My Favorite Interview Question

by Sharlyn Lauby on May 13, 2010

Years ago I found an interview question that I really liked.  One that told me a lot about candidates.  I forget how I discovered it, but once I did I’ve been using it ever since.  The question is:

Tell me about a time you had to work with someone you did not personally like.

I think one of the reasons it’s a great question is because it uses behavioral interviewing techniques.  People have to reach back into their experience and share a story about dealing with people.  The answer will give you some insight into how they would react if placed in that situation again.

I also believe it’s one of those questions you can’t fake.  Sorry folks, but if anyone tells you “Oh I’m a people person and I get along with everyone.”  They’re lying.  Pure and simple.  We all have to interact with people that might not be on our BFF list.  It’s a part of business and there’s nothing wrong with it.  The important part is how people handle the situation.

The answer to this question can tell you volumes about the type of people the candidate enjoys working with, who they don’t enjoy working with, and how they handle uncomfortable situations.  All great things to know when evaluating how someone will acclimate into your corporate culture.

So tell me…what’s your favorite interview question?

Image courtesy of I Don’t Know, Maybe

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Lisa Rosendahl May 13, 2010 at 5:54 am

Morning Sharlyn, I like the question, “tell me what you’ve done to personally or professionally develop yourself over the past year” because it shows me how committed they are to their own learning. “Tell me about a time your integrity was challenged” gets some interesting/insightful responses too.

Libby Sartain May 13, 2010 at 7:32 am

That question comes from DDI Targeted Selection which is a fantastic interviewing process based on behavioral attributes assessed as those that will make a candidate successful on a job. We used this technique at Southwest Airlines and it was very successful in helping us find the right candidates for the roles and the company.

My favorite interview question as an HR leader is: “What is it that you have to do (in your role) no matter where you are?”

Bonita Martin May 13, 2010 at 7:32 am

I’m going to borrow your and Lisa’s fav interview questions! My fave is tell me about your favorite manager or supervisor. The answer will tell me about what the person values in a manager/leader and culture, and then allows me to tell the candidate about the differences between the ideal and reality.

Karen Wise May 13, 2010 at 7:33 am

Great post. In the distant past I did mass recruitment for customer service roles. One of our standard questions was “Tell me about a time when you dealt with a customer complaint; how did you resolve it?”. It always worried me when a candidate replied that they’d never had to deal with a complaint! I love your question (but wouldn’t want to be asked it myself in an interview).

TheHRD May 13, 2010 at 7:42 am

I use the question, “If you were a biscuit, what biscuit would you be?” its great because it works on a confectionery level…..!

On a more serious note, I tend not to use structured questions instead I ask the person to talk to me and ask them questions when I am inquisitive. I know this is against “the rules” but I actually find I listen more and ultimately ascertain the same information, just in a more natural environment.

Am I fired from the HR School of fame now?

Jeremy Hill May 13, 2010 at 7:45 am

Hi Sharlyn; great thought for a post. I spent 5+ years in staffing and recruiting, most of which was sales but I interviewed a lot of candidates. Then when I started leading a team, we needed to bring in a group of people who would learn fast and have the intestinal fortitude to stick it out when things got tough! My personal favorite interview question was, “Can you give me an example of a time when you realized you needed to get better at something – what did you do to improve?” The answer typically would identify a potential weakness, or a past weakness, and illustrate whether the candidate had the self-awareness to realize it, had developed a process / learning strategy for getting better, and what their learning style might be (plus, whether they were committed to improving or just gave up on reducing weaknesses). Thanks for the chance to share…

Brenda Wendlandt May 13, 2010 at 7:46 am

I have always liked your favorite question and I agree that it is really one that you can’t fake. One of my favorite questions is “What is an employer’s responsibility to their employees and Why?” This often indicates whether they would fit into the culture as well as what motivates them.

Sharlyn Lauby May 13, 2010 at 8:35 am

Thanks everyone for the comments! Great list of interview questions being developed.

@Lisa – I always like professional development questions for the same reason.

