12 Interview Questions That Will Reveal the Very Best Candidates

If you’re not getting exceptional hires, it may be because your traditional interview process is simply not designed to excite them.

Instead of dwelling on the past, a superior alternative is to ask them to solve real problems, and to demonstrate that they are forward-looking and that they have solutions for the future.

Top candidates routinely dislike standard interviews because they find them tedious and predictable. Most interviews are simply not designed to allow a top candidate to show off their capabilities, ideas, and innovation.

As a result, if you are recruiting for a mission-critical job that requires an exceptional hire, you simply cannot afford to bore top candidates with standard interview questions.

The weakness in interview questions

Everyone who has done any reading about interview accuracy already knows that they are typically one of the weakest assessment devices for hiring. In fact my own research has uncovered no less than 30 different problems with standard interviews (see 20 more problems here), and more than 50 different alternatives to standard interviews.

One of the weaknesses is that the interview questions that are typically used focus on historical situations that occurred at another firm. But what you need to know is how this individual will perform now at your firm. That requires getting them to demonstrate how they will solve the problems that they will face in your job.

Most typical questions have already been anticipated and practiced for by the interviewee to the point that their answers are not authentic. So if you’re going to interview top professionals, here are 12 questions to select from that I have found will quickly reveal which one of your exceptional applicants is the very best.

The 12 questions I have provided here are broken into four distinct categories. In this article, they are presented as interview questions, but they can also be provided in a questionnaire format, which can give candidates more time to think, while simultaneously saving some of a hiring manager’s valuable time.

A – Questions relating to identifying, solving real problems

These questions are known as content questions, and they are usually determined to be valid because they actually reflect the content of the job. In addition, they allow the candidate to show off their skills in problems solving. If you agree that the best hires are those who can first identify problems accurately and then are able to solve them, these questions can be effective.

The following three questions work best if you pre-test them on a current top performer to ensure that they can quickly understand the problem and that they can in a short period of time outline a solution to it.

1. How will you identify problems and opportunities on the job? The best new hires rapidly seek to identify problems that must be quickly addressed in their new job. So, please walk us through the steps of the process that you will actually use during your first weeks to identify the most important current issues/problems, as well as any possible positive opportunities in your new job.”

2. Can you identify the likely problems in this process? “Our employees should be able to quickly identify problems in our existing processes, systems, or products. So please look over this outline of one of our processes and identify the top three areas or points where you predict that serious problems are likely to occur?” (Hand them a single page showing an existing process or system related to this job that you already know to have flaws).

3. Solve a real problem that you will face. Because we need to know your capability for solving the actual problems you will face in this job, we would like to see how you will go about solving a real problem. “Please walk us through the broad steps that you would take in order to solve this problem that will be on your desk on your first day.” (Then hand them a half sheet with bullet points outlining the existing problem).

B – Questions that show you are forward looking

If your firm operates in a fast-evolving environment, you will need employees who are forward looking and who anticipate and plan for the future. These questions can tell you if your candidate meets those requirements.

4. Forecast the evolution of this job. “Because our jobs constantly change and evolve, being forward-looking is critical if you are to be successful. So please project or forecast at least five different ways that the job you are applying for will likely change and evolve over the next three years as a result of business changes, technology changes, and a faster, more innovative environment.”

5. Forecast the evolution of this industry. Because we operate in a fast-changing industry, our employees should be forward-looking, and anticipate and plan ahead for those industry changes. So, please tell us how often you sit down and focus on the future of our industry? Next, please forecast and project five trends in our industry and forecast how the top firms will likely have to change over the next three to five years as a result of these business changes, new technology, and the need for increased speed and innovation.”

C – Questions about a candidate’s ability to innovate, adapt, learn

Many times our best hires are those who are rapid continuous learners, those who are adaptable, and those who can innovate. If you want to assess these factors, consider asking these questions.

6. Show us how you would be a continuous learning expert. “Rapid learning is essential in our fast moving company and industry. So please select an important subject matter area in this job where you will need to continuously be on the bleeding edge of knowledge. Then show us in some detail how you will initially learn and then maintain your expert status.” (Alternatively you can ask how they maintained their expert status in their current job).

7. Show us your adaptability when dramatic change is required. In the fast changing, chaotic, and volatile environment we operate under, everyone and every process should be adaptable. So please show us how you would adapt to this situation that may occur in this job (provide them with a possible major change that requires adaptivity in this job) by walking us through the steps of how you would adapt to it.” (Alternatively you can ask, “Please show us a situation in your current job during the last year that required you to change rapidly and adapt with a completely different approach. Tell us the name of the situation that required this significant adaptiveness and then walk us through the steps of how you and your team successfully adapted.”)

