9 interview questions that could save you from hirer’s remorse


Sick of asking the same old interview questions over and over again? It’s time to shake things up. Try these questions to learn more about your candidate and conduct a more interesting interview.

Have you ever had a candidate who seemingly nailed the job interview, but three weeks into the job, you realise you’ve made a bad hire? I know you have, because anyone who’s worked in HR has experienced a terrible case of hirer’s remorse at some point. You ask yourself, ‘How did I miss this in the interview?’ 

Sometimes it doesn’t work out because they have fibbed about their capabilities, but there is a way you can avoid the costly, painful and time-consuming process of hiring the wrong person: ask better interview questions.

Candidates are sick of answering the question, ‘Tell us about your strengths and weaknesses’, just as much as you are asking it. So, why not shake things up in your next interview?

Here are nine of my go-to interview questions, why they work and what they reveal about a candidate.

1. What’s the toughest feedback you’ve ever received?

Instead of asking candidates to unpack a challenging situation they’ve come across in the past (which they probably have a pre-prepared answer for), ask this instead. It helps you to get a sense of their level of humility and emotional intelligence.

And, because they’re likely not expecting this question, you will get a good sense of their level of self-reflection. If they’re able to give you a solid response to this question, they’re likely to be someone who thinks deeply about the feedback they receive and puts it into action.

Beware of answers like “I’m told that I work too hard,” or “I’m a perfectionist.” These responses are false negatives in humblebrag territory. You want to see vulnerability in their response. The goal is to uncover how they handled tough feedback and to find out if they are humble enough to be honest with you about their growth areas. 

Follow up questions you could ask:

  • What changes did you make after hearing this feedback?
  • How do you usually like to receive feedback?
  • How do you think you responded to this feedback?
  • How have you proactively sought out feedback in the past? 

2. What’s the biggest win you’ve had in your career?

Yep, the old ‘what are your strengths’ question needs to go. Many candidates struggle to talk about their strengths and showcase what they are great at. That’s why I love asking this question. 

When people tell a story of their big career win, you get a solid example of their strengths in action. You learn about the type of work that lights them up  (i.e. project outcomes, challenging experiences, team collaboration, growth opportunities). This question also helps you to get a sense of role alignment. You can consider whether they will get the chance to do more work like this in your organisation.

It’s also rare for people to get the opportunity to talk about their wins, and it’s not something most people are very good at, so this tells the candidate that your company is one that values pride in one’s work and wants to celebrate it.

Follow up questions you could ask:

  • What were you most proud of with this win?
  • What did you do to achieve this goal (listen out for if they talk about their individual efforts or collaborative efforts. Neither one is bad, but it will give you a good idea of how well they play with others and if they can attribute success to the group rather than just themselves.)
  • How do you celebrate achievements at work? 

3. What behaviours annoy you on a team?

This might feel like a trick question to them, so remind them that it’s a safe space to talk candidly. You want to learn what they care about, and their frustrations at work reveal what matters to them. Do they find people with big egos hard to work with? Do they hate small talk? Do they hate when people get stuck on the details and can’t see the big picture? 

These are important insights to understand before you decide to hire them and can help you figure out which team to place them in.

And, let’s be honest, everyone has pet peeves about their colleagues. You can read my thoughts on addressing colleague’s annoying behaviours here.

Follow up questions you could ask:

  • What drains your energy at work
  • Tell me about a time you gave honest feedback to your colleagues about a challenge you had working with them?  
  • What are the non-negotiables for you on a team? 

4. What behaviour energises you on a team?

Don’t just focus on the negative stuff. It’s also important that you get a sense of the types of work, behaviours and processes that energise them. Do they like being informed of every detail? Do they value autonomy? Do they need clear and consistent direction? 

This is a great way to get a read on their self-awareness. Are they aware of the optimal environments for them to work in? Do they know the behaviours that bring out the best in them? It also helps you to see how their preferences align with your organisation’s culture and leadership. 

“The goal is to uncover how they handled tough feedback and to find out if they are humble enough to be honest with you about their growth areas.”