@Libby – Thanks for reminding me where I initially found the question. Love your question! Had never heard it before.

@Bonita – Like your twist on the manager question. It really hones in on the relationship.

@Karen – I’ve used the same customer service question myself! Great minds…

@TheHRD – LOL! I find using a combo of structured and unstructured questions works well for me. (And fired from HR School?! Never! You keep the rest of us on our toes.)

@Jeremy – I’m going to have to steal that question. Love it!

@Brenda – Nice question…I’ll bet you get some interesting replies with that one. ;-)

Steve Browne May 13, 2010 at 8:39 am

Sharlyn – Great post !! Way to tickle our thought processes. After the vast number of interviews we’ve all done over the years, we sometimes lose sight of our “go to” questions.

My two favorite questions are:

” If this was your ideal job, what are three things you expect from the company to do for you?” and

“What things would a company have in it’s culture that would make you say, ‘I’m not working here?’ ”

I find that these questions get candidates to break down and get past the “interview dance”. People show there desires and drivers and this is a better tell about if they will see themselves as a fit for the company.

Thanks for clearing the fog and helping me remember this !!

Avi Singer May 13, 2010 at 10:05 am

I like to do another take on the “Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?” question. I never liked that question. Clearly, if I am a go getter I want to be in my hiring manager’s seat, but it’s not like you can actually respond with that without creating an awkward moment.
My take on it is “If you could see yourself 3 years from now, what will you have accomplished by that time?” Sometimes I’ll ask 5 years, but only with more experienced candidates.
It’s a great way of seeing whether or not the candidates goals and aspirations are in line with your expectations.
What will they have learned? Developed? Accomplished?

I use this one a lot to kick off leadership development programs with high potentials. It gives them an opportunity to think about both their professional and personal lives and leads to great discussions about balancing both roles.

Sharlyn Lauby May 13, 2010 at 1:47 pm

@Steve – Thanks for the comment. I agree, it’s important for candidates to have opinions about the culture they want (and don’t want) to work in.

@Avi – I like the spin you’ve put on the “future” question. And the idea of using it in training. I’m going to try it in my next training session. Thanks for sharing!

Paul McConaughy (@minutrition) May 13, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I think there’s another side to this question. I find that it is possible for organizations to ask interview questions that exceed the capabilities of their organizations. Don’t sit around dreaming up the best question about working with someone you did not like when that company had great supporting supervisors and a dynamite employee assistance program… and yours does not. Don’t set expectations that will be unfulfilled. Asking what a person did for professional development in the past year is a bad question if your organization doesn’t support a strong professional development culture.

I suggest 1) They got to the interview because they had the credentials that you believe will work for what you need done.
2)There is something you have in your mind that you need done in the next six months by this new employee. Tell them what it is and ask them how they would apply their skillset to get the job done.
3) Quit looking for “fit” because your company needs more people who function on the edge. You need diversity. You need people that don’t fit.
4)Stop interviewing them for the job you wish you had and interview them for the job you do have.

Have fun. Go far.

Scott Keegan May 13, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Great questions everyone! One of my favourite questions in recent years has been – Was there something we didn’t ask you about that you wish we had? A no answer to this question usually tells me this is a person that didn’t prepare, but it also gives people that aren’t quite so confident a chance to get into their “why I’m great for this job” speech. As someone that’s been hiring in the IT world for many years, getting candidates out of their shell is half the job!

Scott Keegan May 13, 2010 at 5:31 pm

@Paul – great response and just had to jump in and reply. The points you make are bang on the money and wish more HR folk had written on their wall somewhere. My biggest bugbear in the last few years has been the “fit” thing – where did that come from? When I started out in IT it was all about do we have the right person for the job, not whether they’ll fit into the corporate mold or if they’ll get on with Bob. One thing I loved about one team I managed in the past was that we had a very diverse personality range, and while that presented a few challenging moments, the benfits we got from having so many different perspectives on a problem far outweighed that any possible fit issues.

jd111358 May 14, 2010 at 5:10 am

I like to see how a prospective employee thinks on their feet…………
You can see them stumble or rise to the occasion…………….
The question I end every interview with is ………………..

