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The 8 Most Revealing Interview Questions to ask Entry Level Candidates

Hands up who has frantically Googled “interview questions” fifteen minutes before a candidate has arrived?

Yes, we’ve all been there. There are almost endless resources for interviewees on how to nail an interview, but considerably less information available as to what we, as the hirer/employer, should ask candidates to get the most honest – and most revealing – responses.

When interviewing entry level candidates, finding out information can be tough. They have had fewer jobs, so there is less of an opportunity to make sense of the path they took in order to be sitting in front of you, and therefore to predict their future potential and success in your business.

Never fear! We’ve compiled a list of eight of the most revealing interview questions to ask entry level candidates to ensure you get the most out of your interviews, and avoid the possibility of a mis-hire.

1. What are your interests and hobbies – what do you like to do for fun?

Purpose: Relax the candidate, and get to know the person not the resume

Research suggests that if you begin with this type of icebreaker instead of jumping straight into someone’s resume, it can help candidates feel more relaxed and open. If a candidate feels safe and conversation starts to flow in the first few minutes, it will make it easier for you to solicit both more information and more honest responses.

Of course there are less devious reasons for asking this question. In the entry level market, a person’s personality, attitude, communication skills and people skills are more important than experience.

With the right person, the rest can be taught. Get to know the person and, as they talk, imagine them fitting in with your team and your clients in order to assess cultural fit and job suitability.

2. What keeps you driven and motivated in your life at the moment?

Purpose: To get an insight into a candidate’s life stage and what their goals are

This question helps to check where a candidate is at in their life, and provides insight without having to ask overly personal questions like “Are you married?” and “Do you have children?” or “Is it likely that you will travel again, or are you ready to settle down now?”

It will also help you understand what the candidate is working towards. Maybe they just bought a house; perhaps they want to buy in the next six months; perhaps they are looking to go to University, or complete a Masters?

This question assumes a candidate is driven and motivated by something, so if they find it hard to answer, chances are they aren’t really working towards anything and will treat this job as an income source only.

Assumption? Absolutely. As with all these questions, it is a foundation to ensure deeper discussion. If you’re unsure about a response, keep digging.

3. How do you think your best friend would describe you as a person?

Purpose: To find out how they believe they are seen by others (strengths and weaknesses)

You will get much more honest answers if you ask a candidate this as opposed to “tell me about yourself” or “what are your strengths/weaknesses?”

We’ve covered interests and hobbies; we want to know about them as a person, how they think they are seen by others and to check for self-awareness (remember this is still a reflection of how they think their friends see them); we also want some insight into their perceived strengths and weaknesses..

Don’t be surprised by how candid they may be – we’ve had candidates even say “well that depends on which friends you ask.” Great, tell us more, but wait while I muffle these alarm bells!

It’s also a great question to elicit responses from those modest, quiet achievers who find it hard to articulate strengths, for fear of being rebuked for blowing their own trumpet.

4. Why did you choose the particular University / Course that you did?

Purpose: To examine their logic around pursuing education and the direction they’d like to take in their career

You will get all kinds of answers from “my parents really wanted me to do it” to “I found out I didn’t love it half way through, but wanted to see through my commitment” to “I loved every minute; I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Why is this important? It helps you to understand the logic behind their education and potential career choice and whether that plan has changed since starting their degree; this might also answer questions you have if they studied something that’s a bit unusual for the type of role they are going for.

The best candidates will always draw parallels to what they’ve studied and how it is relevant to the role they applied for with you.

Great follow up questions to this are “What was your favourite/least favourite subject in your course?” and “If you could go back in time, would you choose this course again? Why/why not?”

If a candidate has limited experience, this will help you understand what they enjoy or dislike doing in a “work” environment and why, helping you to relate these subject areas or assessment tasks (i.e. presentations vs. case study essays) to things they would be doing day to day in your business.

5. No degree? Ask: If you had the time and resource to study anything, what would you choose?

Purpose: To help you get an idea of what plans they have made in order to achieve their career goals

If a candidate has told you they are committed to a career goal of becoming a Marketing Manager, yet haven’t completed any qualifications in that field nor have plans to do so, that might give you an indication of how hard they are willing to work and what they are willing to do in order to get there.

Also, if a candidate wants to study something that doesn’t relate to the role they’ve applied for, this will help start a conversation about their real interests and passions – and whether they align to what your business does.

6. How do you believe this role fits in with your Career Plan?

Purpose: Find out whether the candidate has REALLY thought through working with your business and what the future looks like if they do

The answer no hiring manager wants to hear is “I will use this role as a stepping stone in order to get into X Company, Y Role, or Z Salary Range”, yet candidates will still say it.

This is mainly under the assumption that everyone cares about them achieving their career goals as much as they do, and also due to unpreparedness. Candidates rarely get asked this – it’s usually what they can do for you, not what’s in it for them – so they will give an honest answer instead of a rehearsed one.

Be wary of a candidate who doesn’t have a compelling reason for working for you – they’ll be a flight risk from day one. By the same token, you can’t ask them to answer this without giving a transparent overview of the role and company first. In order for a good fit, the relationship has to fill multiple needs for both parties, or it won’t be a long partnership.

7. If you’re involved in a heated discussion at work, would you prefer to be a peacemaker or a decision maker? Why?

Purpose: Find out the role they usually play when things go wrong

Conflict will be present in the workplace as sure as lunch time and Facebook. When interviewing entry level candidates, it’s important to find out how they are likely to handle situations involving internal conflict, because how they respond to their colleagues will likely be how they respond to your clients.

It’s not which role they choose that you should be listening to – it’s the reasons they give for the choice that you need to take note of.

This will provide an insight into how they are likely to handle conflict and the logic and emotional drivers behind their choice, giving you an indication of their level of maturity and emotional intelligence.

8. Most of us have people we’ve worked with in our careers that we wouldn’t use as a reference. Who is that person for you, and what do you think that person would say about you as an Employee?

Purpose: A better way to ask “What are your areas of weakness?”… And so much more 

This is a great question on many levels. For one, it’s open ended, and it forces the candidate to think about a real scenario in which they’ve been given constructive feedback about a situation, relationship or responsibility they could have handled better.

It does not allow for answers like “my biggest weakness is I don’t have experience in this role, so I’d need to be taught.” Bleurgh.

The other beauty of this question is that most candidates will answer it very honestly, almost as if they believe you are going to call the person and verify if what they are saying is correct.

Similar honesty can be elicited by questions such as “how do you think your current boss would describe you as an Employee?” As most interview processes do call for references, the candidate generally believes that negative feedback will come out eventually, so it’s better they get the first word in.

Ask these questions in your interviews and you will dramatically increase the quantity and quality of information you get, helping you to truly understand the candidate in front of you and increase your chances of getting the right fit.

Of course, these questions alone will not answer questions relating to the role itself, so we still advise that you create a list of specific questions for the role the candidate has applied for.

Look at the real superstars in your team. What character traits would you like to emulate, and which would you like to avoid? What about the culture you have and the clients you work with?

Everyday scenarios are the best ones to ask about – for example, a particular issue/challenge/situation you deal with on a regular basis. This allows you to see how the candidate would handle it, and it gives you a relevant framework to assess responses.

When the above eight questions are used in combination with your role-specific ones, they will produce your most effective interviews first time, every time.

Happy Hunting!

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