Real talk: Asking the right questions in today's interviews
4 mins, 8 secs read time
At Market Recruitment, my fellow People professionals and I work through a lot of interviews – and we know how to bring out the best. At its heart, a great interview is simply a genuine, honest conversation, right? Here are some of the best tricks for candidates and interviewers to get there, and get hiring.
Candidate Initiating Interview Scenario
Interview: The first
As a candidate in a first interview, you are a consultant: you need to find the problem your potential employer needs to fix, talk it out and then offer a solution. (The solution, of course, is you).
The Q.A.R. method allows you to showcase your skills quickly and clearly – but you're also the one responsible for initiating and offering thought leadership. It's a tall order, but you can help yourself by asking a few simple questions:
"What's the biggest challenge in this job?”
"Fast forward 12 months: what does success in this role look like?”
"Let's discuss this job description for a moment. What's working, and what needs fixing?
By asking the smart question, or Q, you open the door for a conversation that pinpoints goals, challenges and the problems a company hopes to fix. It establishes a natural tone and invites genuine sharing. Now we're definitely talking.
All the knowledge that comes to the table with these vital answers, or A, sets you up to naturally seal the deal with the third step: R. Right Person for the Job. Pay attention to the interviewer's answers: how do they apply to your experience? Your strengths? Your specific expertise? Can you talk about a time that you conquered a challenge just like this?
It's an age-old tip for good writers and makers: show, don't tell. Build yourself as the perfect solution to the problems on the table with anecdotes, quality examples from your experience, and genuine insight. You know you're the right choice – show them why.
Interviewer Initiating Interview Scenario
Method: Listen. For real.
My team spends serious time with creatives. These are the people who build brand stories, jumpstart customer engagement, and inspire loyal followings: they work at the heart of crafting conversations. They can tell you that sometimes, it’s not about asking a question at all – it’s about listening.
Is the person across the table enthusiastic? Engaged? In the moment? Passionate? According to a study from the Harvard Business Review, an immense part of what makes our conversations authentic rests in active, smart listening. Great listeners create dialogue that is engaged, curious and assertive. During the next interview that you’re tempted to let your mind wander in preparing an answer, a question, or even checking your next meeting – stop. Take a deep breath. Listen to the person in front of you, for real.
Candidate or Interviewer Initiating Interview Scenario
Interview: Every single one
Method: Question on question
You've been in interviews. You've been to new and potential staff mixers. For goodness sake, you've been to cocktail parties. And you've heard it:
“So, tell me about yourself.”
“So, tell me about the job.”
“So, tell me about the company.”
It's the worst question. The laziest question. And more often than not, the first question. Ugh. My favorite approach to this question is to meet it head on with another question: there are two ways to do this, and one method is a bit braver than the other.
First, question to clarify. If you can set parameters or an area of interest for this question, it's far easier to spark an interesting conversation. There are a few great ways to do this:
"Where would you like me to start?”
"How much detail would you like to hear?”
"Sure, what interests you?”
Of course, you may not receive a clear answer to your question, and then you'll be right back at square one. That's a big part of why I love the second method: take the bull by the horns, then push for a response.
Every interview candidate and every company – even every brand of toothpaste – has an elevator pitch for who they are and what they're about. It should be quick, concise and memorable. If you haven't worked on one of these yet, that's your first step. Deliver it with confidence and ownership.
Then, follow it up with a question. This is the brave part: prompt the person across the table for a reaction, a response or further details about themselves. It demands thoughtfulness, and potentially provokes deeper conversation. It can be simple and easy, so don't worry:
“How about you?”
“What would you like to unpack further?”
“What do you think?”
The more we get people talking – really talking – in an interview, the better we connect. And isn't that what hiring is really all about?
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