Why should I hire you over the 100 other applicants (use what ever number realisticallyapplies) that are wanting this position?

JD11358 May 14, 2010 at 5:20 am

for the record…….I despise behaviourable interview programs.
They are too often text book questions prepared by someone so far removed from knowing what the open position is and its requirements that its not funny. As an example ….in a Sales organization type of company the questions may work for sales but when you are forced to use them in a non-sales function within the company say ……distribution/logistics….they probably dont apply…………..
Ive seen too many pass the program questions and score highly netting them the position only to fail miserably doing the job. Ive also seen those that score poorly not get the position when I knew full well they were perfect for the position.
It can be a good tool but you can not strictly rely on it as the be all for hiring.

Sharlyn Lauby May 14, 2010 at 6:58 am

@Paul – I agree people should not ask questions that exceed the capabilities of their organization. That being said, I’ve never worked for a company that didn’t occasionally have to deal with personality conflict. Being supportive doesn’t automatically mean people like you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

@Scott – Thanks for the comment. I always find the wrap up question to be a toughie. In my career, I found as I moved up the ladder it was less about technical ability and more about fit within the culture – Can I be a trusted advisor to the CEO? Can I mentor the next leaders of the company? That to me was about being a good fit within the organization. Also consider, if everything else is equal between candidates, the next differentiator becomes organizational fit.

@JD – It’s a good point. Interview questions should be tailored for positions and not designed to be a “gotcha”. There are a few interview questions that can apply to almost any position. Thanks for joining the convo.

Helen May 14, 2010 at 12:45 pm

One of the questions we get a lot on interviews is , “where do you consider you need to improve?” Its a very easy way to get you out of our confort zone and share where we get uneasy. Instead of trying to use this to praise our qualities we should always be honest and as human being be honest and explain where you feel you need improvement. It can be dealing with difficult people, working on a team, time management, etc.

Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor May 14, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Hi Sharlyn, I agree with your blog and fully support behavioral questions. I speak extensively about the personality profiles of business owners in my new book, The Retail Doctor’s Guide To Growing Your Business from Wiley and how that plays out in hiring decisions. All the “right” questions in the world won’t matter if you put them with the wrong trainer or have an onboarding that is task oriented. Remember, because of that, your chances of a good hire are still about 51%.

CSB May 14, 2010 at 1:03 pm

I just stumbled upon this blog because I am in the process of looking for a job. From reading some of the comments and the questions that are asked interviews it makes it easier to understand why some so many qualified people are out of work.

I am sure a lot of these questions are a bit much for the positions that people are applying for.

The HRD – I actually like that type of interview much better, by talking to people you can learn alot and get the answers to your questions by having a conversation not and interrogation session.

Yes. I have done interviews in my past position. I think HR people shouldn’t be so text book. Just my opinion.

Mike D. May 14, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Hi Sharlyn
Because I like many of the questions offered for me to use, it’s only fair that I share. This question comes out of left field which allows me to see how quickly the interviewee can think and respond. It also allows me to observe the person, as opposed to observing an interviewee, giving honest response as opposed to a canned response.
“What is the greatest misconception about you, and what is the reality behind that misconception.”

Melissa Ronderos May 14, 2010 at 1:51 pm

I like to ask about best and worst environments they’ve worked in, in the past, what made them “best/worst,” and how it impacted their performance. You learn a lot about people’s work preferences and motivators/de-motivators. In addition– it’s a good culture-match check, because what if (gulp!) they describe a “worst” environment that sounds a lot like yours!?!

Joe May 14, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I had to work with a lot of people and IF was one that did not care for me I don’t know because he/she never told me.
And yes I enjoy be around people(more kids than adults, but..).