Another great way to identify their preferences is to ask them to fill out a personal operating manual (here’s one HRM has designed) to cater the work to the individual as much as possible. However, it’s best to do this after you’ve made the hire, so for the interview, just stick with the questions.

Follow up questions you could ask:

  • What team culture helps you do your best work?
  • What environment do you prefer to work in?
  • Tell me about a time you were in a state of flow at work? What were you working on? 

5. What do you want to learn here?

This question gives you insight into the candidate’s ambitions and desire to learn. You can also see how much they know about your company. For instance, do they understand your business model enough to be able to say something like, “I’m really interested in honing my writing skills in the interim, but I can see that you also offer a public relations arm to your services and that’s something that I’m interested in learning more about in the future.”

Asking this question also tells you if they have a growth mindset or not.

This is also a safe way to ask them about any skills gaps they foresee in the role they’re interviewing for and gives you the opportunity to talk about what development opportunities are available. This then gives the candidate more information about whether or not they think they’d be a good fit for the role.

Follow up questions you could ask:

  • What’s something you’ve recently learned and applied to your current job?
  • What’s your learning preference? (i.e. on-the-job or formal training)
  • What kind of learning do you engage with in a personal context?

6. Tell me about the best and worst bosses you’ve worked for.

I have to admit, this is one of my all time favourite questions. Not only will you learn the leadership style they value, but you’ll also uncover the expectations they have of their leader. If they tell you that their worst boss was someone who micromanaged them, then you know they’ll likely gel better with one of your more hands-off managers.

You want to know what makes them feel disempowered or disengaged: too little direction, a boss who wants to try and be their friend, someone who directs rather than coaches.

Candidates’ answers to these questions can also be used to do an internal audit of your current leadership team. How many of the candidate’s frustrations do you notice in the organisation? If there are a few then perhaps this is an opportunity for some internal coaching.

Follow up questions to ask:

  • How have you built a great working relationship with your manager? 
  • In the past, have you given honest feedback to your manager? (Why/why not?)
  • What do you expect from your leaders? 

7. When have you gone out of your way to help someone on your team without being asked?

If they have an answer that comes to mind quickly, you can assume they’re someone who is a team player. I like to refer to Liz Wiseman’s work on Impact Players to craft further questions around this topic, as insights in this area are a good indicator that someone will be able to contribute to the company’s overall mission rather than just do work that they think will get them their next pay rise or promotion.

Follow up questions to ask: 

  • When have you put your own goals on the back burner to help the team achieve their goals?
  • What does success look like to you?
  • Can you share an example of when you’ve taken a back seat to let someone else shine?

8. What are your three non-negotiables?

This simple question reveals a lot. It tells you what they’re motivated by (e.g. money versus flexibility), it shows you what they value from a cultural perspective (e.g. working with good people) and it allows you to make sure that you’re able to offer them an environment that they’ll thrive in. 

This information helps you to get a better read on whether they’ll make it past those first few weeks on the job. For example, if they tell you, “I need to work from home for the majority of my hours,” but your company requires people to be in the office on multiple days for team meetings, it may become a source of tension and not work out in the long run. 

There’s nothing wrong with admitting that your company might not always be aligned with a candidate’s expectations. In fact, it will save you money and time if you are transparent. For example, if your culture is fast-paced with a high volume of output, tell people this. Give them all the information they’ll need to make an informed decision, just as they’ve done for you by taking the job interview.

Follow up questions to ask:

  • How were your non-negotiables met in the past?
  • What have you done in the past when they haven’t been met?
  • How have your non-negotiables changed over time? 

9. Why us and why now?

I love to end all interviews with this question, because you give the candidate an opportunity to make a lasting impression by offering a thoughtful response. You want to see something beyond a generic response like ‘I want to work for a company with X, Y, Z values,’ and you want to make sure you’re not just hiring someone who wants a job for the sake of having a job – i.e., “I really hate my current job and need to line up something new before I quit” – as they’re unlikely to turn into loyal, long-term employees.

You also want to see a genuine interest in your business or industry. Look for hints that they’ve done their research – perhaps they know about recent awards your company has won, or they’ve read up on the founding CEO’s origin story. They don’t need to be experts, but you should get the sense that your company would be more than just a paycheck for them.