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8. Show us how you will innovate. Our firm is focused on innovation, so we need to know if each new hire has the capability of innovating. So please select a single important area in this job and walk us through the steps as to how you might innovate in that area during your first year?” (As an alternative, you can ask them to select an area in their previous job and then to walk through the steps on how that innovation was created and implemented, and what their role was in each step.)

D – Help us better understand you

Some interview questions that relate to individuals’ competencies or preferences can be improved by requiring the candidate to rank their answers from most important to least important. In order to ensure that you successfully “sell” a top candidate, the most valuable question covers the decision factors that they will use to accept this job.

Other questions where ranked answers are superior in revealing their preferences involve their motivators, their strengths, and the best ways to manage them.

9. List and rank your job acceptance factors. We know that you have choices, so if we make you an offer, we obviously want it to meet your needs. And that requires knowing what factors that you will use (i.e. pay, job duties, fit with your manager, levels of responsibility, etc.) to determine if  ‘our job’ is the right job for you. So if you had a choice between two offers for your next job, please list the top five factors that you would use to evaluate and accept the superior job opportunity. Please list them in their descending order of importance to you.”

10. List and rank your job motivators. We want to ensure that we provide every employee with the right set of motivators. So please list the top five factors that you have found that best motivate you on the job. Please list them in their descending order of importance to you.

11. Tell us the most effective approaches for managing you. We want to ensure that every new employee has the best chance of succeeding. You can help us to reach that goal by highlighting the most effective ways to manage you. For each of these how to manage you factors (i.e. feedback, rewards, closeness of supervision, communications approach, and leadership style preference), please explain to us the most effective approach for optimizing your performance.”

12. List and rank the capabilities that you bring to this job. It’s important to fully understand the strengths of each new hire and how they match the requirements for the job. So, given the four important categories of knowledge, experience, education, and skills, can you please list in descending order what you have found to be your strongest five capabilities that will make you a top performer in the job?” (As an option, if you are concerned about weaknesses, you can also add this question: “Based on past manager assessments, 360s, and appraisals, what is the top job-related area where you need to improve the most, and what actions are you taking to improve in that area?”)

Final thoughts

Hiring managers should be aware that thanks to social media, interview questions are now easily available to the public. That means that if you work for a major firm,  candidates can now find the actual interview questions (and the best answers) that were previously asked by hiring managers in any job family at your firm on websites like Glassdoor.

So if you rely on typical interview questions, you will likely get fully rehearsed answers.

In contrast, the questions I have provided here are designed to make rehearsing more difficult. They work best on sophisticated professionals who know how to identify and solve problems. But don’t be surprised that if you ask these in-depth questions to an average candidate, they will respond with a blank look.

Obviously asking good questions is only the first part of the assessment equation; you must also prepare a range of answers from great to weak for each question, so that you know in advance when you hear a great answer. I have developed and used each of these questions professionally over several decades so I can vouch for their effectiveness.

If you use them, you will find like I have that top performers and professionals prefer these types of questions over the mundane “tell-me-about-yourself” questions that they normally get. Whether you use my questions or develop your own, these types of questions are superior because they are focused on 1) real problems, 2) this job, and 3) your firm.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



79 Comments on “12 Interview Questions That Will Reveal the Very Best Candidates

  1. I’ve often said that selection interviews are like Aspirin – if it were to be introduced tomorrow as brand new wonder drug, the FDA would tightly control its use. If interviews hadn’t been invented and were just introduced, the EEOC and other government agencies, along with disciplined managers, would be hard pressed to approve their use.

  2. Your examples are bizarre and merely highlight another problem in today’s business world – HR and Recruiters! This article looks to challenge a candidate who has little intimate knowledge of the idiosyncracies and intricate problems that you seem to have in your Company! The very early question starts with ‘our personnel are expected to solve problems’ and you offer an existing unsolved problem in a current process to a nervous candidate who is not going for a COO position? Why havent your existing Smart Hires solved it already – duh! What is wrong with you HR people and Recruiters is that you have little EQ and merely function on ‘processes’… People need time to integrate into Companies, they need to integrate into the style and the rythm and then deliver something back. That is why we have trial periods…Jobs require people to work according to business strategies, plans and integrate for the good and greater group! Unless you are COO and there to fix operational aspects this seems rather obscure questioning. This article goes to prove the sytem is broken and whether it’s CV, Psychological profiling or stupid tests the recruitment world is scrabbling around to justify its presence on the Bloggersphere!

    The questions are Academic clap-trap and have no place in a hiring process. A hirer needs to explain the Company, what is expected and arrive at mutual agreement from both sides to have a good working relationship. Not everyone is a superhero which your questions require them to be. Long live decent, hard-working, honest folk who learn on the job – sometimes you hire good interviewers who make lousy employees…EQ, instinct and common sense is required in HR. Not nutty professors!

    P.S. Michael Jordan retired in 2003.

