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Interviews: 8 killer questions that’ll unearth the best people for the job

Alexandra Slater, country manager UK at recruitment firm DICE, gives eight questions you should ask in an interview to make sure you hire the right person for your team.

When you’re hiring for your startup, there are a number of questions you’ll need to ask. Questions about industry trends and technical aspects of the role can help you be sure the person in front of you has the knowledge and competencies to do the job you’re considering them for, and that their capabilities reflect the experience and qualifications on their CV.

You’ll probably also want to ask some questions to check that they’re professional and the right match for your company. But there’s more to assessing someone’s suitability for a role than knowing whether they’re familiar with their industry and have a grasp of the skills and concepts needed to do their job.

It’s vitally important that your new recruit responds well to pressure, and that they’re able to find creative solutions at short notice. You also want to be certain that they have a finely-tuned moral compass, a strong sense of loyalty and a good dose of humility. These human traits may tell you more about a person’s suitability than all the practical assessments, psychometric tests and technical questions you can throw at them (however useful all of these things can be).

We’re not suggesting for a second that you shouldn’t ask all the normal questions your candidates will be expecting, but throwing in a few curve balls will give you that little bit of extra intelligence that can help you make the right decision and land an employee that will fit in well and enjoy a long and mutually beneficial stint at your company. To that end, we’ve put together eight questions that will help you unearth the kind of gems that can help your business thrive.

1. Give an example of a moral dilemma you’ve faced – how did you know it was a moral dilemma, and what was the outcome?

What you’re trying to uncover here is your candidate’s standpoint on everyday issues. Knowing what they consider a moral dilemma – and why – can be very enlightening. The answer you receive will ideally be about a situation that they haven’t caused themselves, but where they contributed to the solution.

2. How many table tennis balls are there in China?

Obviously you’re not expecting your potential new hire to know the answer to this question, as it has no reflection on their ability to do the job they’re applying for. What you’re doing in reality is putting them on the spot, which will tell you how they respond to pressure. You’ll also get some insight into how their mind works, and their ability to use deduction to come up with an estimate.

3. If you were to describe yourself as an animal, what would it be and why?

Asking this will help you find out which personality traits your applicant finds appealing, and what kind of person they consider themselves to be. The ‘why’ part of the question is important here – the response to this will tell you whether the candidate has a personality that’ll be a good fit with your team.

4. Tell me about a situation where you helped a colleague who was in trouble. What was the situation and how did you deal with it?

By asking this question, you’re really trying to find out where they stand on things like team, loyalty, honour and putting personal gain aside in a given situation to take joint responsibility for the good of the collective.

5. List up to three poor business decisions you’ve made – what did you learn from them?

There are three possibilities if your candidate doesn’t have an answer for this question; either they’re lying, they have a terrible memory, or they’ve never made a mistake. The latter is highly unlikely, so you’ll be hoping that they’re big enough to admit to the ones they have made, and that they’re able to demonstrate an ability to learn from them.

6. How do you create an ethical culture within an organisation?

Clichéd platitudes and nice ideas are ultimately meaningless when it comes to this question. What you want to see evidence of is a sense of realism, a grasp of the bigger picture and an understanding of how organisational culture feeds down from the top.

7. Tell me a question you’d be unable to answer.

This is obviously a trick question, in the sense that there is no right answer. However, having the humility to say ‘I don’t know’ when faced with a challenging question is a positive personality trait that you should look out for. Creative, quick-fire answers can also demonstrate valuable qualities.

8. Which personal goals have you achieved; which of them are you most proud of, and why?

Obviously work and home-based achievements have value, and they can tell you a lot about a person. You want to know that your candidate has a personality too though, so the best answers will cover these everyday achievements while also demonstrating that they have other passions and life goals, such as hobbies, sporting activities or artistic skills.