What are some of your favourite interview questions? Leave them in the comment section below.

Shelley Johnson is the founder of HR consultancy Boldside and host of the ‘My Millennial Career’ and ‘My Millennial Daily’ podcast.


Need help shaking up your job interview questions? AHRI’s short course on Effective Interviewing and Selection Skills offers some great tips to get you started.


 

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16 Comments
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Offering an alternative
Offering an alternative
9 months ago

You talk about “bad hires”, but perhaps we could also look at interviews as a bad hiring process that could be improved upon or replaced with more effective ways to measure suitability, capability and relevant job specific ability. Interviews certainly doesn’t establish someone’s capability to perform a job successfully. Good talkers will be able to tell the interviewer what they want to hear. It’s a sales pitch and whilst providing some insight into candidate preferences and ability to think on their feet, alternate ways of determining suitability are available, and are far more inclusive than an outdated interview.

Claire
Claire
9 months ago

“Can you share a mistake you have made in the past?” With follow up questions of “what did you do when you identified the error” and “what did you learn from this?” I’m looking for integrity, transparency, self reflection and accountability. Similar to question 4, I also like to ask about the best team they have ever worked in. What made it the best? This can help you see values alignment, the type of support they prefer and the role they likely play within the team. I also provide my preferred candidate with contact details of 2 of my team… Read more »

B B
B B
9 months ago

Can we look at what the workload looks like, culture and honest expectation of hours as part of the recruitment process.
No point selling the job as a 9-5 when in reality it is 7-3, 9-6 or even 7-6. While we all want team players or to be be team players, it is a waste of resources if the new recruit is part of a local sporting team which trains at 6pm every Tuesday night and only finds out after accepting the position that this won’t work.
These don’t make either side a bad person, it is just managing expectations.

Shannon
Shannon
9 months ago

Thought-provoking questions. Thank you.

Terry Cleal
Terry Cleal
9 months ago

Good questions that should be in every interviewers tool kit, in addition to other questions that gain insight into a candidates processes.

More on HRM

9 interview questions that could save you from hirer’s remorse


Sick of asking the same old interview questions over and over again? It’s time to shake things up. Try these questions to learn more about your candidate and conduct a more interesting interview.

Have you ever had a candidate who seemingly nailed the job interview, but three weeks into the job, you realise you’ve made a bad hire? I know you have, because anyone who’s worked in HR has experienced a terrible case of hirer’s remorse at some point. You ask yourself, ‘How did I miss this in the interview?’ 

Sometimes it doesn’t work out because they have fibbed about their capabilities, but there is a way you can avoid the costly, painful and time-consuming process of hiring the wrong person: ask better interview questions.

Candidates are sick of answering the question, ‘Tell us about your strengths and weaknesses’, just as much as you are asking it. So, why not shake things up in your next interview?

Here are nine of my go-to interview questions, why they work and what they reveal about a candidate.

1. What’s the toughest feedback you’ve ever received?

Instead of asking candidates to unpack a challenging situation they’ve come across in the past (which they probably have a pre-prepared answer for), ask this instead. It helps you to get a sense of their level of humility and emotional intelligence.

And, because they’re likely not expecting this question, you will get a good sense of their level of self-reflection. If they’re able to give you a solid response to this question, they’re likely to be someone who thinks deeply about the feedback they receive and puts it into action.

Beware of answers like “I’m told that I work too hard,” or “I’m a perfectionist.” These responses are false negatives in humblebrag territory. You want to see vulnerability in their response. The goal is to uncover how they handled tough feedback and to find out if they are humble enough to be honest with you about their growth areas. 

Follow up questions you could ask:

  • What changes did you make after hearing this feedback?
  • How do you usually like to receive feedback?
  • How do you think you responded to this feedback?
  • How have you proactively sought out feedback in the past? 

2. What’s the biggest win you’ve had in your career?

Yep, the old ‘what are your strengths’ question needs to go. Many candidates struggle to talk about their strengths and showcase what they are great at. That’s why I love asking this question. 

