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The most underrated interview questions – why you should ask them, and how it helps you find the best talent

Kate Allen, Executive Chair and Marketing Director, Allen Associates

Beyond putting a face to a name, interviews enable Employers to get a snapshot of their prospective Employees. Of course, it’s hard to get a clear picture with your finger over the lens.

Getting to the heart of what inspires your Candidate will help you to determine whether or not they are right for the role. But remember - the quality of your questions will determine the quality of your answers.

In a bid to throw Candidates off track and away from a rehearsed script, some Employers opt for the quirky approach, throwing in hypothetical questions about desert islands and dinner guests. Others believe IQ tests and logic puzzles are the most efficient way to separate the star-players from the second-rate Candidates in their search for talent.

If only they included these interview questions, Employers could quickly narrow down their search to only the most competent, determined and driven of the applicants:

1. What brings you here today?

Straightforward on the surface, this question can often cause Candidates to open up at an early stage in the interview. The answer you’re looking for is of course an honest response as to why the Candidate pursued the application, but the wording can often encourage an individual to reveal issues with their current Employer.

Most importantly, the way they choose to answer the question often acts a signpost to their career aspirations and attitude in the workplace. Due to the generic nature of this line, a Candidate must decide on the spot whether to go at it from a negative angle, or a positive.

Don’t be too quick to judge on this question alone – just bear in mind that the more they focus on their current frustrations, the more likely they are to be running away rather than confidently striding up the career ladder to a company they admire.

2. How lucky are you?

Zappos have long been known for their ‘weird and wacky’ brand identity: this “outside-of-the-box” thinking is what has seen the company succeed in developing a strong culture. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that CEO Tony Hsieh has a strategic set of interview questions designed to identify Candidates who reflect the company’s core values.

The first of these asks the Candidate to mark themselves on a scale of one to 10 on “weirdness.” According to Hsieh, the scoring doesn’t necessarily matter: it’s how they arrive at the conclusion that determines their suitability for the role – although he does make it clear that those who are quick to say ‘10’ may be “too psychotic” for their business.

Similarly, Hsieh likes to ask job applicants how lucky they believe themselves to be – once again on the same scale. If a Candidate gives a low score, it is indicative of their belief that bad things happen for no reason other than bad luck. In Hsieh’s view, this makes them more likely to shift blame and shy away from accountability.

If they score themselves a 10 – highly lucky – they likely don’t understand why they are succeeding and potentially lack self-confidence. Questions like these can seem quirky at first, but the answers can unlock a side of the Candidate’s personality without them even knowing. Unfair? Maybe. Effective? Definitely.

3. How do you switch off?

Passion is critical and positive energy is undeniably pivotal in performing to the best of your ability – but it’s hard when you’re operating at 50%. If your prospective Employee is committed to achieving his or her objectives in the role, they will recognise the importance of unplugging themselves from work-related stress. With this in mind, a self-confessed work-aholic is probably already hurtling down the path towards professional burnout.

On the other hand, feel free to stop your Candidate if they’re still recounting their favourite episodes of Friends ten minutes after you’ve posed the question: this isn’t an invitation to compare evening plans, it’s just a quick check to ensure they have the right frame of mind to do their best.

4. Which of the job responsibilities excites you the most?

Unlike the others, this question has no hidden meaning: it simply seeks to understand the elements of the role the Candidate will find challenging and those they will take to with ease.

For example, if you’re hiring a Candidate for a marketing role, they may list the creative aspects as the most exciting and admit their slight distaste for the reporting side of the role. If it’s a creative professional you seek, this is to be expected. However, if the role is more of a strategic position and your Candidate is drawn to the smaller, more routine tasks of the job, it may be a sign that they aren’t best-suited for the position.

While you may tell your Candidate there are no right and wrong answers to the questions you put to them in an interview, the responses they give can determine whether or not they are right for the role. This isn’t about setting traps, it’s about stripping back the scripted answers to assess the attitude and ability of your prospective Employee.

Over the last 20 years, we have grown as a business to become one of the leading independent Recruitment agencies in Oxfordshire, and in 2018 have opened our first London office, to service Clients in the capital.    

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