Thanks

Aric E. May 14, 2010 at 2:59 pm

My all-time favorite interview question is one that I was asked during my last job hunt. “So tell me, why are manhole covers round?” Hey…wait a minute….I did not practice that question…. Quick!!! Cue cards!!! :o)

Katrina B. May 14, 2010 at 3:21 pm

My favorite: “If I were to call your supervisor, what would they say about you?”

Mark LaRocque May 14, 2010 at 9:45 pm

As many on here I too have managed many and had to interview hundreds over my career. I have two questions but they are mirror opposites of each other. “If you saw an ad with a job description for your perfect job – what would it say and why. Meaning, if you saw it you would say right away that job is me!” Once they answer that I ask them to now flip it “If you saw an ad with a job description of your nightmare job – what would it say and why.” For me, these two questions were another way to get at how closely their skills and preferences line up with what I know the job I am trying to fill.

Kelly May 14, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Yeah, that phrase “people person” is annoying enough to be a turn-off. At the same time I am able to work with most types of people because I don’t feel I need to like them in order to work with them or manage them. I don’t want to make just anybody my friend, within work or outside, nor do I need their acceptance in order to do my job or live my life. Their ability to do their job to me matters more than anything.
Also, I found that I wanted more from your post because I didn’t hear what you thought a good answer would have been. I was out of work until just a couple of days ago and I found that I was overprepared for most of the interviews I had (of course, I was applying for service jobs and the managers may have felt I was overqulaified). I think it’s more about how a person in power feels they might jive with that person interviewing, although you can’t know too much from a single interview. I think holding a working interview of sorts is a good way to really judge how well someone can work. You need to know if they will fit into the requirements of the job. And as far as personalities go, for me it’s easier to just be alongside whoever happens to be there, do my job and enjoy people for who they are, not who we want them to be.

Kelly A May 15, 2010 at 12:17 am

Aric E. – I was asked that same question about manhole covers in an interview last month. I can’t say it’s my favorite, in fact I felt it was more about the interviewer trying to create a “gotcha” moment. However, I rose to the challenge and assumed he was looking for extemporaneous speaking skills. BTW the answer – because pipes are round!

Sharlyn Lauby May 15, 2010 at 10:26 am

Wow! Thank you to everyone for adding to this conversation. When I look at all of the questions being added, it’s quite the list!

Everyone’s replies remind me that regardless of the questions, the goals are the same: to get candidates to loosen up and openly, honestly talk about themselves. And for candidates, to be looking for the same – an opportunity to find out what’s really going on within the organization.

As far as a perfect answer to the question in my post, I’m not sure there is one. I hold a lot of respect for people who are able to “agree to disagree”. I also think talking about situations where individuals try to put themselves in the other person’s shoes can be valuable.

Thanks and keep adding to the list!

Vicki May 15, 2010 at 11:08 am

Rather than ask behavioral questions, I like to take the time and make performing TASKS part of the interview process. For example, when we are hiring a new facilitator–if the candidate is asked back for a second interview–I ask them to prepare a 20-minute training presentation. I have a group of 4-6 of our current employees sit in, and we also give some push-back during the candidate’s presentation via some questions that may challenge the person’s statements, ideas, or facts. Then, when the presentation is completed, I ask: “What do you think you did well, and what would you improve or do differently if you had to give this presentation again?”

This process does several things: (1) It shows how the candidate handles professional challenges and constructive “push-back”; (2) It demonstrates how the candidate interacts with our group; and (3) The candidate’s answer to the “what-would-you-do-differently-next-time” question indicates self-awareness, as well as his or her understanding of best practices in adult learning methodologies–something that is critical in our business; and (4) The topic the person chooses for the presentation — as well as how he or she structures it–clearly shows his or her skill level in facilitation and instructional design.

Although I use behavioral questions, I’m not really a fan of them. Maybe it’s the nature of the business I’m in (learning and development), but most of the candidates we interview already are aware of most of the behavioral interview questions, and they have prepared careful answers. Walking the walk is much more difficult to fake, which is why I like the “project” approach to the interview process. Yes, this takes much more time. BUT…I find that the time we invest in this on the front end of the interviewing process saves us time and money in the long run.

