Learning & Development, Recruiting

3 Interview Questions You Should Stop Asking and What Can You Ask Instead

Are you tired of the same old interview questions? Let’s shake things up and retire three common questions that no longer provide the insights we need. But fear not, I’ve got some fresh alternatives for you that will make your interviews more engaging and insightful.

1. Tell Me About Yourself

“Tell me about yourself” is a too common interview question with a low return on investment (ROI). As an interviewer, you’re racing against the clock to collect the information that will enable you to decide if the candidate fits the position. This question can take the interview anywhere, including places that aren’t necessarily related to the job’s relevant skills (childhood, where they grew up, hobbies, etc.).

Moreover, the question is stressful for many candidates. “What does the interviewer want to hear about? my experience? hobbies? relevant skills?” This stress can hinder their ability to articulate their qualifications effectively.

Additionally, this is a great place for bias to creep in. Candidates who have done their homework about the interviewer might strategically mention shared experiences or connections that are irrelevant to the job requirements. (“We actually went to the same school.”) This can inadvertently trigger biases like the “similar to me” bias, whereby the interviewer may develop a favorable impression based on personal similarities rather than the candidate’s actual qualifications.

So, what should you ask instead? Any question that’s focused on job-relevant requirements—skills, values, motivations, behaviors. In order to get to where you’re going, you need to know where you want to go.

2. Why Do You Want to Work for Us?

Before you attempt this question, get real: Most candidates don’t have a specific aspiration to work exclusively for your organization but rather have applied to multiple companies during their job search.

When you ask this question, you’re asking for a socially desirable answer—or, in other words, you’re waiting for the candidate to tell you what you want to hear. All you’ll learn from this question is if the candidates researched your company in advance but nothing about their motivation.

To truly understand a candidate’s motivation, you can ask:

“What other positions are you applying for?” which helps you gauge their overall job search and interests. You can also ask, “Which components of your current or previous job did you like and dislike?” This will help you gain a better understanding of someone’s preferences and work-related experiences.

Furthermore, you can ask, “What are this job’s key components you are attracted to? Which ones are you concerned about?” This allows candidates to express their thoughts on the key components of the role, shedding light on their motivations and priorities.

A thought-provoking question to gauge their preferences is to present a trade-off between two competing motivations. For example, for an analyst’s position, you can ask, “What would you prefer: working in a position that has rich data that will allow you to do very interesting analysis but you’ll work mainly on your own or working in a position with more limited and mundane data but that will allow you to work on a team?” This type of question encourages candidates to reflect on their priorities and reveals deeper insights into their motivations.

3. Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

This question has become so predictable and overused that candidates often come prepared with scripted answers.

Similar to “Why do you want to work for us?” candidates know what you want to hear and will tell you just that. (“I see myself progressing professionally/to managerial positions within your organization.”)

Considering the rapidly changing landscape of work, it’s challenging to predict where one will be in 5 years. People change jobs, switch careers, adopt side hustles, and adjust their priorities over time. Thus, relying on a fixed 5-year plan may not accurately reflect the reality of candidates’ professional journeys.

So, what should you ask instead? If your goal is to understand candidates’ aspirations and motivations, you can ask, “Where DON’T you want to be in 5 years?” This will bring up interesting answers about what candidates want to avoid: working in a big or small company, doing the same job they’re doing today, etc.

Another possible question is “What is your biggest career aspiration?” This might also change with time, but it can reveal how high candidates are reaching and how they define their success (in terms of status, salary, knowledge, impact, etc.).

The Bottom Line

Want to improve the accuracy and fairness of your interviews? It’s time to retire outdated questions and adopt more targeted approaches. Avoid generic questions that can lead to unfocused and socially desirable responses and elicit biases. Instead, focus on job-relevant inquiries that reveal skills, motivations, and aspirations. By adopting this approach, you’ll increase the accuracy and fairness of your interviews while gaining deeper insights into candidates’ qualifications.

Shiran Danoch, PhD, is the CEO and founder of Informed Decisions, an interview intelligence platform focused on tracking and disrupting bias for better, more equitable hiring decisions. She’s an industrial-organizational psychologist with expertise in employee selection and has a PhD in people analytics. She’s also highly passionate about creating work environments where people decisions are made based on data and has consulted multinational companies and built assessment processes for the Israeli government and army.

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