    1. Totally agree with you! This sort of rubbish makes for a completely ineffective interview process. If I were a candidate and had to deal with these questions, I would immediately discard the company as a potential employer. I’m surprised that so many readers give kudos to this author. Sad state of affairs.

      1. It is an HR Blog – Probably they are all HR people …l see another creeping in – Now poor candidates will be subjected to video interviews (cheeky promotion in a post below) … an interview is stressful enough so we are now trying to make it harder with awkward video interviewing and stupid questions.

    2. I love, there is something… 🙂 “Long live decent, hard-working, honest folk who learn on the job – sometimes you hire good interviewers who make lousy employees…”

    3. I agree with you that these canned questions are a bit silly. I find that as a Recruiter it is best to make the interview as much of a conversation as possible and less of a stressful firing squad of corporate sounding questions.

      I do not agree with you that HR people and recruiters are on a whole somehow lacking in EQ or common sense. The blanket statement thing kind of makes you seem bitter and foolish. We could easily make blanket statements about all candidates being know-it-all nincompoops who are rude and have an over-inflated sense of their own value. 🙂

    4. Wow, I couldn’t agree with you more. I grew to absolutely loathe and detest “job interviews,” because I often found the interviewer was clearly less knowledgeable, professional or experienced than I was (in the University of Life in general), and the ONLY way that I could SHOW any employer what I was capable of doing, was not by answering questions of any description on paper, but by (actually) DOING it!
      Also, you’d be amazed at the number of interviewers who were NOT looking for exceptional people, but for people who would “fit in,” tow the line, and (wrong or right) “do as they were told.”

    5. I am recommending your commentary as a precursor to reading this article. If the writer of this article wants readers or just attention, she/he should pay you for your great feedback. I went down to the commentary after the 2nd point left me thinking..this perspective is questionable. That’s when I got to your commentary and found out a reason to continue reading the article. Thanks for making me both laugh, and finish that article. All the best!

  3. These are great questions to ask. Whether you are conducting a video or in person interview these questions can tell a lot. Too often people dwell on what candidates were responsible for doing at past jobs or asking strength and weakness questions or even life long personal goal questions. Not that those questions are not useful, but what you really want is to find out why this candidate is the right fit for the specific position. These questions are tailored to do just that.

  4. After a long time i have seen someone being a specialist in modern day HR and employment texture. I have surely greatest of appreciation for this piece. I would like to
    meet the author in person and work with him. He is giving the hiring managers the real clue to creative and stable talent . A great article.

  5. A great piece here .Author seems a specialist par excellence . HR people can get
    creative and stable talent . This is need of the hour . Run of the Mill interviews are for
    mediocrity and just for it . Thank you for bringing out the sublimity.

    1. Today’s HRs are looking for quick fits into the existing position instead of long fits into the vision and goal of the organisation. This is how to knw the mediocrity of a hiring team

  6. Bla-bla-bla… Psychologizing everything is essential to frustrated HR people struck by their own incapacity. Most very good professionals have poor communication skills and will give weak answers to these “elaborated” pocket-psychology questions. These HR guys spend well paid hours to fabricate all kind of lunatic questions what in fact will fail the real professionals and will admit the mouthed incapable. Someone’s professional ability cannot be measured by incompetent HR “managers” hidden behind tricky questions. Learning the answers to these questions will not make me an “excellent” professional and inversely, failing to answer to these will not show that I am professionally poor.

    1. I can assure you that lousy interviewing is a problem found across corporate function managers, and is not limited to HR people.

  7. I agree with the critics here. There is NO silver bullet, and these questions are mainly looking for instant responses to strategic matters. Luck will play a big part here.

    Professional people should have the social skills and social intelligence to see who is the right candidate for the role, the department and/or the business. And also the contacts to check out the background of the candidate, and/or the verbal skills to use the reference check to weed out liars, psychos and wasters.

    Having been on both sides of this process several times, I’m sure it’s about people and personality. Maybe that’s because I’m in the sales function.

    And while I’m thinking about it, what on earth are all those multi-page endless application forms trying to achieve? Please, make it easier to engage with the talent you’re looking for, and stop asking for information you just don’t need at stage 1!

  8. While I empathise with the critics, I cant say I totally agree. I assume that this article is aimed at middle level management and upwards, and of course, would not be universally applicable. These questions are not million miles away from case interview questions that consultancies use. The point of the question is not to solve a problem, but to understand how a candidate thinks, how he/she deals with uncertainties, how to connect the dots and how to think on their feet. These are important qualities in a candidate, and the author is pointing out a fact that these qualities are under represented from historical questions alone.

  9. Great. For the candidates, Instead of repeating what are already in the CV, make best of the interview opp to stand out by showing your potentials. For the recruiter, similar questions like these might be able to help identify a suitable one in short time.

