the-interview question. Nice! You get to see what the candidate has learned about your culture and the job. Neat.

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