If you’re wondering how to get more in depth with prospective employees, chances are you are playing it too safe when it comes to your interview style and questions. Are you really digging deep to understand the person? Or are you just going through a list of questions predating D-Day? Changing up your interview style may just give you the breakthrough you are looking for when chatting with potential employees.

Set Yourself Up for Success

One of the best tools in conducting a great interview is the prescreen interview. Often it takes place with a recruiter from human resources, and that’s okay, as long as you are gleaning quality information. Prescreens allow for you to “weed out” candidates that may look good on paper but really have no idea what they are talking about. What questions are you asking in a prescreen? This isn’t the time for “getting to know your backstory” questions. This is time for you to understand their previous work experience and education. Ask clarifying questions on jobs you need more detail on. If the candidate gives detailed answers that connect with the job description, this is a good sign you may want to move forward with a full-on interview.

During the prescreen, it is important to take note of their personality, as well – don’t leave that for the follow-up. Do they respond well when probing for more detail? Or do they tend to get overwhelmed and huffy? Chances are if they are flustered on a prescreen, they will be just as flustered on the job site. Also, take note of their demeanor over the phone. Are they genuinely pleasant, or more direct? Either trait could be something you are looking for, so it is important document. If HR is handling prescreens, let them know you would like that feedback as well.

Lastly, you need to go ahead and talk money. If the potential candidate is looking to be paid well above what you are willing to pay this needs to be known at this time. Is the candidate willing to negotiate? Or is this person qualified enough that you would be willing to raise the salary? Knowing this going into the actual interview is crucial. No need to waste your time or theirs if you know money is going to be an issue.

how to make common interview questions better

Now that you have conducted your prescreen and have decided to move forward with a group (or maybe just a few) candidates, kick your interview questions up a notch.  You know from the prescreen their job history and education, but now it’s time for you to really know the person and what they can do. I have been in interviews in education as well as corporate America and they look vastly different. Educational interviews always want to know more about the person and their personal history. More mainstream jobs tend to only focus on your work. There is a balance here.

Most interviews literally begin with “tell me a little about yourself.” Um, ok Susan, would you like for me to start at kindergarten or should I begin more at college? Make your question clear here: you want to know this candidate’s personality, but you also don’t need their life story. “Tell me why you chose a career in ___?” This question shows you the candidate’s passions and also expounds on the role they are applying for. If they do not show enthusiasm for the role and the career path they are on, you need to decide if that is the right fit for your company. Let’s dive into some more questions. Here is a list of the top 10 interview questions:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Why should we hire you?
  3. What is your greatest strength?
  4. What is your greatest weakness?
  5. Why do you want to leave your current job?
  6. What are your salary expectations?
  7. Why do you want this job?
  8. How do you handle stress and pressure?
  9. Describe a difficult work situation and how you handled it.
  10. What are you goals for the future?

The same interview questions make the rounds and we have all experienced them. But what if you took these to the next level and realigned them with what YOU need from this role? Perhaps they would look something like this:

  1. Tell me why you chose a career in ____? See above for more detail on this one.
  2. How does your experience align with this role? This works twofold: you see if they stack up next to other candidates and if they really understand what the job is.
  3. How do you work as a team and how do you work independently? The strength and weaknesses will shine through here rather than asking the rote question and getting the rote answer.
  4. What is your ideal job culture and did you have that with other employers? This allows you to understand what they are looking for and why they left or want to leave their job.
  5. Some work situations can be difficult and stressful. How do you overcome this and meet deadlines? Let’s just be real here.  We know some facet of work will be challenging. Asking how they stay focused and meet deadlines is telling of how they approach their job.
  6. What do you see our company needing to do to help make you successful? Put this back on the company for a bit. This leads you to understanding what type of support they are looking for and it fleshes out long term goals.   

Make sure you know the role you are interviewing for. This sounds pretty strange to say but I have been on a few interviews where the person interviewing me had NO idea what the job actually did. I could have been talking about the price of tea in China and it would have made just as much impact. When you know the role, you can ask follow up questions to dig deeper. So with that said, flip your script so to speak. You do not need to live and die by one set of questions. If you get an answer that intrigues you, ask a follow up. Give yourself permission to deviate as needed.  When you know the role, you will certainly hire the most qualified person.

want better interviews? Don’t stick with the script.

Interviewing should not be a painful, arduous process. This should be a time where you truly get to know a candidate and all they can do. Use that prescreen to help as a jumping off point. These are just a few examples of digging deeper and asking better quality interview questions. Give yourself freedom to switch it up and not stick so tightly to the same script. Better quality questions lead to better quality answers and most importantly, better quality hiring.

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Jennifer Thorndyke is a wife and mom who enjoys intelligent conversation, strong coffee, and southern food.