  10. As soon as someone claims to be a ‘thought leader’ my respect and interest quickly disappearS. Terrible article. Nonsense.

  11. I would fail in sections A, B, and C. I would have zero idea of how this job I am applying for would evolve – I don’t even know all that the job covers. I also never hypothesize without data and, by definition, i have no data on a job I have not yet taken. The industry evolution? If I knew that, I would not be applying for this job. I would make money with predictions. I don’t know the problems I would face in this new job. Continuous learning expert? Uh, I google everything?

    I have just completed one year at my current job. I have had to innovate, learn, solve problems, be creative… do all those things that sections A, B, and C are seeking. But at the interview, I would never ever have been able to come up with any responses close to what this year has entailed!

    1. Interesting comment, Nova. As a company owner and employer, surely, it is incumbent upon me to keep innovatively up-to-date and solve whatever problems may arise – and not ask any employee to think for me, or do my job, without being paid the same salary, and without enjoying the perks that I enjoy?

      Also, any company owner who doesn’t know precisely what is going on in his or her company, from the ground-floor up, ought to work WITH each of his or her employees (instead of living in an ivory tower) until he or she does know!

      (I think this is known as “spotting and identifying cracks in the ship’s hull, and having these repaired, before the ship starts taking on water and flounders, or sinks…”).

  12. A competency based approach would ask these questions but based on previous experiences…tell me about a time when you innovated in your last role plus probing questions to identify what actually was done by the individual, why, how and with what outcomes! A true prediction of how likely someone is to be innovative in the future. Most people can hypothesise about how they would perform and the true interview skill is to gain real life evidence of these skills in action. From a not so frustrated Recruiter/HR professional not justifying her job but pointing you in the right direction!

    1. @Adele: Now THIS is a good response. I mean, if I go to an interview and they ask me about how I would solve or deal with this-or-that, I’d have to say, “Well, I don’t know how your company works to deal with problems, so anything I share would be a shot in the dark; do you REALLY want me to speculate like that??”

      I do understand that most interviews are lame-enhanced. No question. I applaud a desire to make them different. But asking an interviewee to be psychic is a bit over the top. Better they do as Adele suggests, and offer examples of how they dealt with such things elsewhere.

  13. Found the information to be a waste of my time. It looks like someone who has never hired anyone wrote it. I agree that most people are bad interviewers and ask questions that have been rehearsed and rehashed. However, it is important to know how a person performed in previous situations if those situations exist in your company. Leopards typically do not change their spots. If you need a proactive hands on sales manager then you need to ask candidates for examples of how they performed in past sales management situations. If they have performed successfully in the past chances are they can do it again. It is why sports teams hire successful coaches. The problem is people are afraid to ask pointed questions that force the candidate to reveal their successes and more importantly their lack of successes.

    Anyway, not something that I found to be relevant based on the title of the article.

  14. The fatal problem of this process is that answering ANY of these questions will likely knock a candidate out of contention.

    The key to getting past this micro-managing Gate Keeper is to answer a question with a question and have the candidate ASK the employer, “Why do you think I can do this job.”

    The employer’s answer will better accomplish what the candidate wants (which is to get hired) by having the employer create a metaphor answer in the mind of the employer of the candidate doing the job rather than the more difficult task of the candidate creating that metaphor.

    1. Oh well said, Allan! Far from being the only one interviewed, and put through a third-degree, companies ought to also be obliged (by law) to provide their CV and track-record (on paper) omitting nothing…and including their mission statement and credit rating, etc., so that candidates and potential employees can decide at the outset whether THIS is a company they would LIKE (in all good conscience) to work for (and help to grow, flourish and expand, etc.).

  15. I have to totally agree with those panning this article. Were I subject to this kind of an interview, I would have to assume I am working for people with little, if any, real world knowledge of business or organizations. The answer to almost every question is people. Systems don’t work because of people. Growth slows because of people. People are poorly motivated, poorly organized, poorly managed, or they are simply the wrong people for the job. How one can expect a candidate to say ‘Replace the VP’, which may the correct answer’ is not going to fly with HR. My advice to a candidate subject to this nonsense in an interview – Get out. These people are fools.

  16. I dont think these example questions are bizarre at all. Using Behaviourally Anchored questioning can give you good insight into what behaviours candidates have used in the past and to what effects. I think these questions can only add to the sum total of knowledge about a person . Using these questions they can potential capability in a number of different skill areas. They will be able to show the interviewer how they think, how they approach problems, how adaptable they are etc etc etc. The interviewer also gets interesting feedback about the jobs on offer and their organisation. Assume that there are no right answers and no wrong ones either. All candidates are on level playing field.

