My four interview question categories

I couldn’t figure out how to title this post.  (Just so you know.  It’s early and I struggle writing pithy headlines in the AM.)

Just the other day, I was asked by a colleague to go over my interview process and questions.  Just then, years after starting to interview recent grads (I sheepishly admit it took me too long to notice this), I realized that I only have four categories of questions.  I suppose I could break them down in a thousand different ways (like Past, Present, Future; Personal, Behavioral, Aspirational), but this is how I look at my interview questions.  I don’t know that every recruiter consciously groups their questions like this, but it can’t hurt to practice answers for each category.  And just like negotiations and fancy sales tactics, it’s good to know how the person across the table approaches the game.

I generally break interview questions into four categories:

  1. Data and Facts:  “What’s your GPA?  When can you start?  Will you have to relocate?  Did you know you have mustard on your collar?”  Every interview will have 5 to 10 of these easy ones.  They’re usually softballs, but good candidates can still find a way to wow the recruiter.  For example, “When can you start?”  The easy answer is “June 5th.”  The right answer is “I graduate on June 3rd, and I’m very excited about this so I could start right away or, if that doesn’t align with your hiring schedule, I could make it happen any time this summer.”
  2. Get ’em Talking:  “Tell me a funny story about work.  Let’s see what we have in common before we get into the tough questions.”  After introductions and thanking the candidate for their time, I always begin with one of these.  Recruiters have such an enormous advantage over candidates because they A) get paid to interview people, and B) are probably in their own office and conference room.  But you can’t get a good sense for someone when he’s nervous, so I start the interview with easy questions designed to create a higher degree of comfort.  These questions are also a great chance to shine.  I’ll ask “What do you do when you’re not working or studying?”  The wrong answer is “Hang out with friends.”  Or “Play video games.”  First, everybody does those things, and it’s important to differentiate.  Second, those aren’t very ambitious activities.  A better answer is “I’m working with a few student groups on increasing campus awareness.”  Or “I’m looking into non-profits to support after graduation.”  Or even “I’m excited to be training for my first half marathon.  It’s a stretch, but I’m finding that the time I spend running is great for reflection and analysis.”
  3. Get in His Head:  “Why do you think you had more respect for that leader than others you’ve had?  What’s the difference between management and leadership?”  This category includes traditional behavioral questions as well as other thought-provoking topics that help me assess a candidate’s approach to various issues.  If interviews were tests, these questions would be the long-form essays.
  4. Determine the Fit:  “What have you learned about this industry since discovering the job posting?  Why do you think this career is right for you over, say, your other options?”  I’ve met dozens of smart candidates qualified to do the work who nevertheless were not the right fit for my position.  Even recent grads have predilections that push them toward different industries and roles, and finding the right fit is just as important as finding brilliant people.  In fact, often the most brilliant candidates are most easily pegged as a questionable fit.

One response to “My four interview question categories

  1. Pingback: Practice answering these interview questions | Get a Leg Up

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