And besides, most candidates have told us they find this approach fun and refreshing. (The candidates who don’t probably aren’t good candidates for a facilitator/ID role.)

I’ve also used this approach with our sales team–having them create a sales pitch as well as a time and territory management plan.

jd111358 May 15, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Tasks would be great….but how many HR and legal departments would allow that?
I wanted to administer basic math and english reading and writing …..tasks required to do the job……………was told I couldnt ………too afraid of lawsuits! And this is from a fortune 250 company!

Johnna M May 15, 2010 at 1:10 pm

I like to ask, ‘Sometimes our strengths can exhibit themselves as weaknesses. Can you tell me about one of your strengths and how it can also be a weakness’? This gets a more honest answer out of a candidate than asking about weakness directly or areas for improvement. It also demonstrates their level of self-awareness.

Great thread – with great ideas!

Sharlyn Lauby May 15, 2010 at 4:31 pm

@Vicki – I can see where having a candidate for a facilitator position do a short facilitation is useful. in my past, I’ve used Inbox assessments, depending upon the position. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

@JD – Thanks for the insight. I can see use for and the liabilities associated with math and English pre-employment testing. I’d love to hear some more views on this. Anyone using them?

@Johnna – I like self-awareness questions too. Although the downside can be that the answers are too rehearsed. Thanks for the comment!

mary May 17, 2010 at 9:12 am

“How do I get you angry?” As a follow up, “How do I know you’re angry?” (I also ask the same substituting happy or motivated). [Those who say they don't get angry or there is no place for anger, I fish a little more. Sometimes, someone will say they get frustrated but not angry...]

cheryl May 17, 2010 at 12:01 pm

I hire for very basic on-the -line manufacturing postions. I want to know if the prospective employee is going to show up everyday on time and sober. What questions do I ask to find out the truth for that?!

Kathy Wilson May 17, 2010 at 1:48 pm

My favorite question varies depending on the candidate and situation but two of my favorites in all situations is, “Other than compensation, what can any company offer you that you absolutely couldn’t turn down?” and “What is the one question you most dread in an interview?”.

Sharlyn Lauby May 19, 2010 at 7:35 am

@Mary – I like it. Thanks for sharing!

@Cheryl – I’ve been in the same position. For the attendance piece, I would ask candidates, “What do you consider to be an acceptable attendance record?” It tells you what the employee feels is fine when it comes to being at work.

And, as for the sober part…I’m not sure I’ve asked this during an interview before. I have given applicants the company standards of conduct, asked them to read it and tell me if they feel they can comply with it. It includes a statement about not coming to work under the influence.

@Kathy – Thanks for adding to the list! I like both questions. Especially the interview one. Great way to get the candidate to relax.

SR SPHR May 21, 2010 at 11:13 am

Hearing professionals speak fondly of using pop psychology interview questions like the manhole cover and biscuits is disappointing because you can’t draw objective, job-related conclusions from these. Sure, they’re fun. But this is serious business, not a game.

Questions should be tailored to help you assess whether the candidate has the required attributes for the particular job. Every question should be linked to a must-have attribute and elicit the candidate to describe a situation they’ve encountered in their past experiences that reveal whether they have that attribute in sufficient strength to do the job well.

No need to shy away from structured behavioral interviews for fear of them feeling like an interrogation. You can develop these into an easy conversation flow while getting the candidate to recall situations that help illustrate their approach. Nothing more strongly predicts the future than how a person has handled a similar situation in the past.

So, “Tell me about a situation you’ve experienced . . .” will always be my favorite(s).

Sharlyn Lauby May 21, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Thanks for commenting. I’ve never used manhole cover questions. Like you, I’m a big fan of anything starting with “Tell me about a time…” It hasn’t steered me wrong so far.

Michelle Todzy May 24, 2010 at 8:55 am

Thank you to everyone who has contributed their favorite questions. I think I’ll be borrowing a few.

