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Bad Questions Lead to Bad Hires

Picture this scenario: you’ve just hired a candidate after they aced your interview, answering all your questions exactly as you’d hoped they would. But in their first month, you discover they can’t rise to a challenge, aren’t wonderful at working as part of your team, and have no real passion for the job. You’re flabbergasted: What happened? They seemed so good in the interview!

You’ve put in the effort to find the right candidates—from figuring out the job requirements to crafting a really clear job ad to defining relevant qualifiers. So, how did you end up with a bad hire?

The problem could lurk in your interview questions. Many interview questions only scratch the surface of a candidate’s potential—resulting in that perfectly crafted answer you want to hear rather than the information you need to know.

Let’s take a look at three common types of questions and see how to go from surface-level answers to valuable insight that can set you up for success in selecting your next hire.

Measuring “Book Knowledge” vs. Applied Knowledge

You want to know your candidate can do the job. But many common questions only test their ability to describe their knowledge. This kind of “book knowledge” certainly isn’t a bad thing to have—but it doesn’t tell you if the candidate can actually apply that knowledge for your job.

Example common “book knowledge” question

“Tell me about a challenge you dealt with in the past.”

These types of questions are great for understanding knowledge of a role or experience in specific scenarios. But, because these questions focus on the past, it's tricky to know if the story really played out the way they tell it. For example, it's possible they're telling someone else’s story or taking credit for a team effort. These types of questions do not show how well a candidate will perform tasks or cope with challenges.

A better question to ask...

“Consider this scenario… you need to achieve x, y, and z… what do you do?”

Rather than asking about the past, give candidates a realistic scenario to the open position and ask what they would do to achieve a goal or address a challenge. If the role requires someone adaptable and able to think under pressure, pose a roadblock to the candidate’s first response to see how easily they can adapt their strategy.

Not only will you get to watch them solve the challenge in real time, but you can observe their instincts as they do it. They might be methodical and inquisitive, or maybe they’re the sort of person who dives right in. If you’ve taken the time to define what’s best for the role, you already know what you need—and this question will help you spot it.

Measuring Capability vs. What Drives Them to Achieve Their Best

Employees that love their job perform at their best. You want to uncover a candidate’s passion, but many questions are focused on revealing what they’re capable of, not what they truly love.

Example of a common capability question

“Tell me a little about your last position.”

Asking about their last position seems natural. But unless a candidate is fiercely enthusiastic about that job (and if they are, why would they be interviewing for a new one?), you’re only going to hear about things they’ve done—not what they were good at, truly great at, and really loved.

A better question to ask...

"Tell me what you liked about your last position.”

Asking a candidate outright what they liked about their last position will give you a clearer sense of the things they gravitate towards, from the types of people they like working with to the projects they enjoy. And since most of us prefer the things we’re good at, these answers will usually tell you a lot about the candidate’s strengths, too.

An even better question to ask...

"Tell me the achievement you are most proud of in your last position.”

Pride and passion tend to go hand in hand. Watch a candidate’s eyes light up as they talk about something they love—that’s when you know you’ve found a person’s passion.

The question will also give you an idea of how the candidate perceives their own strengths and what motivates them in their work. For example, if the accomplishment was a team effort, they’re probably team-oriented. And if they give a lot of credit to the rest of the team, you can intuit that they’re likely a great team player.

Telling Candidates the Traits You Want vs. Measuring Those Traits

It’s a simple truth of interviewing: no one will ever tell you they’re bad at something that is clearly important. That doesn’t mean they’re lying—after all, when it comes to things like soft skills and personality traits, people are often unaware of their own strengths or weaknesses. Therefore, questions must be worded to bring out their traits, not to ask about them.

Example of a common ‘telling the answer’ question

“Do you like working as part of a team?”

Asking a question like this is on par with asking a candidate if they’re a motivated and reliable person—you’re leading the witness, and they’re going to say yes. This kind of question tells you nothing, because you’re only ever going to hear what the candidate thinks you want to hear.

A better question to ask...

“Tell me about a time when you were part of a team that wasn’t working well.

What did you do?”

You can learn a lot with questions that have the candidate demonstrate the traits. As the candidate describes what happened to the team, for example, did they see themselves as part of the team and worked to fix the problem, or did they view themselves as a victim of it and tried to abandon ship. You’ll also get an idea of the role they played—perhaps they were an inspiring leader, a calm and collected mediator, or someone dependable who kept working despite the problems they faced.

Ask Your Way to Success

Before your next interview, identify want you need to know about your candidates and ask questions that delve into those areas.

For more idea’s on how to avoid a Bad Hire, check our previous blog posts found at

Do you have a favorite question(s) or even one of the worse you've ever heard? We’d love to hear about them! (comment below)

At, we’re committed to turning the hiring process on its head, focusing on a candidate’s real potential rather than faulty common wisdom and unrepresentative past experience. Our solution helps you evaluate candidates fairly and efficiently, based on the things that matter most to you. To learn more about our hiring solution, get in touch today.

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