I’ve written a lot this year about interview questions. This blog, had over 600,000 views on LinkedIn earlier in the year. In it, I wrote about a different approach to questioning designed to get a better understanding of candidates. I identified four questions I use to see the truth in the people I interview. I highly suggest giving it a read if you haven’t already.
For the last couple of months, I’ve been experimenting with a new question. I’ve probably used it 20 times now with great results so far. What I like about it most is that it allows me to test for several key hiring criteria in a single question. I especially like it for 30 minute interviews when I don’t have time to ask 10 or 15 different questions.
In today’s blog I’m going to tell you about my new favorite question and also ask you to share questions that are working for you. I’m ready to start trying out a new one, so your suggestions are greatly appreciated.
I rarely have time for an hour long interview these days, which means I need to be selective about the questions I choose. I can’t afford to ask three or four or five questions to get at one piece of information or to reveal one thing about a candidate. I need to build questions that can serve multiple purposes given the limited time I have.
Here’s my new favorite interview question – especially for short form interviews:
Walk me through how this role and company will be different from previous experiences you’ve had.
Not that exciting? I know. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a particularly original question – I’m sure many of you have posed it before. On the surface, it’s not obvious why this question would be uniquely well suited to a short form interview or anything else for that matter. But once we unpack it a little, I think you’ll come to appreciate why I love it so much.
I like this question because the answer always reveals how much the candidate has researched the company and the position. If they don’t refer to specifics or cite examples that indicate they’ve done their homework, I’ll know. If they don’t demonstrate a clear understanding of the role such that they can compare to other roles they’ve held, I’ll be able to see that to. By asking this question, I no longer need to ask any other questions to validate they’ve researched and understood the company and position.
If you’ve read my previous blogs on this subject, you’ll know that self-awareness is an attribute I value highly in candidates. If you aren’t self-aware and you can’t evaluate yourself objectively, it’s very difficult to be successful on a team. This question is great at revealing self-awareness. The candidate is forced to think critically about their own experiences and compare with this new one. In the process, they must point to gaps and deficiencies to provide a thoughtful answer. Some candidates will try to get away with answering, “I don’t see many differences actually, that’s why I think it’s such a great opportunity.” That’s a cop out and a red flag for me nine out of ten times. The best candidates will be able to thoughtfully analyze and identify areas of difference and speak to how they will manage through them. By asking this question, I have no need to ask questions about strengths and weaknesses. I also don’t need to ask as many questions about their recent work experience since it will be baked into the answer already.
Many candidates can speak at a surface level about a topic or function. The Internet makes it easy to prep basic answers to most questions, so my goal it always to force candidates to demonstrate a depth of understanding. This question is a great way to give candidates a chance to show they can apply concepts from one job to a different situation. For example, if I’m interviewing a Marketing Manager who built successful campaigns at a company that sells products to small businesses, I want to know that they have a deep enough command over the subject matter that they can apply it to the large businesses my company sells to. By asking this question – about differences – I give candidates the perfect opportunity to illustrate this depth of competency. I no longer need to ask additional questions to pull this information out, I can already find what I need in this answer.
Another important attribute I look for in all candidates, it’s a dedication to learning. As I’ve written about previously, the best teams are the ones that learn and improve every day. Building a team of learners can be a source of advantage over the competition. By asking a question about differences and gaps, you provide the context for the best candidates to talk about learning. Some candidates will try to minimize the relevance of differences – they’ll say it’s all ultimately the same thing and it’s no big deal. The best candidates, on the other hand, will speak to specific steps they intend to take to close the gaps. They’ll talk about learning.
When I’m selecting interview questions, I try to find ones that reveal the most important characteristics I want in my team members. And these days, I try to do it as efficiently as possible. I’ve had success with this question lately and I thought you’d benefit from hearing why. Give this one a try and let me know how it works for you. And share your favorite questions in the comments section so we can all learn from you too. I’ll read through them and pick a new question to try out this month. I’ll write a follow-on blog in November to let you know how it went.