One of my favorite questions is “What characteristics do you look for in a best friend and why?” Since many people are attracted to others with similar values to themselves, this is a way to get the candidate to share some of their own personal characteristics without getting the rehearsed strengths and weaknesses answer.

Sharlyn Lauby May 24, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Very interesting question. It reminded me of the studies that say having a ‘best friend’ at work is key to employee engagement. Thanks for the comment Michelle!

Yolanda Mendez May 24, 2010 at 1:11 pm

The one I like to use at the end of an interview is, “What do you like to do in your spare time?”. I find it allows the person to relax and talk about something they are passionate about. It is amazing the kinds of interests people have!

Sharlyn Lauby May 24, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Thanks for the comment Yolanda. I’d be interested to know if anyone has ever replied with something you wish you didn’t know?!

Maureen Boynton May 27, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Usually, the final question I ask is “So, say I offered you this position with our company, and you receive a couple other offers on the same day….tell me your top-three decision making factors…what’s going to make you pick one company over the others?”

Sharlyn Lauby May 28, 2010 at 8:42 am

I think a question about decision making is very appropriate for any position. Thanks for sharing Maureen!

Hristo Georgiev June 6, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Just to add a bit more color to the list of questions, I would go with:
“What do you most often lie about?”
You would be amazed by the diversity of answers you can get.

Sharlyn Lauby June 8, 2010 at 9:54 am

Interesting question. I would be concerned that the answer could drift away from the context of work. For example, “I tell little white lies to my mother so she doesn’t worry about me.” I’d be curious to know what kind of answers you receive and how they relate to job responsibilities. Thanks for sharing!

Jim aka Evil Skippy at Work June 12, 2010 at 3:47 pm

This was fun to think about. I’ve had interviews on the mind recently (and posted about Worst Job Interview Questions — the question that I will never forget was, “What do you think about death?” As for good questions, one that has often worked well for me is, “What question were you hoping not to be asked today?” The interesting thing for me is how the interviewee explains why they were dreading a particular inquiry. It can display their sense of humor, self-perceptions and more.

Sharlyn Lauby June 13, 2010 at 2:58 pm

If someone asked me about death during an interview, I wouldn’t forget it either. And, thanks for adding to the list of good interview questions!

Carrie June 24, 2010 at 6:54 pm

I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s favorite questions and will definitely borrow some of them. One that I’ve found helpful is to ask, “When you go home from work thinking, ‘Wow! Today was a really great day!’, what happened at work to make you feel that way?” Answers can help you determine whether the applicant is task-oriented (I finished everything on my To Do list), or customer-focused (I had a customer with a really difficult problem, and I was able to help them solve it), or team-oriented (I worked with two other departments to solve a problem that has impacted all of us for months), or takes initiative outside his/her job duties (I suggested to my boss that we do ‘x’ differently and explained why, and he/she adopted my suggestion), or works for the pat-on-the-back (my boss recognized me for doing a good job), or is only there for the paycheck (I got a raise). There are lots of other possible answers to that question, all of which can give you insight into what’s important to that applicant and what motivates or inspires him/her on the job. I’ve found that applicants are more likely to give a canned response when I simply ask, “What motivates you?”

Sharlyn Lauby June 25, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Thanks for adding to the list Carrie. I really like the question. And can see how it gets a better reply than “What motivates you?”

Gina September 9, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Oh this can be such a loaded question. There are some people that will handle this one as gingerly as possible- some red flags there. But then there are those that will lay it all out on the table. These people can be good and bad. The good is that you know they are being honest and they are not holding back. The bad- you may get too much info and have a person that shoots from the hip on every issue. If they are so candid in the interview process- just think how they will be when they are comfortable in their role.

Sharlyn Lauby September 10, 2010 at 8:13 am

Thanks for sharing Gina. Your comment reminded me of a manager I worked with years ago. Nicest, sweetest person ever. Her employees loved her. But OMG, talk about TMI…the stuff she told others…yikes.

