Getting with the times, Giving Old-School Interview Questions a Modern Twist.

I’ve been reading a lot of posts lately on the good, bad or completely ridiculous interview questions to ask candidates. I find myself chuckling because I have recognized myself as having been a guilty party in asking some of what is being talked about as “bad” interviews questions in the past, which is until I figured out better ways to rephrase some of the most popular questions out there.

So I decided to get on the bandwagon and share with all of you some of my favorites. I focused on the top 4 that were popular when I started recruiting in 1999 and are still so today.

1. OLD-SCHOOL: “Tell me about yourself?” This conversation for me usually goes in one of two directions; first some candidates ramble on and on about every single detail, relevant or not thus using up most of the 1 hour I have to spend with them or, they are not sure exactly what aspect of themselves to focus on. NEW-SCHOOL: “Walk me through your resume focusing specifically on experience you feel would be relevant to this role.” This spin off question allows me to start the conversation, understand the flow of their career choices, thus getting to know about them in a more relevant and specific way.

2. OLD-SCHOOL: “Why do you want to work here?” I have trouble seeing how people can answer anything other than fluff to this question, especially if it’s asked at the beginning of an interview, which is traditionally the case. Other than rattling off some facts found on the company internet site, a person can’t realistically answer this question because they have no idea at that point what the job really is or what the corporate culture is really like. This may take a few interviews and meeting a few people in order to come up with a solid answer that has substance. NEW-SCHOOL: “Tell me in detail the aspects of the job description you found particularly exciting and why? What one bullet point on the job description was the least exciting and why? By asking this question, you get more “meat”. You get to see what motivates or demotivates the candidate and what they are particularly passionate about. It will also indirectly tell you if the candidate did their homework and adequately prepared for the interview by taking the time to understand, at least on a preliminary level, the role they are interviewing for.

3. OLD-SCHOOL: “What is your biggest weakness?” I can’t begin to tell you how many “perfectionists” there seems to be out there. If you want a generic, non-relevant answer, then continue to ask this question. NEW-SCHOOL: “Tell me about the last time you were made aware of or discovered for yourself areas of improvement in your work performance and what you did about it? Asking this question forces candidate to dig deep into their past experiences and actually talk about something specific to them. Your chances are higher that you’ll find authenticity by re-phrasing this classic question in this way.

4. OLD-SCHOOL: “Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?” statistics these days show that the average length people stay in their job is about 4 years. I have never encountered any candidate who has responded, “Looking for the next company to work for.” However this sadly may be the reality. NEW-SCHOOL: “Tell me about your last position and what growth took place within that particular role from the first day you started to when it ended?” By positioning the question in this way you’ll quickly find out a whole bunch of traits such as, eagerness to learn, motivation to move forward and take on new responsibilities and ultimately their career direction.

I think there are many reasons why certain questions are still being asked today as they were in 1999, however arming yourself with modern twists will make your interviews more fun, interactive and will help you learn more about the “real” candidate in front of you instead of the overly prepared, generic ones that are a dime a dozen.

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Comment by Katrina Kibben on September 10, 2015 at 1:39pm

This is awesome. I love these questions because they don't just talk about the scenario but they really focus on outcomes. Great post - thanks for sharing.

Comment by Tara de Jonge on September 10, 2015 at 1:42pm

Thanks Katrina for taking the time to read and comment. I really appreciate it.  Have a good day!

Comment by Nicole Antonio-Gadsdon on September 28, 2015 at 4:00pm

I love preserving some of the value of this old school approach and then pumping up the value with a new school reworking of the questions. This such a practical approach to repurpose existing materials.  Handy for time-pressed HR/Recruiters.  Thanks for posting.


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