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If you have ever asked your candidate, “what is your greatest strength and weakness?”, you have most likely received an answer to the tune of “my greatest strength is that I’m a team player, and my greatest weakness is that I work too hard to make sure my work is perfect.” At any rate, the answer you receive usually offers no meaningful insight into the inner workings of the candidate’s knowledge, skills, or abilities. But the problem isn’t the candidate’s answer–it’s the question.

All too often, common interview questions yield rehearsed answers. Candidates have become wiser and they tell hiring managers what they want to hear to get to the next step in the hiring process. Candidates know that questions about their strengths, weaknesses, and other similar inquiries have little to no bearing on their ability to do the job, so they have no incentive to answer those questions truthfully.

Instead, re-structuring the interview into behavior-based questions can help you get the information you are really looking for and hire quality talent. The behavior-based interview approach uses open-ended questions to ask candidates how they have performed routine tasks, handled prior work projects, reacted to adverse situations, found solutions to overcome roadblocks, and so on. This technique is effective because past behavior is considered the most reliable indicator of future performance.

Below are some generic interview questions that can be re-purposed to find the answers you’re really after. 

  • “What is your greatest strength?” Any answer to this question will be considered “good”: team-player, hard-worker, detail-oriented, results-driven. The problem is, the answer has no context, and you have no idea if it’s true or not.
    • Instead, ask “Give me an example of a goal you reached and what you did to achieve it.” Asking about a goal has positive undertones and allows the candidate to give color to their attributes by providing concrete examples. 
  • “What is your greatest weakness?” As you know, this question won’t prompt the candidate to actually reveal any personal failures that would jeopardize a potential job offer. Besides, you want to focus on reasons to hire the candidate, not hold their shortcomings against them.
    • Instead, ask “Describe a specific challenge you’ve faced and what steps you took to overcome it.” This demonstrates the candidate’s problem-solving skills, and potentially his/her resourcefulness and adaptability in an adverse situation.
  • “If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?” Any personality question like this puts the candidate on the spot and is not grounded in any position-related knowledge, skill, or ability. Trying to see how the candidate reacts to a question like this doesn’t translate to how they will respond to stressful situations on the job.
    • Instead, ask “Share a time your organization or team was undergoing change. How did you respond in that situation?” Change usually brings about some grey area, and asking how the candidate reacted will give you the insight to his/her tolerance for uncertainty, as well as his/her resiliency to successfully navigate tumultuous times.
  • “How many windows are there in New York City?” Tricky brainteaser questions like this are impossible to solve and probably won’t showcase the candidate’s true critical thinking skills or problem-solving abilities.
    • Instead, ask “Tell me about a time when you implemented a solution to a problem. What was your process?” With this phrasing, the candidate can explain their analytical skills and logical reasoning in relation to a specific, professional issue.

Behavior-based interview questions provide you with the structure to probe for the details you really need to know in order to hire quality talent. Download our free whitepaper on “Perfecting The Perfect Hire.”

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

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