When people tell a story of their big career win, you get a solid example of their strengths in action. You learn about the type of work that lights them up  (i.e. project outcomes, challenging experiences, team collaboration, growth opportunities). This question also helps you to get a sense of role alignment. You can consider whether they will get the chance to do more work like this in your organisation.

It’s also rare for people to get the opportunity to talk about their wins, and it’s not something most people are very good at, so this tells the candidate that your company is one that values pride in one’s work and wants to celebrate it.

Follow up questions you could ask:

  • What were you most proud of with this win?
  • What did you do to achieve this goal (listen out for if they talk about their individual efforts or collaborative efforts. Neither one is bad, but it will give you a good idea of how well they play with others and if they can attribute success to the group rather than just themselves.)
  • How do you celebrate achievements at work? 

3. What behaviours annoy you on a team?

This might feel like a trick question to them, so remind them that it’s a safe space to talk candidly. You want to learn what they care about, and their frustrations at work reveal what matters to them. Do they find people with big egos hard to work with? Do they hate small talk? Do they hate when people get stuck on the details and can’t see the big picture? 

These are important insights to understand before you decide to hire them and can help you figure out which team to place them in.

And, let’s be honest, everyone has pet peeves about their colleagues. You can read my thoughts on addressing colleague’s annoying behaviours here.

Follow up questions you could ask:

  • What drains your energy at work
  • Tell me about a time you gave honest feedback to your colleagues about a challenge you had working with them?  
  • What are the non-negotiables for you on a team? 

4. What behaviour energises you on a team?

Don’t just focus on the negative stuff. It’s also important that you get a sense of the types of work, behaviours and processes that energise them. Do they like being informed of every detail? Do they value autonomy? Do they need clear and consistent direction? 

This is a great way to get a read on their self-awareness. Are they aware of the optimal environments for them to work in? Do they know the behaviours that bring out the best in them? It also helps you to see how their preferences align with your organisation’s culture and leadership. 

“The goal is to uncover how they handled tough feedback and to find out if they are humble enough to be honest with you about their growth areas.”

Another great way to identify their preferences is to ask them to fill out a personal operating manual (here’s one HRM has designed) to cater the work to the individual as much as possible. However, it’s best to do this after you’ve made the hire, so for the interview, just stick with the questions.

Follow up questions you could ask:

  • What team culture helps you do your best work?
  • What environment do you prefer to work in?
  • Tell me about a time you were in a state of flow at work? What were you working on? 

5. What do you want to learn here?

This question gives you insight into the candidate’s ambitions and desire to learn. You can also see how much they know about your company. For instance, do they understand your business model enough to be able to say something like, “I’m really interested in honing my writing skills in the interim, but I can see that you also offer a public relations arm to your services and that’s something that I’m interested in learning more about in the future.”

Asking this question also tells you if they have a growth mindset or not.

This is also a safe way to ask them about any skills gaps they foresee in the role they’re interviewing for and gives you the opportunity to talk about what development opportunities are available. This then gives the candidate more information about whether or not they think they’d be a good fit for the role.

Follow up questions you could ask:

  • What’s something you’ve recently learned and applied to your current job?
  • What’s your learning preference? (i.e. on-the-job or formal training)
  • What kind of learning do you engage with in a personal context?

6. Tell me about the best and worst bosses you’ve worked for.

I have to admit, this is one of my all time favourite questions. Not only will you learn the leadership style they value, but you’ll also uncover the expectations they have of their leader. If they tell you that their worst boss was someone who micromanaged them, then you know they’ll likely gel better with one of your more hands-off managers.

You want to know what makes them feel disempowered or disengaged: too little direction, a boss who wants to try and be their friend, someone who directs rather than coaches.

Candidates’ answers to these questions can also be used to do an internal audit of your current leadership team. How many of the candidate’s frustrations do you notice in the organisation? If there are a few then perhaps this is an opportunity for some internal coaching.

Follow up questions to ask:

  • How have you built a great working relationship with your manager? 
  • In the past, have you given honest feedback to your manager? (Why/why not?)
  • What do you expect from your leaders? 

