Are You Asking Candidates the Right Interview Questions?


If you’re like most managers, you’re in a hurry to replace the technically competent employee who just left with an individual who possesses the same level of expertise. After all, work doesn’t get done by people who don’t understand how to code or who don’t understand the difference between assets and liabilities in the accounting system. In our rush to put capable employees on the payroll, we sometimes overlook candidates’ characters.

Anthony Tjan, CEO of Boston, MA-​based Cue Ball Team, a venture capital company, makes it his business to probe both character and competency when he evaluates candidates. In a post on ideas​.ted​.com, Tjan outlines several questions companies can use to interview candidates. These questions go beyond the traditional route used by many firms and likely have helped Tjan guide the hiring process at the many companies Cue Ball Team has invested in.

During a job interview, everyone is on their best behavior. Interviewers don’t want to run afoul of any laws. Candidates want to make the best possible impression, so they are determined to tell interviewers what they think will be ‘the right answers.’

Tjan suggests asking questions designed to start conversations that will take the interviewees out of their comfort zones. If you ask candidates about personality traits they most admire and hope their future children would possess, you’ll understand what they value. These traits may be inherited from their parents or demonstrated by an important role model in their lives, depending on how you ask the question. The point is — you'll get them to reveal something about themselves.

Another way to peel back layers of interview preparation and get at the real person is to catch them off guard. Tjan asks candidates to describe three situations in which they have made a positive impact on others. Some candidates will talk about mentoring relationships at work. Other candidates may talk about service to the community, a friend or neighbor. As a hiring manager, you’ll learn more about the candidates when they talk about their good works than you will from a reference check.

Using an alternate approach to interviewing gives you a fresh angle on the kinds of people you’re interviewing. The information they give you will help to determine whether they’ll be a good fit for your corporate culture. When you combine this information with a tool like TeamTrait which allows you to shape your existing culture and formally assess candidates through a system such as DISC’s personality assessments, you’ll soon be working with new employees who have both the technical skills and character to bring your business to the next level.

Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.