  17. Dr. Sullivan’s process is a throwback to decades before we learned that what a person says they will do has little to do with what they will do. It also ignorse the fact that one needs to work within the organization stucture, culture, values, etc. to be effective in the areas about which he is asking. Not sure what he is a “Doctor” of, but I’m guessing it’s not Industrial or Organziational Psychology – the discipline of individual measurement. His approach will tend to give a lot of credit to people who can talk the talk, but not walk the walk. Very bad advice.

  18. Dr. John Sullivan

    I would tell you that you are a breath of fresh air in the stale air of interview rooms but I think you already know that.

    One of the hats I am wearing is to help set up a new HR /LR department for highly skilled engineers, trades people and those who have the potential to fall into those categories.

    Those hiring professionals and their managerial counterparts are all about to be introduced to you and your thoughts on the hiring process. Thank you and I wish greater awareness of you and your ideas.

    Wayne Spragge Ph.D.

  19. The only dumb question is the one not asked.
    Having said that the Pro & Con Post responses are interesting, both provide “credentialed” reasoning. The Post is highly credentialed, so what is the best course of action? As in some cases it may be found somewhere in between the two contending positions. There are 12 questions, perhaps selecting 6 would be a good starting point.

  20. this is a very important article for analizing candidates and for applicating for a job.

  21. Most HR people are clueless. A potential candidate can have the greatest interview in the world and be a total flop as a new hire while people that don’t interview well may become your most productive employees. Fact is, no one knows for sure and while there are common sense questions that can mitigate the risk of a potential hire, no one has a crystal ball. The questions that should be asked from HR people are “this is the job, how can you improve our processes? what ideas would you contribute given X situation? Of course candidates will answer that they are team players, will work hard….it’s a job they are applying for not to work as a CIA operative. HR people always ask stupid questions “Why you leave your last job”? Well the obvious answer is more money of course but etiquette says that you lie in that situation and say “better opportunities” The whole HR discipline is really a bunch of BS.

  22. Initially I was completely captivated by these questions. What a refreshing change from the dull questions that are usually asked! The main problem that occured to me upon some reflection is mentioned by many of the comments here–how can someone solve problems for the hiring firm just walking in for the first interview? I think that couching these questions in future terms is a mistake, but anchoring them in the prospective colleague’s past experience makes good sense. This is a much more conversational approach, and will elicit the real information needed to offer the right candidate the right job. I really like some of the questions asked about the ideal “compensation package” for a prospective candidate–there is more to life than money, and career development and opportunities to be managed by people who want their team members to be successful is an awesome inducement for me. I AM gunning for the department manager’s job when I walk in the door, but the obverse side of this business school coin is that I get this job by making my manager look good and seeing him or her move up. This is a long term vision that takes time, performance and trust to realize. I would welcome a candidate who said these kinds of things to me.

    I also think that this kind of interview is meant for people who are past the HR hurdles and are serious candidates being interviewed by the front line manager of the position. It also has to be mutual, and by the time questions about ranking the development and financial aspects of the compensation package comes up some basic information about the possibilities should be given to the candidate. it is possible to play cards so close to the vest that they don’t get played at all. I NEED health benefits, for example, but I am powerfully motivated by tuition reimbursement and similar career development support. I may deserve and the company may benefit from my having access to the company jet, but is that a realistic part of the compensation package.? A little hyperbole here for the sake of making a point in a splashy way!

    I also see signs of exploiting the labor force pool in this, and depending on how this interview is conducted, and at what point in the process, and with how many candidates–this could be seen as a way to mine candidates for actual work product and ideas that should be done within the scope of a paid position. Is this interviewer looking for the purple squirrel, and willing to carry on the actual work with a patchwork of contributions while they look for that mythical creature? it is surprisingly common these days!

    Meanwhile, I would certainly be engaged by this approach! I can envision a lot of laughing and LEARNING in this situation on both sides of the table!

  23. Whew…I hope you pay interviewees for their time in answering these questions? Or, perhaps, it would be a better idea to pose the questions in an online application form, or allow applicants to take the questionnaire home and work on it there, when (or if) they have the time (between other interviews?).

    Or, maybe even better, equip likely-looking candidates with the questionnaire, and then appoint them to actually WORK in the position for which they are applying on, e.g., a 3 – 5 day (paid*) trial basis – and in that (non-theoretical; hands-on) sliding-scale way – enable them to actively PROVE themselves outstandingly capable, reasonably capable, fairly capable, or completely incapable (at any or all of the essential requirements outlined).

    And ultimately *save the company far more in paying for possibly un-rendered services at the end of a (mutually) tiring, unproductive and dissatisfying (unnecessarily long-drawn-out; months or years-long) day.

    1. If companies actually did that, they won’t be able to whine about the sick and tired rhetoric of how much 6-digit dollars they wasted on a bad hire. Nobody ever said corporate had common sense.

