“Who was your favorite Renaissance-era painter and why?” is a question you’re likely to ask if you’re interviewing candidates to be an art history professor or to work in a museum. You’re less likely to ask that if you’re interviewing accountants.
Most interview questions will be specific to the position you’re hiring for, but there are some classics you should ask every candidate for every position, from the mailroom to the CEO.
Beckham says she likes this question as an opener for the interview. “If the candidate has done their research, this can help them relax a little and talk about something they know … and get the interview process started out on a light note. If not a lot of research was done, I can fill in the gaps and adjust my follow-up questions as needed,” she says.
The insight gained from this question can be quite valuable. First, it’s a way to gauge the candidate’s interest in the job and the company. A motivated candidate will at least know basic information about the organization and show you they want to work there. If a candidate knows less, Beckham considers the level of position for which they’re applying. “An intern will not have the same level of interest and investment as a supervisory role,” she says.
Secondly, this question can “identify pre-existing relationships or associations the candidate has with the company from a personal or professional perspective,” she says. If a candidate has friends working at the organization and is now applying, they’ve likely heard good things and genuinely want to come on board.
Everyone likes talking about themselves, so Beckham says she uses this question to keep candidates at ease during an interview. It’s a great way, she says, to ask the dreaded “tell me about yourself” while keeping the conversation focused on the job at hand.
The candidate’s answer can reveal quite a lot about them, Beckham says. “Are there other useful skills or roles in their past that may not have made it to their résumé? Is this an accidental career or a long-term passion? Is their approach to their career direct and intentional or laissez faire? Is the position a career option for them or just a stepping stone into the organization?”
Beckham likes this question as a subtle signal that the interview is drawing to a close. It gives the candidate an opportunity to bring up any additional items not previously discussed or to seek clarification on anything they’d like more information about. Insight gained from this question will depend on the candidate’s reaction and what they ask or neglect to ask, says Beckham. This is their chance to express continued interest and ask questions about culture, etc., that would indicate if they’re a good fit for the team and the position.
If a candidate has no questions at all, or if they ask a question that was already clearly explained earlier in the conversation, Beckham says she takes this as a signal of low engagement and interest in the interview and position.
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