Michelle September 14, 2010 at 9:59 am

That is a good question – and like you say, it can really give you an idea of how a person will handle that type of situation in the future (and having a co-worker you don’t necessarily get along with is a pretty common workplace situation). A lot of people will, mistakenly, use this question to vent about their cubicle neighbour that drove them nuts, or about an over-powering boss. How they vent, though, tells you a lot. For example, if they explain the situation, and express that they didn’t necessarily get along with that co-worker but tried to come to an agreement and set aside their differences for the sake of productivity (as opposed to just complaining), then it shows that the candidate has good problem solving skills.

My favourite interview question is: tell me about yourself. It’s not exactly my favourite to answer (I don’t particularly like talking about myself) but I was asked this question in a recent interview, and when I started going on about my education, my work ethic, etc, the interviewer said “Okay, that’s all great. But now tell me about yourself. What do you do for fun, what are your interests, etc.” I thought this was interesting – I had never before been asked those questions in a job interview. It was, I thought, harder to answer than the old version of the question. (I did get the job though!).

Sharlyn Lauby September 15, 2010 at 11:15 am

Thanks for the comment Michelle. I couldn’t help but smile while I was reading this. One time, I asked a candidate the “tell me” question. 90 minutes later … I didn’t have the heart to ask the second question. ha!

iris n. October 18, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Several years ago, I was startled to be questioned at my interview by–”So, tell me about yourself.” …Then, it was quiet. That was all the prompt I received. Now, there were so many things I could have said, if they had asked about my background or experiences or some other objective-type of answers. However, when asked such an open-ended question, I was caught off guard. Thankfully, I was able to quickly jump in by stating a brief introduction about my background, and then talking about the other qualifications/experiences I had, along with also being able to give a few points on what made me a unique individual. I passed the interview with flying colors, but that was one scary moment that I would never forget.

Another question I have been asked is– In this environment, there are many assertive and aggressive individuals, who would not hesitate to step over you. Tell me how you think you will fit in such an environment. This was another interesting question that I will never forget…

Sharlyn Lauby October 18, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Thanks for the comment Iris. I once knew someone who asked the definition of aggressive and assertive during interviews. Felt it told her something about the individual.

Cheelone November 8, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Our IT department — which is a small, very close-knit TEAM of overachievers — likes to ask the following: If you had to choose between receiving an A+ performance rating as an individual or receiving a B- as a member of a team, which one would you choose & why?

Sharlyn Lauby November 8, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Love the question! Thanks for sharing. I’m going to have to “borrow” it sometime…

Judy Lindenberger November 28, 2010 at 8:24 am

Sharlyn, I love that question. The comments here remind me of a time when I interviewed a job candidate and asked her the typical, “Tell me your strengths and weaknesses” question. The candidate gave me a list of strengths and said that she did not have any weaknesses. I told her that she could take her time to to think about it and she came up with nothing. I told her that we all have things we are working on and she still came up with nothing. I asked her to think about performance discussions she had and nothing. She insisted that she had no flaws. I did not hire her, of course, because I was concerned about her self-awareness, humility, and ability to hear feedback, learn and grow.
Judy

Kristine Hinrichs March 21, 2011 at 4:45 pm

My favorite question is at the end of the interview “Is there anything that you think that we need to know about you that didn’t come out in our questions?”. I find that it tests the candidate’s ability to summarize what has gone on and does provide them with an opportunity to make that final point. I also like it because it is an unexpected question.

Sharlyn Lauby March 22, 2011 at 9:05 am

Thank you everyone for continuing to add your faves to this post. It’s become a real interview prep guide!

Robert Smith May 15, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Manufacturing environment here. When workers are absent or are tardy, plant productivity suffers. Hence I ask, “define work ethic and describe yours.”