      1. Right. How much will they be paid during the interim? What about background checks during that time for the employees’ safety? How about taxes? What if the prospective employee already has a FT position– how are they supposed to have that kind of time to test-run the job? There is already a trial basis for most jobs called the probationary period…and yet you want to say HR / corporate has no common sense. Sure.

  24. Why do interview questions so often focus on what the candidate WOULD do in certain situations? Doesn’t that just show how well they can make up answers? Interviewers who exclusively use this kind of question are basically screening for candidates who have the greatest capability to spit out BS.
    I’m not saying to abandon theory questions altogether, but stop making them the heart and soul of every interview! What I really want to know is not how you MIGHT solve a problem, but well you’ve solved problems in your previous roles. How did you plan for and adapt to market changes in the past? Tell me about some conflicts you dealt with and what you did to resolve them. Show me how your technical or job-related expertise served the organization.
    Once I’ve heard you explain your experience in these areas, then I can do the work of projecting your REAL skills and experience into the role I’m seeking to fill and decide if it’s a good gamble.
    The job of a hiring manager is largely guesswork. There’s no avoiding that. But if you ask mainly theory questions, you’re going to get guesses as the answers. Then you are basing your hiring ‘guess’ on their answer ‘guesses’ and holy crap, how can you even have a chance of success?
    You can’t eliminate the guesswork completely, but at least make your hiring decisions based on facts you discover about the candidates and their background and experience. You’ll still have to sift through a certain amount of BS from interviewees, but nothing like the BS you’ll get with these theory questions.

  25. Show us how you will innovate. “Our firm is focused on innovation, so we need to know if each new hire has the capability of innovating. So please select a single important area in this job and walk us through the steps as to how you might innovate in that area during your first year?” (As an alternative, you can ask them to select an area in their previous job and then to walk through the steps on how that innovation was created and implemented, and what their role was in each step.)

    Oh my…bearing in mind that (feasible, viable and workable) innovative ideas can be worth billions to the companies (or individuals) that implement them, and that non-innovative companies usually become obsolete.

    And no (professional) innovator or inventor, in their right mind, would ever dream of “walking any HR consultant, or manager, through the steps of an innovative idea or invention,” unless a non-disclosure agreement (preferably drawn up by a patent agent), and the endorsement of its respective terms was (firmly) in place, prior to any (exploratory or other) “discussion” in this regard. Or, alternatively, reveal any other innovative idea he or she may have “created or implemented,” or played a part in creating or implementing, for a previous employer (which may constitute a breach of confidence). And all of this – for a polite rejection of the candidate’s application – at the end of the day?
    No, no. I would refuse to answer questions of this nature – unless a binding (professionally drawn-up) confidentiality agreement is on the table, and has been signed by the interviewer (and/or company owners) beforehand.

  26. I think these questions are quite useful taken as tools to be integrated into a hiring process, and I’ve hired hundreds of people during my career. It is true that recruiters are perhaps the stupidest people on the planet. I have always refused to speak to recruiters, especially since meeting with one who was screening seniormost candidates for a US television network. His question to me, the only one, was a presentation of his theory of what a given cable channel should become as to programming. It was clearly his theory, not his client’s, presented as such, and so stupid it was difficult to share with him the multitude of reasons why it was laughable. Yet this jerk has placed the presidents of cable channels. Who all have failed. Lately, interviewing for a founding partner, I thoroughly investigate the person’s background and resume, and consider using a detective, because all I come up with are lies. And I would not make a final decision without several joint session with a specializing psychologist.

  27. By definition a HIGHLY intelligent person would not work in human resources…all this
    stinks of stupid people trying to make themselves important.

    The trouble is Human resources would not recognise intelligence if it bit them on the *** so they build these interviews which they themselves would excel and pass in and therefore will NOT be geared to recruit the most intelligent candidate but likenesses of themselves. They then want the recruit to see them as good and important people so Human resources have succeeded in recruiting IDIOTS!

    I am slowly writing a book to be titled “Who Interview a Genius?” and for sure Human resources and salespeople will NEVER be qualified to do so because they have no understanding of what it is to be intelligent.

    1. Perhaps you should rethink your book title, or proofread your rant before you send it.
      You have demonstrated that you are not a highly intelligent person yourself.
      Unfortunately one can find “stupid people trying to make themselves important” in all departments and careers. A true genius should be capable of recognizing kernels of value in many different viewpoints, including those that differ from his/her own, without launching into a tirade and generalizing all members of any group.

      It requires some measure of business judgement, creativity, and flexibility of thought to answer these types of questions. (Perhaps the point that you should take away from the article is that you do not likely possess these qualities.)
      No means of evaluation is foolproof when it comes to hiring decisions. Companies do reject some candidates that would be good employees, and hire some who prove not to be. We ARE talking about human beings after all, no one ever fits neatly into a specified box. Who is willing to foot the bill to pay to ‘try out’ everyone who MAY be able to do the job well, but happens to be a lousy ‘interviewee’? The selection process and hiring criteria established by an organization should improve the company’s win/loss ratio, but no one can ever assume it is flawless.

