10 Fastballs and 1 Curveball to Ask Top Candidates

Feb 13, 2014

Usually I see someone’s resume a few minutes before the interview starts. In the time (and adrenaline) rush of an interview, it’s easy to make small talk and rehash a resume — but much harder to make a thorough assessment of fit.

One way we’ve found to avoid costly hiring mistakes is to spread thoughtful and provocative questions across the interview team. You owe it your company to analyze how the candidate thinks on her feet. Here are 10 questions we may ask to identify rockstars:

  1. What path brings you here today? Learn about a candidate’s background, but also their motivation. How much do they know about your business? Why is this the perfect opportunity for them? Or, are they just here because they’re looking for a new job?
  2. When have you experienced great customer service? Like many companies, Limeade’s No. 1 priority is to delight our customers. By learning what people value in their own customer service experience, we can evaluate how they would understand and then provide “spa service.”
  3. At work, when do you feel you’re at your best? This is a better way of asking someone to discuss his or her strengths. People who combine skill with passion beget results. This question helps you find people who have reflected on and learned what pumps them up.
  4. What company do you most admire? Why? We want employees who value the power of company culture — in large part because we’re so intentional about ours. This question evaluate the importance they place on an employer’s culture, and which specific aspects resonate with them.
  5. What “killer app” is on your phone? We’re a technology company, so we want people to be genuinely excited about technical innovation. This question requires people to articulate why something is innovative, versus other methods of doing the same thing. (Also, it’s hard to fake the authentic joy of finding a killer app — like my new favorite, Hotel Tonight). If they don’t have a smartphone (e.g. for financial reasons), ask them the same question about any new product.
  6. What’s your greatest invention? It’s a stumper. But it gets at problem identification and resolution — at home or at work. Use this query to evaluate problem solving skills, creativity, and initiative.
  7. When have you been dealt a raw deal at work? Everyone has dealt with challenging situations. By asking candidates to walk you through their most unfair treatment, you’ll see whether they love to learn from hurdles and failures, or love to whine.
  8. What project or process have you owned from start to finish? Resumes are a great screening tool. But they’re full of team accomplishments. (Just because I worked on an awesome product doesn’t make me awesome). By asking about a project they fully owned, you’ll find out if they are the baking soda or the chocolate chips in your corporate cookie.
  9. When have you used data to drive an important decision? Most modern businesses can’t afford to hire people who are bad at math. By asking this question, we quickly weed out candidates who make gut decisions without thinking things through logically. Ask, then study, then act.
  10. What else? Ask this and let the silence ring for 30 seconds if necessary. We love candidates who have a high bar for themselves, their employers, and ultimately their careers. They should be interviewing us as much as we’re interviewing them.

Curveballs are fair.

Because most candidates come prepared, I always also like to leave time for a curveball question.

“I noticed you have brown shoes on — why is that?”

Does she ask questions? Laugh? Sneer? Sigh with exhaustion? Engage? These are “spark-detectors.” If you don’t see the spark in the interview, you likely won’t love the dull stares at work, weeks later.

Bonus tip: Ask for the details — names, dates, products, weather, etc. in every story. This helps you assess whether the candidate is just well-prepped, or deeply connected to the nuance of her work examples.

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!