‘Are we right for each other?’ Six alternative job interview questions to help you find your match

Imagine receiving nearly 300 applications for your job ad … in one week!

And not from poor-quality candidates, either. We’re talking about high-quality, highly engaged candidates who make your task of choosing just one quite the challenge!

That was the scenario an employer we’re working with recently found themselves in. This small business needed to advertise a position they’d previously struggled to recruit for. So, we supported them to craft a compelling, authentic job ad - and the results were fantastic … if slightly (yet pleasantly!) problematic.

This was their predicament:

“The last time I advertised a similar position, I only had 85 applications in a month, and they were mostly poor quality. This time, we had over 400. And after screening for at least eight hours so far, I have only been able to get the list down to 75. It’s crazy! The quality of applicants is high. I’m actually struggling under the success of this! It’s a very good problem to have, but can you recommend better questions to ask during interviews to help with the screening process?”

We sure can! And here, we share them with you.

But before we jump into our top interview questions, the key thing to remember is this: as the employer (or recruiter), it’s your job to create a safe, open conversation with the candidate.

The interview is your critical chance to figure out together whether this could lead to a meaningful, productive relationship. You need to know if you’ll be a good fit for each other, and the best way to find out is through illuminating, strategic questions - and honest answers.

So, here are six alternative questions for authentic interviews, better candidate insights and recruitment results:

“We’re not looking for the best interviewee, resume or profile. We’re looking for the best [role title] for our organisation. What we want is someone who’s right for us – and who we’re right for, right now. So, let’s explore that together.”

OK, so this one isn’t a question. But it is an effective way to lead into your interview questions. It eases any pressure the candidate may feel and lets them know you don’t want them to “perform” or try to appear as someone they’re not. You want them to be themselves, so you can both get an accurate picture of each other’s strengths and weaknesses (we all have them!) and understand how you can complement and champion each other to grow and succeed.

“Can you talk me through your journey so far? Not the glossy LinkedIn version - just the real one!”

This is a great opening question. Again, it lets the candidate know it’s OK to be “human” and not a profile picture of perfection.

It also allows the candidate to go off script a little so that you can gain a deeper insight into their personality, the challenges they’ve faced, and their motivations and strengths.

“We are a great choice, and this is a wonderful role - for some people. For others, our company and the role will not be right or fun. So, what do you think makes us a great choice for you … and are there things you’re not sure about?”

The simple fact is not everyone will enjoy working with you. An organisation can’t be all things for all people - and that’s fine! We want to identify and inspire the people who would enjoy working with us, and help those who wouldn't to realise that early on, too.

For example, if you’re constantly evolving systems and processes, you might not be right for someone who’s highly process oriented. But you could be a great fit for someone who thrives on disruption and change!

Own what you’re about in the interview, and be upfront about what you’re not. Encouraging the candidate to reflect on whether you’re a great choice for them could save you both some serious problems later.

“Here’s why we think the job is a great opportunity … What resonates most with you? What are you excited about?”

This is your opportunity to showcase your organisation’s employee value proposition (EVP) - your “why work for us” - and link it to the role. What makes this job a great opportunity? What impact will the candidate have in this role? How? And what can they expect in return, professionally and personally?

Explore what excites the candidate about the position, then double down on that. Talking about what success will look like for them strengthens their enthusiasm and buy-in to your organisation and workplace culture from the get-go.

“In a minute, I’m going to ask you what you find challenging or where you think you may need to develop. Don’t worry - this isn’t a test! No one’s perfect, and we don’t want you to be. I’m asking so we can explore how the team could support you, just as you’ll support them with their development. To make it safe, let me tell you about two things I really struggle with and am working on!”

We’re all perfectly imperfect - that goes for people and organisations. And as employers (good ones, anyway!), it’s our job and genuine desire to lift our people up. How? By treating them as people, valuing and acknowledging their contribution, and supporting them to learn, develop and grow.

This question does a number of things. Firstly, it reinforces that the interview (and your organisation) is a safe space where it’s OK to be a work in progress. Secondly, it lets us know what areas the candidate may need more support in. Thirdly, it gives us an idea of how motivated they are to learn and develop - which is especially important if your organisation prides itself on a culture of continual learning.

Most importantly, when we can support people’s development in the way they need (and in a way we need), everyone benefits. Our people and organisation grow. And that helps foster wellbeing, trust, morale and retention.

“These are the challenges we’re facing as an organisation/areas that are a work in progress for us. How do you think you’d handle these? And how can you help us improve?”

Every organisation is on a journey full of highs, lows, challenges and opportunities. Be upfront about this - let the candidate know about any significant challenges and works in progress.

It’s not about ensuring the candidate will be totally unfazed by all your challenges (by definition, challenges are not easy things!). But there is a limit to what people can (or are willing to) handle - and some people will be more OK with some challenges than others.

And if they see those challenges as opportunities to learn, grow, and even take ownership of and improve?

Congratulations! Sounds like you’ve both found the right match.

About the Author

When Lauren Forcey isn’t writing compelling content that amplifies an organisation’s employer brand, you’ll either find her running stupidly long distances or eating snacks. Actually, she’s usually doing both, at once. She’s also a mum, wife, journalist and former small business owner ... and still wrestles with the fame that came with winning the healthy cake baking competition at the Royal Darwin Show one year. As Senior Storyteller at EBA, Lauren uses the power of storytelling to give an authentic insight into the people, values and culture of an organisation, touching hearts and inspiring people to act!

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