7. When have you gone out of your way to help someone on your team without being asked?

If they have an answer that comes to mind quickly, you can assume they’re someone who is a team player. I like to refer to Liz Wiseman’s work on Impact Players to craft further questions around this topic, as insights in this area are a good indicator that someone will be able to contribute to the company’s overall mission rather than just do work that they think will get them their next pay rise or promotion.

Follow up questions to ask: 

  • When have you put your own goals on the back burner to help the team achieve their goals?
  • What does success look like to you?
  • Can you share an example of when you’ve taken a back seat to let someone else shine?

8. What are your three non-negotiables?

This simple question reveals a lot. It tells you what they’re motivated by (e.g. money versus flexibility), it shows you what they value from a cultural perspective (e.g. working with good people) and it allows you to make sure that you’re able to offer them an environment that they’ll thrive in. 

This information helps you to get a better read on whether they’ll make it past those first few weeks on the job. For example, if they tell you, “I need to work from home for the majority of my hours,” but your company requires people to be in the office on multiple days for team meetings, it may become a source of tension and not work out in the long run. 

There’s nothing wrong with admitting that your company might not always be aligned with a candidate’s expectations. In fact, it will save you money and time if you are transparent. For example, if your culture is fast-paced with a high volume of output, tell people this. Give them all the information they’ll need to make an informed decision, just as they’ve done for you by taking the job interview.

Follow up questions to ask:

  • How were your non-negotiables met in the past?
  • What have you done in the past when they haven’t been met?
  • How have your non-negotiables changed over time? 

9. Why us and why now?

I love to end all interviews with this question, because you give the candidate an opportunity to make a lasting impression by offering a thoughtful response. You want to see something beyond a generic response like ‘I want to work for a company with X, Y, Z values,’ and you want to make sure you’re not just hiring someone who wants a job for the sake of having a job – i.e., “I really hate my current job and need to line up something new before I quit” – as they’re unlikely to turn into loyal, long-term employees.

You also want to see a genuine interest in your business or industry. Look for hints that they’ve done their research – perhaps they know about recent awards your company has won, or they’ve read up on the founding CEO’s origin story. They don’t need to be experts, but you should get the sense that your company would be more than just a paycheck for them.

What are some of your favourite interview questions? Leave them in the comment section below.

Shelley Johnson is the founder of HR consultancy Boldside and host of the ‘My Millennial Career’ and ‘My Millennial Daily’ podcast.


Need help shaking up your job interview questions? AHRI’s short course on Effective Interviewing and Selection Skills offers some great tips to get you started.


 

Subscribe to receive comments
Notify me of
guest

16 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Offering an alternative
Offering an alternative
9 months ago

You talk about “bad hires”, but perhaps we could also look at interviews as a bad hiring process that could be improved upon or replaced with more effective ways to measure suitability, capability and relevant job specific ability. Interviews certainly doesn’t establish someone’s capability to perform a job successfully. Good talkers will be able to tell the interviewer what they want to hear. It’s a sales pitch and whilst providing some insight into candidate preferences and ability to think on their feet, alternate ways of determining suitability are available, and are far more inclusive than an outdated interview.

Claire
Claire
9 months ago

“Can you share a mistake you have made in the past?” With follow up questions of “what did you do when you identified the error” and “what did you learn from this?” I’m looking for integrity, transparency, self reflection and accountability. Similar to question 4, I also like to ask about the best team they have ever worked in. What made it the best? This can help you see values alignment, the type of support they prefer and the role they likely play within the team. I also provide my preferred candidate with contact details of 2 of my team… Read more »

B B
B B
9 months ago

Can we look at what the workload looks like, culture and honest expectation of hours as part of the recruitment process.
No point selling the job as a 9-5 when in reality it is 7-3, 9-6 or even 7-6. While we all want team players or to be be team players, it is a waste of resources if the new recruit is part of a local sporting team which trains at 6pm every Tuesday night and only finds out after accepting the position that this won’t work.
These don’t make either side a bad person, it is just managing expectations.

Shannon
Shannon
9 months ago

Thought-provoking questions. Thank you.

Terry Cleal
Terry Cleal
9 months ago

Good questions that should be in every interviewers tool kit, in addition to other questions that gain insight into a candidates processes.

More on HRM