We’ve all been through it. Most people who have been looking for a job can do it in their sleep. It’s the cake-walk warm up of pretty much every interview. It’s the seven words you always hear… “Can you walk me through your resume?”
After the familiar song and dance of running through your resume, you usually get hit with the classic “tell me about a time when…”. Now, these scenario-based questions can be very effective in understanding how a candidate thinks about a situation. But there are two big problems with them; the first is that most people have canned answers.
The other problem with these questions, and the resume walk through, is that they are both backward looking. While they certainly give valuable information, they also miss a critical component of understanding how a candidate will perform in the role you’re trying to fill.
Both of these lines of questioning focus on the past. They are backward looking and anchored in the roles and organizations in which the candidate has worked. There’s one obvious problem with that: you’re not interviewing them to work in their previous role and organization. You’re interviewing them for a new role and a new organization.
Here are three key questions to help you understand a candidate’s future, not just their past.
1. “What’s your dream job?”
I love this question. And not because the answer itself is particularly helpful, but because the color surrounding the answer is very telling about what a candidate is truly passionate about. This gives you some context into their future and where they envision their career trajectory going.
Real life example: I was once interviewing someone for a desk job in NYC. When I asked “what’s your dream job” his answer was a professional surfer. But then he expanded to explain that while he knows he won’t ever be a professional surfer, he has always wanted to work in the surf industry and was actually looking at a few opportunities in the space right now.
By asking a seemingly silly question I was able to learn that he would never have been satisfied in the role I was trying to fill. I found out that despite the fact that his resume was filled with jobs that were similar to the role I was trying to fill, his desires for the future made him a much better fit in a different industry.
2. “What do you want your title to be in five years?”
Most people have heard the classic question “where do you see yourself in five years?”, but I’ve found that it’s much more helpful to ask a more detailed question. By asking a candidate what they want their title to be in five years you gain additional insight into their passions and plans for the future.
Real life example: I was interviewing someone for a marketing role, and all her experience was in marketing. The entire interview we talked about marketing, but when I asked what she wanted her title to be in five years she said “VP of Product”. As it turns out, what she really liked about marketing was the interactions she had with product and engineering teams, not the marketing itself.
By asking about a candidate’s future title you remove the ambiguity of “where do you see yourself in five years?” and can gain tremendous insights into where the candidate sees their career arch going in the future.
3. “How would you make this decision?”
By asking a candidate to “tell you about a time when…” you fit their answer into the context of a previous organization. Switching the question to the future tense gives the candidate more freedom to show their true colors.
Real life example: I was interviewing a candidate for a management role and I asked how she would handle an actual decision we were facing as an organization about the right frequency of one on one meetings. As she walked me through her thought process about the decision it was immediately clear that her natural management style would be an amazing fit for our organization. We hired her and she’s been fantastic.
By using a real-life example versus a hypothetical, I had the context to have a robust and detailed conversation with the candidate. It gave me a glimpse into the potential future of working with the candidate and was instrumental in making a great hire.