What do you interview for?

When you interview a prospective employee, what do you ask them?

There’s the usual going over the resume, asking about skills and experience. Then comes the “let’s see what you’re made of” questions − what was your biggest failure and how did you handle it? What is your best/worst attribute? What did you like/dislike about your previous job/employer?

All of these are fine questions, except that they are easily (and commonly) prepared for. It becomes a highly groomed game of cat-and-mouse, rather than really finding out what kind of person you’re sitting across the table from. Unless you’re looking for a candidate who is highly skilled at B.S.-ing their way through meetings, this may not be the best tack to take.

How about asking questions that they can’t prepare for?

Ask questions that have no (or at least no obvious) right answer. What questions will give you a glimpse of how their mind works, and how they react?

Whether the question is position-related (how would you counter the competition in “x” scenario) or  something more generally thought-provoking, you’ll get a more accurate read on how quickly they can assess a given problem and how capable and creative they are in coming up with solutions.

Here are a couple of examples from various sources:

  • Imagine dropping a Rubik’s Cube into a bucket of paint. How many of the cubes will get paint on them?
  • How many tennis balls can you fit in this room and how would you get them here?
  • How do they get the cream filling inside a Twinkie?
  • Why do people climb mountains?
  • Why are manhole covers round?
  • If you had to lose one major body part, what would it be? How would you compensate?
  • If the earth lost its gravitational pull, would any living things survive?

The bottom line here is interview for the attitudes and aptitudes your company needs.  If you find a person that can think the way you need them to, and has a personality that “fits” your company, you can always teach them the skills they will need to be successful in the position.

It’s easier to buy a carpenter a toolbox than teach a person with a toolbox to be a carpenter.


Photo by Robert S. Donovan

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