Interview Questions matter – having spent the last few weeks explaining competencies and their value in the hiring process, it is worth discussing how to ask the right questions during the interview process.

Job interviews are difficult to handle. Candidates are nervous, anxious to please and make the right impression. Employers are hoping for a magic moment that will reveal this as the perfect candidate. People are rarely at their most neutral and discerning. There are some techniques employers can use when asking questions to get to know what their candidates think, not just what they say.

Indirect questions

Try not to lead your candidates to the answer you want to hear. Instead of asking “How did you resolve” a certain situation, ask an open-ended version. For example, “Tell me about a challenging project”.

See what the candidate chooses to focus on, whether the challenge, the solution or the people. This will tell you about what they view as important. Do they focus on blame? Or resolution?

I am also a fan of the very open “Tell me about yourself”. Expect a good candidate to be prepared for this, and to focus on what is of value to you and the company.

Specific concerns

Where you do have a specific concern you wish to uncover it is fine to ask about that particular area, but bear in mind the same lesson: do not lead the candidate to the answer you want.

For example, if you are worried about clashing personalities, ask the candidate to tell you about collaboration in his last job. You may even ask “have you ever had to work with a difficult colleague?” and let the candidate reveal what they consider “difficult” and, as above, whether the answer focuses on the solution or on the person. This will help tell if your candidate has a problem-solving attitude.

Past duties

When discussing about previous jobs, ask about responsibilities rather than tasks or duties.

You want to confirm that the candidate focuses on the larger goals and works towards those, rather than simply going through the motions of the tasks.

Professional growth

I am surprised how rarely this is asked in job interviews: find out how the candidate educates him or herself. What do they do for continuous learning and improvement.

It need not be an official certification or school. However I would expect a candidate to regularly read industry papers or blogs, or attend events within his or her area of work.