5 Steps to Better Interview Questions

Are your interview questions starting to feel stale?

The way the recruitment landscape is going, there’s a heavy burden on the employer to ace the interview process. You don’t want to waste much time; if you have an open position at your company, it’s vital to get it filled as soon as possible. A string of bad interviews where you don’t feel like you walked away knowing the candidate can lead to significant delays in the hiring process. Also, if an employee doesn’t enjoy the interview experience, they’re going to be a lot less likely to accept a job offer. A lot of a candidate’s personality, skillset, and ability to fit into your company will be determined in the interview.

That means your questions matter. They matter a lot. You can’t walk into an interview having only briefly glanced over the job applicant’s name and current position; you need to do a bit of work beforehand to ensure the interview’s success. It takes time and preparation to present a great interview. Many employers have some type of boilerplate list of questions that they use to interview candidates, and while that can be a decent starting point, you may want to consider tweaking your list a bit, especially if you haven’t looked at it in a while.

Here are five steps to better interview questions so that you can hire more quickly, fill your open roles, and keep your company’s processes rolling along.

Make Your Questions More Specific

In some ways, a broad question can seem like a good idea. It gives the candidate wiggle room with how to answer, meaning that you’ll learn more about them and their personality, and it may also be a more open-ended question, which is always a good thing. But questions that are too broad will lead you down winding roads that aren’t actually giving you new information. The slight change between “Tell me something you learned in your last job” and “Tell me something you learned about social media in 2022 in your last job” can make a world of difference and help you get to the facts more quickly.

Allow for Some Curiosity and Flexibility

You probably have a list of questions you want to get through in a timely manner, but if a rabbit hole intrigues you, don’t be afraid to wander down it for a bit! Say that the candidate you’re interviewing offhandedly mentions a college internship that they didn’t think was particularly relevant, but the internship sounds intriguing to you. Feel free to make space to ask questions about what they learned there and what their responsibilities were. Maybe they casually mention being a sailor, and that’s a common interest. Ask how the detailed technical work of sailing has had an influence in their past jobs. Don’t hold so fast to your list of questions that you miss interesting opportunities to learn more about the candidate. You don’t need to go on a long tangent; it could simply be a minute or two—but that slight detour could lead you to new, helpful information.

Reference the Candidate’s Resume

The number of times a company asks for a resume and then doesn’t reference it in an interview is high. It’s a frustrating experience for the candidate—after all, they wrote all of their background information out for you, and you’re not even taking the time to read it? Show that you put a little time into preparing for the interview by asking a few specific questions that were pulled from the candidate’s resume. Reference specific job positions they’ve held, and ask how skills they wrote will help them in this new role. If there are any gaps in someone’s resume, this is a great time to address those as well. They may have a perfectly good reason for being out of work for six months, but you’ll never know until you ask—and you’ll never know to ask unless you’ve looked at their resume.

Ditch the Brain Teasers

This one comes with a caveat. There are some occasions where brain teasers are helpful. If you’re in an industry like engineering, it may be important to see how a candidate logically works through an issue. For instance, the question “Can you guess how many potholes are in our city?” may seem silly or superfluous. But does the person start with a random guess and try to adjust it? Do they start by mathematically calculating the number of streets vs. the population? Do they start talking about the Department of Public Works and how that’s who they’d contact? In a creative industry, the way they approach the question can help you understand the way their brain works.

But in many industries, those brain teaser questions are, well, silly and superfluous. They fluster the candidate, knocking them off their game and making him or her more nervous. They don’t actually lead to valuable information. They serve as a giant waste of time, which is something neither of you can afford. So instead of utilizing strange brain teaser questions, ask clear, specific ones. If you want to see how someone would go about solving a problem, give them a real problem your company’s had recently and ask how they’d go about solving it. No potholes required.

Ask Shorter Questions

If your questions are too long, it’s going to throw the candidate off. Try to make your questions short, and only ask them one at a time. For instance, instead of, “Can you tell me a little bit about your background? What you’ve learned, what experiences you’ve had? How will those help you in this current role?”, try three different questions, asked separately. This will also allow more room for the above-mentioned curiosity and flexibility. You may want to pull out a specific answer they give and ask more about it, but it’s hard to do that if they’re trying to answer one long, rambling question, or three questions all pushed into one. Remember that clear beats clever every time. Don’t get hung up on fancy wording or turns of phrase.

Claire Swinarski is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.