There are two kinds of behavioural interview questions I will cover in this article:
- Interesting behavioural interview questions posed by wildly successfully business leaders; and
- Common, albeit hallow behavioural interview questions employers should still ask, mostly to check whether the candidate came prepared.
A job interview is a predictable social exercise, and interview questions don’t paint a whole picture, but they can provide a good sense of a candidate.
Adam Bryant, head writer for the New York Times Corner Office series says there are three job interview principles that can help you hire the right employee:
- Be creative. Every candidate will be prepared for commonplace interview questions. Find new ways to truly understand how a person thinks.
- Be challenging. Put the candidate in situations where they are more likely to show their true selves.
- Allow your employees to help. You are not the only person who is going to have to work with this candidate. There is likely already a team of employees you trust that will have to interact with him or her every day. Their opinion should matter.
Before we get started, let’s discuss what you can’t ask in an interview. Interview questions should not directly or indirectly classify or indicate qualifications as per a prohibited ground of discrimination, including, but not limited to, race, colour, religion, origin, sex, sexual orientation, age and disability.
When inappropriate behavioural interview questions relating to discrimination grounds are asked in a job interview, an inference may be made that a decision not to hire the candidate may have been influenced by such questions.
Now that we know what we can’t ask candidates, what interview questions should we ask?
1. Interesting, Behavioral Interview Questions
Behavioural interview questions are the best interview questions because they make candidates think on their feet, just like the job they are interviewing for.
Furthermore, behavioural interview questions are genuine. Behavioural interview questions open the candidate to their real selves, unlike the manufactured answers to boilerplate interview questions that everyone expects and has practised for.
Famous Interview Questions
On occasion, business leaders have publicly disclosed their favorite interview questions to ask candidates. Here’s a sample:
1. What important truth do very few people agree with you on?Peter Thiel (PayPal)
Peter Thiel had this to say about his favorite interview question: “This question sounds easy because it’s straightforward. Actually, it’s very hard to answer. It’s intellectually difficult because the knowledge that everyone is taught in school is by definition agreed upon. And it’s psychologically difficult because anyone trying to answer must say something she knows to be unpopular. Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.”
2. What didn’t you get a chance to include on your résumé?Richard Branson (Virgin)
This interview question gives an indication of what the candidate normally wouldn’t divulge in an interview, allowing the interviewer to get a better sense of the person.
3. You’re standing on the surface of the Earth. You walk one mile south, one mile west, and one mile north. You end up exactly where you started. Where are you?Elon Musk (Tesla, Space X)
Elon Musk doesn’t care whether applicants give the right answer. Rather, he uses the interview question as evidence to see how they analyze the problem.
4. What do you want to do differently in your next role?Max Mullen (Instacart)
Max Mullan had this to say about his favorite interview question: “I find that the best answers highlight what they’re running toward, rather than what they’re running from in their current job. If they launch into what they don’t like about their boss or current company, that tells you a lot. It tests whether they’re a positive person and how they handle adversity.”
5. Tell me about your best and worst days at work?Chris O’Neill (Evernote)
Entrepreneur Magazine reported Mr O’Neill said this about his behavioural interview question: “The answers are very revealing. ‘Best day’ answers demonstrate what makes that person tick, what motivates them. ‘Worst day’ answers tell whether a person is a team player — if their response focuses on what went wrong without taking any ownership, there is a good chance they won’t thrive in a collaborative environment.
6. If I called your current boss, what would they say about you?Chris Williams, (pocket.watch)
“The question, that is typically the most revealing, is interviewees tend to be very honest in their response because they anticipate that there’s an actual possibility I’ll make that call” (source).
7. What was the last costume you wore?David Gilboa (Warby Parker)
Mr Giboa says that this interview question lets “them find out if a candidate has a fun and quirky persona that matches the company’s values.” It also breaks the ice.
8. What do you want to be when you grow up?Stewart Butterfield (Slack, Flickr)
Butterfield says this about this interview question: “Good answers are usually about areas in which they want to grow, things they want to learn, things that they feel like they haven’t had a chance to accomplish yet but want to accomplish… A very short answer to that question would be automatically bad.”
9. Are you the smartest person you know?Larry Ellison (Oracle)
If the candidate answered “yes,” they’d get hired. If they answered “no,” the recruiter would ask, “who is?” Then they’d try to hire that other person instead, Business Insider reported.
10. What questions would you ask yourself if you were us?Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google)
CNBC reported that the Google cofounders asked this question to candidates to interview themselves in front of them, a highly behavioural exercise, which google is famous for, although they later said most exercises were “useless”.
11. On a scale of 1-10, with one being the best and ten being the worst, how detail-oriented would you rate yourself and why?Unknown
Throw this question out of the blue. If they answer a high number, it means they didn’t listen and comprehend the question.
2. Classic Behavioral Interview Questions To Ask
The reason why common interview questions seem lame or vapid is that any candidate can answer that they have the skills to do the job. But, these kinds of classic behavioural interview questions should still be asked in most scenarios because they can show whether the employee failed to prepare for the moment, which is a major red flag.
Common Behavioral Interview Questions
- Start off by asking, what do you do for fun on the weekends? This question will help ease the tension in the room. There is no wrong answer.
- What was your favorite thing about your last position? Follow this question by asking, what was your least favorite thing? This could be away to get a sense of whether the candidate will enjoy the job for the long run or grow to hate the job. You want to hire someone who genuinely likes his job.
- What is your dream job? This is another good way to decide whether the candidate will like the job or hate the job.
- Have you ever had an incident where you disagreed with your supervisor? If yes, what was it and how did you handle it? This one is a classic, and I hate it, but I respect it. It shows whether or not the candidate can and will make workplace problems better or make them worse. It also shows whether the candidate did their homework and prepared for the interview because this question is so common most people should have practised it.
- Is it better to be good and on time or perfect and late with your work? This is a trick question, and there is no right answer. What matters is whether the candidate can explain which one is better in certain circumstances.
- Why should I hire you? If he stumbles on this, move on. If the candidate can’t sell himself, he hasn’t prepared or thought about the “strength” that he brings to the job, meaning he failed to practise the most basic of interview-prep.
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years? This is a good one to show whether the candidate will leave once he gets more experience. Employers should look to retain staff over the long haul. Brain drain is a big problem for top companies.
- When is it appropriate to hang up on/be rude to a customer? The answer is always, never.
- If you gave your last boss a performance review, what would you say? This question shows the candidate’s ability to manage people, especially people the candidate may or may not like.
- Describe a situation where you have gone above and beyond? This interview question shows which candidate is willing to do the most for the company.
- Do you have any questions for me? If there is no answer, the candidate isn’t interested or he lacks necessary communication skills.
Don’t ask, what is your biggest weakness? Its cliché and always emits a little lie. Don’t ask your candidate to lie.
Dutton Employment Law advises employers on HR and employment law in Ontario. See our services here.