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Good Questions & Bad Questions at Job Interviews

This original article was written by:
Kensuke Furukawa I Director / General Manager of New Service Planning Department at Supership
One of the most well-known entrepreneurs in Japan. You might recognize his name from "nanapi", a Japanese life hack media site. In this article, he wrote a few tips on interviewing candidates.


Questions at Interviews can be tricky.

Usually Interviewers ask Interviewees questions, but coming up with questions ain't no easy task.

Except for the interviews at large corporations where only HR people ask questions, there are many cases where team leaders or managers join the interviews and ask questions to job candidates. However, for those who have not been on the interviewer side, it is not an easy task to evaluate if the candidate has the capability and quality that fits the position and the company.

So, I am writing this article to give you the tips on effective interview questions, and how I evaluate candidates' answers for a successful hire from my hiring experiences.

Common Questions

"Tell me about a project that got you really excited."

When I ask "tell me about your experiences", applicants tend to list their life events like a timeline. But, that's already written on the resume. But if you asked, "tell me about a project that got you really excited", you could learn:

- How and where the applicants got the motivation
- Roles played in the project that the applicants excelled their talents

When we are excited about something, we generally put lots of efforts naturally. This is why this question can help us to see "what position/role they are excelling." This question could guide us to evaluate on "the level of outcomes when those condition are given" as well.

When I see the candidates' passion and excitement when talking about his/her project, it really makes me want to consider hiring that person. On the other hand, when he/she tells me they never had a project that got them excited or have not found it yet, I mostly do not give them a job offer especially since it is not the most ideal attitude for a startup culture.

"Tell me some of the feedbacks you received recently from your boss"

Although there are some interviewers ask questions like "What's your weakness?", I personally don't think it's the most effective question since it's been overused. Candidates already are "prepared" for that kind of questions. You hear things like, "sometimes I work too hard, and tend to dwell in it." They will try to tell weaknesses in a the most positive way. Even if they had actual weaknesses, they will only tell you the weaknesses that "sound good".

However, what we want to hear is their true weaknesses- nobody is perfect. If we know what kind of weaknesses the candidate possess, we can think of how to structure the position in the team or the organization to back up the weakness.

That's why I format my questions in this way:
"What are some of the feedbacks you received from your boss recently? It can also be advices from your boss about things to improve."

Not many people tend to tell lies on this question. They usually answer it frankly of feedbacks they have received from their superior. If you ask some follow-up questions, it lets you see the idea of what people think of that person at the current workplace, which help you see his/her weakness as well.

What I think of the favorable answer to this question is to simply explain the feedback he/she received. It can suggest the relationship between that person and the boss at a work setting, and if that person is really understanding the meaning of the advices, and being able to break it down to a few points.

I also suggest to ask if they have considered action plans to the feedback to improve on. This helps us to understand that person's logic in a deeper level.

What differentiates you and others in the field of [Job Position]?

This question is to see how clear is the candidate's future vision is. Of course- we want a professional experienced candidate; however, it can be difficult to find the experienced talent for unknown venture companies due to their limited resources and capability in hiring. Therefore, we have to put the future scaling capacity and growth potential into the consideration.

This might make us want to ask for their future ambition; but, if the direction of their ambition is wrong- then it might end up to be a waste. That's why if the candidate understands the clear expectation of what the successful candidate in the field of the profession be and has the action plans on bring themselves to reach that goal, we can expect that person to grow in a bigger scale after hiring that person.

Why do you think you passed the first screening?

I usually ask this question after the second screening, but you can also ask why they passed the resume screening at the first interview.

This is to see if the candidate understands what's been appraised. In other words, I want to know if there are any differences between the self-evaluation and peer evaluation.

There is nothing wrong with the tiny difference there. But if the self and peer evaluation do not match at all after the hire, it could be problematic. For example, he/she might feel as though we don't see his tireless effort on something. Therefore, if his/her answer to this question has an obvious misinterpretation of the evaluation, I listen to him/her carefully.

For instance, if he/she says "I am misevaluated at work" to questions like "what are you dissatisfied at work", you could also ask "what do you think your stance is at current workplace? and why?"

Questions that are not necessary
These are questions that I have asked before that weren't necessarily effective.

"Why did you apply to this company?"

Well I do ask "what interested you about us?" for a research purposes. But do you really want to know why they want to join your company?

Obviously, I want to hire the best talent possible- but in order to do that, I need to convince them, not ask them why they want to join us.

"Do you have new apps or service that you liked recently?"

Coming from IT industry, this is something we can't help asking. I tend to ask it too.

But come to think of it, I tend to judge the candidates based on the quality of the app/service they present, which can be very much biased.

So, this is not a good question to ask.

"What do you think how your colleagues see you?"

You can't get the right answer with this question either. People tend to overcoat it. What I want to hear is not only on positive inputs but the accurate inputs. This probably happens because of the way I ask, so I stopped asking this question. Instead, I ask "what is the recent feedbacks from your boss?" This is more accurate, considering they tend to tell the facts, rather than what they "think".

I ask a few more core questions on top of this, then I have a conversation with the candidate. I want to see if they are a good listener and be able to pay attention to speakers.

Since I am not really good at talking to strangers, I prepare those questions beforehand, and try to keep the conversation flowing.

Hope this helps!