      1. YES it was a typo…it should have read “Who Interviews a Genius?”….I was in a hurry at the time but I still stand by the rest of the comments.

      2. I would also like to point out that I DID NOT claim to be intelligent I merely stated that people in human resources ARE NOT!

        1. My apologies. I felt it was implied that you feel that you are far more intelligent than all the people working in HR. My point is that it is “stupid” to generalize. I agree that there are definitely SOME “stupid” HR people. (“Stupidity” is not necessarily measured by IQ… stupid people can be found in all careers and walks of life.) There are also plenty of very intelligent people working in HR departments around the world.

      3. Very well put Dianne. I especially like your reference > “stupid people trying to make themselves important” …
        Unfortunately, everyone is a genius behind a computer monitor.

      4. I would like to make some comments about INTELLIGENCE
        I did not claim to be intelligent But here is a little information for you
        At one time I had my IQ measured in excess of 140…YES that would make me far more intelligent than 90% of human resource people who would expect to judge my suitability for a job…I doubt my IQ is much above 130 but that makes me in top 5%.
        The figures that follow are rounded and not totally accurate but close enough to make the point.
        If you take 5% of a population of 60 million you are in the region of 3 million people….If you check up there are about 8 million graduates in the UK…that works out to be about 5 million less intelligent than I am.
        I TOOK and passed the test for fast tracking in the civil service 3 times and passed it comfortably 3 times followed by being rejected at interview by people who did not have to reveal their credentials to me.
        I get very BORED of people downgrading intelligence as NOT proving anything…the vast majority of degrees only prove a persons ability to read, learn and regurgitate information in a manner they have been taught is wanted by the examiner. THAT is more proof of a desire to CONFORM than anything else. What inventions and developments come out of conforming?
        IF you believe a typo proves a lack of intelligence you have just joined the group of misinformed academics. If you wish me to enlighten you on what being intelligent means ….gnwillou@yahoo.co.uk….the first thing I would teach you is that being intelligent means you find it difficult to conform when you know what you are asked to do is wrong. The less intelligent conform because they know that is how you get on!
        The deriding of intelligence is done mainly by academics who KNOW they are not blessed with it. It makes intelligence a poor asset because too many academics do not understand it and so find an excuse to reject it.

        1. Gary, there’s a lot more to INTELLIGENCE than just IQ. It’s not about statistics and percentages or passing some exam a couple of times. Because real intelligence always has an essence of wisdom. Real intelligence comes from the most remote areas of your mind and spirit. Something which you don’t access with your high IQ. It means to have the right kind of attitude. An open mind. An empty cup. The willingness to listen and understand. The ability to judge and decide. Passing some IQ tests wont make u wise or set your way of thinking straight.

          I can bluntly say that u were rejected for your attitude. It is very important to stay rooted to the ground, no matter what heights u reach. Or else, u could just come tumbling down the hill like poor ol’ Jack.

  28. I’ve been on both sides of hiring and find the Microscopic Analysis of candidates to be mind boggling these days. This is not to say you can’t find out things about candidates by their answers and the speed and clarity they present them. But I can truly understand how high quality candidates don’t get hired purely because of the interview process. It takes a very special hiring situation and special candidate to fill some positions. But most people need to be “integrated into the culture” . HR has become much to much involved and the reasons to not to hire somebody are becoming outrageous.

  29. I really think a hiring manager would be better with an interview instead of a HR or Recruiter.
    The Hiring manager must likely already know if you have what it takes to be a great hire.

  30. I got in trouble by asking if the person interviewed smoked. I find that smokers waste an inordinate amount of time going out to smoke and the rest of the time back at work they are wondering when they can sneak out and smoke another cigarette. In addition some smell so bad from stale smoke that some of my staff cannot stand to be around them.

    1. How about the people who go out for coffee or purposely arrange coffee meetings. These people waste just as much time, if not more…! A person is not a slave to the desk, down time is important!

      1. I didn’t mean to offend you, obviously you are a smoker. There are those people who have a crooked index finger from holding a coffee cup and I know people who would kill someone over a cup of coffee but that is another story. The point of my comment was that we are limited from asking some of the more poignant and important questions that could help us weed out the less productive workers before we hire them.

        1. I understand where you are coming from and what you want to achieve by weeding out these time and resource wasters. The thing is that self promoting (who have the knack to tell you want you want to hear) and people who know how to navigate this process, will pull the wool over your eyes time and time again. It is not until you hire these individuals is when the reality hits and it is too late. Time and time again I have seen people employed and pumped up only to not deliver on the expertise they proclaim to have and spend their days in endless meetings, lunch breaks, Internet surfing etc. As you can guess I have had some frustrating experiences, because of poor interviewing skills ( by management and associates) in hiring poor candidates, creating an ecomical drain on business and employee retention.

