The Art of Creating a Perfect Interview Question

Going through an interview is of course a nerve-wracking affair for the candidate. What’s talked about less is how uncomfortable it can be for the interviewer. When I talk to hiring managers about their experience of interviewing, one of the first questions I ask is “what questions do you ask?”. Now, this first question does not present too much of a challenge; most hiring managers have a suite of standard or favourite questions.

Great question

The conversation becomes much more uncomfortable when I ask them why they ask a particular question. It is all very well asking a question, but if you don’t know how you want the candidate to respond, there is no point asking the question. You see, a great question is one to which you are clear as to how you want the ideal candidate to respond, and why!

The foundation of a set of great questions has to be a clear understanding of the strengths you are looking for in a candidate. Let’s assume that you are looking for an exceptionally honest individual (who isn’t?!). The key here (as to any question) is knowing how the most honest individuals respond to questions about honesty.

Let’s consider two example questions:

“On a scale of one to five (where five is high) how honest are you?”

Research shows that the most honest individuals will respond with a five. That is what you should be holding out for. You could then go on to ask:

“Do you think most people will cheat if the conditions are right?”

Research has shown that individuals with the greatest integrity respond with an unreserved “No.”. You need to hold out for nothing less.

The assumption

The thinking as to why the most honest individuals respond with a “No” to the latter question is this: we tend to view others through our own lense; if we never cheat or lie, we simply assume that others won’t.

So, to enter into an interview feeling confident (as the interviewer!), be clear as to what you are looking for in a candidate, be clear on the questions you are going to ask and, most importantly, what does an ideal response sound like?