Sharlyn Lauby May 16, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Thanks for the comment Robert. It reminds me of one I’ve heard before – Tell me what you consider to be “acceptable attendance”. Oh the answers you would get…

Kerry Benik July 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm

There is a link on this page to a great 5 page pdf of behavioral based interview questions with categories of common job requirements and the types of question you might use. http://www.omniagroup.net/behavioral-products/omnia-selectionprofile

Douglas Andrews August 16, 2011 at 9:18 am

I agree, great question. It also opens the doors for an additional follow up question from the answer you get….”Oh ok, so when xxx occurred what did you do?” or something similar. Follow up questions can really reveal how a candidate can communicate.

Megan August 16, 2011 at 1:03 pm

So, as I’m in the process of interviewing, what is the most tactful way to answer these type of questions. I have had my share of working with very difficult people but in the end it forces you to overcome obstacles within your team. But I’ve always been intrigued to hear what the people behind that question are looking for.

Sharlyn Lauby August 16, 2011 at 2:19 pm

@Douglas – Thanks for the comment. I agree – there are many great follow-up questions.

@Mehan – Here’s what I look for … honesty. I’m not looking for some crazy, wacky disagreement. It doesn’t even have to involve a confrontation. The best answers I’ve heard involve a person having a simple misunderstanding or reading a situation wrong. Little annoying things happen all the time. And we all have quirks that get on other’s nerves.

Hopefully some other HR pros will pile on to give their perspective. Thanks for the question!

Peggy August 19, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I love this question … I always ask something similar ‘talk to me about how, when faced with difficult personalities in the workplace’

Sharlyn Lauby August 19, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Thanks for the comment Peggy. That’s a nice spin on the question – especially if you need to find someone who has to manage some existing personalities.

Claire August 20, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Thanks for all the great advice! Currently on the job search, I appreciate reading comments that help me prepare for upcoming interviews.

One of my favorite interview questions relates to the culture of the company and how the candidate will fit: “Describe the work environment or culture in which you are most productive and happy.” This type of question can elicit a response that will allow the interviewer to understand the candidate as well as decipher if they would be a good match for the company.

Thanks, looking forward to learning more!

Sharlyn Lauby August 21, 2011 at 11:54 am

Nice question. Thanks for adding to the conversation Claire!

Pauline November 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Tell me about a time when you were under a lot of stress and felt you handled it well.
Tell me about a wime when you were under a lot of stress and felt you did not handle it well.

Sharlyn Lauby November 1, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Thanks for sharing Pauline!

Rick November 10, 2011 at 9:29 am

Great question! I have conducted interviews where I tell the candidate I am not going to ask any questions and I will base my decisions on the questions they ask me about the position and company. It makes for a very interesting discussion. I really liked your reference to people saying “I’m a people person” which to me said you will never make it as a HR professional.
Rick recently posted..Management Development Review

Cuauhtemoc Gallegos Gonzalez November 25, 2011 at 5:42 pm

If you could choose at this time, What do you most like to do? What do you love more? One can expect the full potential of someone when this person is doing exactly what he loves.

TMM December 6, 2011 at 9:33 am

A couple of questions I almost always ask which often have surprising and insightful answers are:
1) Tell me about something you’ve read or movie/show you’ve seen which had an impact on you , what was the impact and why? (I find out the most interesting character traits by listening to this and it helps me deteremine fit.)
2) If you weren’t an ‘xxx’ (i.e. accountant, manager, engineer, etc.) , what would you be doing instead? (This tells me what their real passion is . It can also point out their motivations because sometimes they just talk about making more money in a different profession).
Also after you’ve asked these questions be sure to sit silently so they can think. Don’t prompt them.

Sharlyn Lauby December 9, 2011 at 6:52 am

@TMM – thanks for the mention about silence. Not used often enough during the interview process.

KNOWHOW Recruitment August 15, 2013 at 11:22 am

I have to say over the past 9 years, we have had some corkers asked to our candidates over the years here a a few not the worst but, they are more of a ‘where are you coming from asking that question’ and ‘how do I answer that’

- Can you tell a joke?
- On a scale of 1 to 10 how happy are you?
- What kind of people do you dislike?
- Which super power do you like to have and why?
- If you saw someone steal a tin of beans in Tesco, would you report it?

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