When you really want to see what your candidate is made of—both professionally and personally—asking thought-provoking interview questions is an absolute must. But forget about the cliches. Questions like, “Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years,” and “What are your biggest weaknesses,” aren’t going to get you anything but the canned responses your candidate was clever enough to Google before the interview. “I work too hard,” or “I’m a perfectionist,” or “I’m a hard-working team player.” I’m rolling my eyes just thinking about it…

Interviewing a candidate should give you insight to more than just the skills and abilities relevant to the open position. It should highlight the candidate’s personality traits and give you an idea as to how this person will mesh with your team. It should shed light on an individual’s ability to problem solve and overcome both professional and personal challenges.

Our management consultants have found that these are some of the best interview questions to ask your job candidates, and why:

1. Tell me how [skill] had helped you succeed in reaching a goal. Walk me through the process.

[Skill] should be something that the candidate has described her or himself as having, and also a skill that is valuable to your company and the open position. The interviewee should be able to answer this question without too much thought—if they have to think that hard to come up with a recent success, then they’re probably not succeeding often enough.

2. Tell me how [skill] has helped you get out of the weeds in the past. 

The value of this question is twofold: it will help you understand what “in the weeds” means for this candidate and determine whether they will be able to handle the types of stressful events that tend to arise in the position they are interviewing for.

3. What is the biggest failure you’ve experienced with [skill]? Tell me about how you screwed up.

How self aware is your candidate? This interview question will help you understand not only how in-tune your candidate is with her or his professional skill set, but also what they were able to learn from their failure, and how they have prevented recurrent failures.

4. What have you done professionally that you’d consider a success…but that you’d prefer not to do again?

No employee is 100% happy with their job all the time. This question will give you an idea of what kind of work they’re generally dissatisfied with. Responses typically describe the following situations:

a. Menial & tedious tasks: Think stuffing envelopes or hand-addressing postcards, etc. Does the candidate recognize the importance of this task to the overall organization?

b. A super challenging task: Find out what made the task so hard, and try to gauge if the candidate is placing blame on a person, place or thing for making the task more difficult than it had to be.

c. Team-related woes: Dig deeper and find out more about the personalities involved. This will help you gauge how the candidate will fit in with your own team.

5. Who is the smartest person you know, and why?

This will give you a good taste for what the candidate values and aspires to be. Ideal answers include examples of forward-thinking leaders who are able to seamlessly implement their ideas. Decision-making skills, ability to applies learned concepts to real-life business challenges, a thirst for knowledge…these are all great skills for your candidate to idealize.

Always close out your interview by asking the candidate if they have any questions for you. They should have a few well thought out questions that have nothing to do with salary, benefits, or time off.

The recruiting process can be one of the most time-consuming and expensive processes for a company, regardless of industry. Hire the right candidate the first time by asking the best interview questions possible, or by contracting a third-party HR recruiting company to do the hard work for you.

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