          1. You hit it on the head. I have interviewed enough to know that the ones who interview the best are the worst choices – they tend to be talkers (BS’ers) and not doers. Of course a lot of the time they are Peter Principled to their highest level of incompetence in the organization.

    2. Ugh, doesn’t matter whether they smoke or not. I know majority of people I worked with who were health nuts yet spent more time on gloating about that than me on smoking…

      It’s like asking whether you got any tattoos on interview for development job. Even if I do then what, are you going to discriminate on that basis too?

  31. phenomenal questions-never been asked a single one in 25 yrs!
    If i even suspected that id be asked those questions, id be THE number one candidate as it’d take a lot of work to prepare answers.
    moreover, during my interview for my current position, i was asked the ancient cliche of what are my weaknesses! pleeeeze.

  32. previouspost didnt say i admired tha author-as a seasoned veteran, id walk out the door if i were asked those questions-no ne know swhere they will be in 5 years

  33. Nice article. One of my biggest peeves is when a candidate hasn’t bothered researching the company prior to the interview. To me, it isn’t about the actual Q&A of the interview, but how well the candidate prepared for the interview (shows true interest and a strong work ethic) and how well the candidate communicates during the interview.

    Some of the questions you have listed are exceptional, however. Nice and thought provoking – thank you for sharing!


  34. John, there are some solid points here! I wanted to add a comment focused on your readers who use recruiters: DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

    Before the interview happens, understand what your recruiter’s qualification process is. This advice is valid for your HR, corporate recruiters, or 3rd party recruiters…basically anyone who may round up a breathing candidate.

    Have you done your homework?


  35. I think you need to get a copywriter to set your questions because to be blunt the actual wording is almost verging on infantile.

    The actual concept is banal at best. This is just a child like rehash of basic interview skills. If you need to use this as a guide or a template then you probably shouldn’t be interviewing in the first place.

  36. When reading those questions I would never ask them since i have little clue what those really mean – this is at least in my world not the language that people speak – I hiring manager doesn’t understand the question she/he should never ask….
    Best interviews I’ve seen were simple – human being-like discussions where people had a chance to open and show emotions – this is too complex and artificial… sorry but can’t get ANY inspiration for my hirings here…

  37. There is a saying, “those that can, do; those that can’t teach.” I have found HR people usually fall in the latter category.

  38. If you are a confident individual who has faced daily challenges in the workforce, the questions brought forth to you would be easy to answer. These questions are highly relevant for the employer to understand what type of person they are hiring. If I was the employer, I would want to know real examples of how you handle situations in your prior work history as well as how you would handle them today. I recently graduated with a bachelors degree in organizational leadership And had to write a research paper similar to this article. It’s very simple, if you cannot answer the questions, then you are not going to get hired. Besides, this article never stated a particular position. So maybe these questions are detrimental to the employer if they want to find the right candidate. Most of you that commented on this article I would honestly not even want to hire based on the aggression you have for a simple article on “interview questions”. Take a chill pill ppl.

  39. Disappointed to see the lack of professionalism in the discussion. The article is simple to provide sample questions that allow you to observe and understand the applicants way of thinking, articulating their thoughts and how they problem solve. Self awareness is key for a leaders success and to hire a person who does not even understand how they make decisions or problem solve is a person who lacks self awareness and EQ.
    PS not a HR person and appreciate what HR brings to the table.

  40. I generally agree with this article, though I would add one process suggestion that may address much of the criticism that appears in the comments. When asking a candidate to describe what s/he would do in a hypothetical situation, I would give the candidate some context before the interview. In real-life, employees have time to conduct due diligence, think, analyze, write, plan, and present. Providing some information in advance better simulates what will happen on the job. Job interview stress is not the same as actual work stress. Without advance information or time to prepare, a job interviewer is actually evaluating a candidate’s improvisational skills, not necessarily the skills needed to perform the actual job well.

  41. I just rolled my eyes when I read these questions. What is this? A rhetorical Rorschach Test? Whatever happened to just talking to people one on one? If your going to ask these type of questions you might as well bring a couch in the office and do a full psychoanalysis. It is up to YOU to determine the best candidate with the least threatening questions. Job candidates have enough problems being unemployed and the last thing we need is psychological Jiu Jitsu. Think about your candidates well being and the employers needs and you will be truly successful.

    My thoughts..

    1. Ill-informed comment from someone who is clearly an employee not an employer. It’s completely idiotic to suggest you should simply focus on an employee’s well being and everything else will fall into place. There are good people, bad people and great people, regardless of how well their employer is meeting their needs.

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