Costumes are laid out the night before. Friends are recruited to judge a dress rehearsal of lines candidates have memorized and prepared in anticipation of the typical questions. Straying from comfort-zone questions is a great way to get candidates out of performance-mode so that you can genuinely get to know them. If you don’t find a way to get them off script, candidates will only tell you what they think will win them the part — leaving you guessing as to what qualities they actually possess. Here are four questions to help get candidates out of performance-mode:
What keyboard shortcuts do you use?
It’s not really about the keyboard shortcuts — it’s about finding someone who is constantly making little adjustments and finding small ways to work more efficiently. Great employees will have analyzed these small inefficiencies and done something about them. You could also ask candidates their organization system for computer files or how they squeeze every ounce of productivity out of their day.
It’s about finding someone who is deliberate. These are the employees who are going to be improving your workplace at every opportunity and encouraging those around them to do the same.
What would your current manager say you should do more of, less of or stop doing altogether?
To have successful employees, look for candidates who are comfortable evaluating and adjusting their performance in order to align with company goals. Asking candidates to analyze their current position helps you filter out those who aren’t self-reflective and teachable. Self-proclaimed perfect professionals don’t work very well together, because perfect people are always right. Self-reflective employees have greater potential because they’re open and eager to grow — so for fast-growing or innovative organizations, that’s the type of environment you’ll want to foster.
What was your very first job?
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You need employees with tenacity and grit — the kind earned from flipping burgers or scrubbing floors at first jobs. You can learn a lot from what an employee says about their first work experience. Perhaps it was terrible — can they laugh? Maybe they were worked to the bone — do they credit that job for their excellent work ethic?
These reflections reveal the true character of your candidate. Things won’t always be perfect within your organization; what kind of attitude will they have? Candidates who are positive enough to reflect fondly and humble enough to learn from their experiences bring the kind of mindset to your workplace that inspires insight and drives innovation.
How do you feel about the oxford comma, or open-source vs. proprietary software, or whether to capitalize or expense the implementation of SaaS?
Dig in. See what gets your candidate fired up. It will help to spend a little time with passionate people in the departments you recruit for. Listen to what industry-relevant news they’re talking about in the breakroom or which subjects they debate at the water cooler. Passionate people love their industry, are well-informed, and aren’t afraid to advocate. Not only that, their passion for their work helps them, and you, become thought leaders in your industry.
Candidates can strategically script answers to fit the role of any job description. If you focus on the qualities of candidates, instead of comfortable questions, you’ll get to know the candidates in a more real way. Giving candidates the opportunity to share their passions and humility learned through past experiences gives them a chance to show their true qualities (as opposed to reciting traits they thought would win them the part). Asking candidates to reflect on their performance — both good and bad — and tell you specific efficiency tricks gives you the chance to find self-starters. Take the opportunity to really get to know your candidate on a personal level, because you need employees who are more than actors — you need employees who enact positive change in your organization.