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Screen Job Applicants Like a Pro with Creative Interview Questions
by Jaime Lizotte
June 13, 2024

When you’re hiring a new employee, you don’t have much time to assess whether a candidate is the right fit.  The common approach is to ask “yes” or “no” questions, or simply to verify that a candidate has relevant experience. But those questions don’t provide much insight into how well an individual will perform, or whether he or she will be a good fit for your business.

To glean more meaningful information in a short time, focus on asking thought-provoking questions that force the candidate to think on his/her feet.

The following creative job interview questions will help you narrow the field more effectively.

1) “What would you do to calm down an angry customer (or upset coworker)?”

Great customer service is key to any successful business. And even for positions that don’t deal directly with customers, it may be important to gauge a job candidate’s people skills. Instead of asking, “Have you ever dealt with angry customers?” or “Do you have good people skills?” ask, “What would you do to calm down an angry customer (or upset coworker)?” Then follow up with, “How would you react if nothing seemed to work?”

Here’s why:  As a small business owner, you need employees who can take charge at a moment’s notice and diffuse a conflict in your absence. The answer to this question should give insight into how the candidate would handle a stressful, unpredictable situation. Someone willing to go the extra mile for a customer, or can effectively resolve a conflict with a colleague, is someone you want on your team. The applicant’s answer should show empathy for the person who is upset and resourcefulness in solving the problem.

2) “Can you tell me about a time that you failed, and how you handled it?”

Interviewers commonly ask job candidates to talk about their successes. But that isn’t always the best way to discover the applicant’s true talents. To elicit a more telling response, ask them to tell you about situations where they failed and what they did afterward.

Here’s why: If a job candidate can’t provide an example of a time he or she failed, move on. The candidate is either attempting to appear ‘perfect’ or hesitates to take risks at all – neither of which are ideal.  And if the applicant admits to failing, find out what happened afterward. Small-business owners don’t need perfection, but they do need team players who will pitch in when the going gets tough and can turn negative situations into learning experiences.

3) “How do you define success?”

Employers should know what drives their employees. Instead of asking, “Where do you want to be in five years?” ask, “What’s your definition of success, and what will you do here to achieve it?”

Here’s why: The applicant’s answer will highlight his or her core values. What’s important the candidate – money, advancement, autonomy, creativity? Is the applicant trying to impress you with the answer, or do you sense honesty and passion in the response? Does the candidate’s definition of success fit into the small-business model, or it is obvious that your company wouldn’t be a good fit for his/her ambition?

4) “How do you handle new responsibilities?”

Working at a small business often means having to take on new job responsibilities. Instead of asking, “Are you willing to learn new skills?” ask the applicant to describe a time he/she had to step outside his/her comfort zone at a previous job to perform tasks that were completely new.

Here’s why: You want to ensure the candidate is flexible and can learn new skills quickly. Adaptable employees are essential to small businesses because circumstances change constantly, and there are times when everyone has to go beyond their official job descriptions to keep the business running smoothly. Small-business owners need workers who are eager to learn new things and happy to pitch in wherever needed.

5) “What makes you proud?”

An employee with sound values and ethics is a good person to have on your team. Instead of asking job applicants, “What are your greatest strengths?” ask them to describe one of their proudest moments at work.

Here’s why: The story they tell will reveal much about their character.  Does the candidate tell a “me” or a “we” story? Small businesses require teamwork to achieve success, so watch out for candidates who take all the credit. More specifically, does the story reveal traits that are relevant to the position, like organizational skills or good negotiation tactics? The answer to this question should help you decide whether the candidate will fit into your company’s culture and may reveal critical skills for the position, as well.

Interview Questions You Should NEVER Ask

While there are many topics an interviewer should cover, others should be avoided at all costs. Questions that reveal an applicant’s age, race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, and marital status are off-limits. Anything that could be viewed as discriminatory is a legal no-no.

For more guidance on what not to ask, and recommended questions to ask instead, download a copy of  “Interview Questions You Can Never Ask Job Applicants,” a free tip sheet from ComplyRight.

About the author
Jaime Lizotte
Jaime Lizotte is the HR Solutions Manager of ComplyRight, Inc. where she is focused on developing next generation products to replace traditional HR solutions, making HR management easier for employers.
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