5 smart interview questions to ask and 5 questions to avoid

Charlotte Nicol
Published on 23rd May 2017
3 min read

The recruiting and hiring process can be costly and time consuming, so getting the most from the interview process is crucial.

Asking the right interview questions is as much about creating a positive interview experience for the candidate, as it is about enabling the employer to gauge whether the interviewee is the right fit for the role.

Churning out the same old clichéd questions is not only lazy, but also bad for business.

According to a study by CareerBuilder, more than half of employers in the 10 largest world economies said that a bad hire has negatively impacted their business, resulting in either significant revenue or productivity loss. Among those who’d experienced a bad hire, 27% of US employers said a single bad hire had cost them more than $50,000, while in the UK, 27% of companies said a bad hire costs more than £50,000.

Equipping hiring-managers with a strong set of smart, revealing questions will enable them to dig deep and hire the best talent in the market.

Here are 5 over-used interview questions we would advise get relegated to the ‘do not use’ file, and our suggestions on what to ask instead:

  • Avoid: What’s your greatest weakness?

Candidates will be expecting this time-honoured question and will no doubt have prepared a perfect honed response that won’t reveal much depth of character, or give an insight into whether they are right for the position.
Replace with: Describe a time you messed up. Talk us through how you resolved it and what you learnt from it.

This moves the ‘weakness’ question on to a deeper level and allows the candidate to provide a specific example of a time they failed and how they handled it. The response to this question will reveal a lot about a candidate’s personality and moral compass, particularly the time it took for them to admit they’d made a mistake and what steps they took to resolve it.

  • Avoid: Where do you see yourself in five years?

It’s unlikely that an employer can guarantee employment for five years in today’s job market so it’s a bit of an irrelevant question. Also, if a candidate is planning to stick around for a couple of years and then move on, surely that shows they have drive, ambition and goals, rather than the old view that it meant they ‘weren’t a steady or reliable bet’.
Replace with: How do you see this role fitting into your career plans?
This way of wording the question opens up more opportunity for a candidate to explain what their ambitions and goals are around their career, and they’ll feel more comfortable expressing if they do only see this current position as a stepping-stone to help them get to where they need to.

  • Avoid: What’s your greatest failure so far?

Like the ‘weakness’ question it’s hotly anticipated by candidates and doesn’t show much originality on the interviewer’s behalf. It’s also based on something that’s already happened and not necessarily relevant to the role they’re applying for.

Replace with: What do you imagine will be the biggest challenges for you in this role and how would you overcome them?
The candidate’s answer to this question will make it clear how well they’ve thought through the requirements of the position and their own skillset. It gives them scope to talk about past challenges and how they overcame those.

  • Avoid: Why should we hire you?
    All candidates will have seen your job description and researched your company so will have prepared an answer that highlights specific strengths that they anticipate you are looking for. Even if a candidate is honest and lists the strengths they actually possess, it won’t go deep enough to unearth the qualities and traits they possess to make them the right fit for the job.

Replace with: How would you tackle this role and the projects we’re discussing? Describe your plan of attack.
This provides more scope for the candidate to reveal their skills and qualities. It also shows how well the candidate has listened and absorbed what you’ve already told them about the role; and it can be a great indicator of how good they are at thinking on their feet. From their perspective it shows that you are a modern employer who values their input and wants them to take ownership of the role.

  • Avoid: What would your last boss say about you?

It’s an awkward and strange question to ask. Most people don’t know what their boss would say about them and isn’t that what references are for? A candidate could certainly come up with a suitable response but what would it really tell you about the person? ‘Oh my boss would say I’m hard-working, organised and good at writing reports’. At best it will produce a twee, one-dimensional response.

Replace with: From what you understand about the job, which of your skills or qualities do you feel will help you in this role?
Unlike the clichéd ‘boss’ question, the candidate can now talk comfortably and confidently about their own qualities and you’ll understand more about how they might be a good match for the role.

Asking smarter, less-obvious questions, creates a great impression about your brand and company and shows you’re not an average run-of-the-mill employer. It will also generate a positive interview experience, which in the long-term, creates a more engaged and productive employee.

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Talent Acquisition
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