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If you’re a recruitment professional or hiring manager, you know that finding the best candidates can sometimes be challenging. Why? Because the most common interview questions that have been traditionally asked during the hiring process are not the most helpful or revealing. As an ex Hiring Manager and Executive Director, I have experimented with questions that have led to hiring the right candidate every single time. Today, I’m going to share the most strategic interview questions to ask candidates.
Examples of strategic interview questions include (brief snapshot):
1. What resources do you need access to in order to thrive in this role?
2. How can we support your career growth journey?
3. What type of management style do you prefer to work for? Why?
4. If you could change one thing about this industry, what would it be? Why?
5. What do you believe is the most important task to complete within the first 30 days on a new team?
Before sharing the additional best interview questions to ask candidates to determine if they’re a good fit, I think it’s important to give some background and talk about the why.
The interview process is a pivotal stage in the recruitment journey, where your goal is to identify the best-fit candidates who not only possess the required skills but also align with the company’s culture and values. However, asking the right questions is essential to dig beneath the surface and gain insights into a candidate’s true potential, problem-solving abilities, and compatibility with the team. You’ll find that the questions suggested in this article allow you to gain a deeper understanding of their personality, personal values, goals, and needs. In addition to asking the right questions, it’s important that you really listen to the candidate’s answer and ask for clarity when needed.
Your questions should focus on their skill set, motivations, goals, and experience. Strategic interview questions to ask candidates should always be open-ended and require someone to give a meaningful and non-pre-rehearsed answer.
Developing a relationship upfront and showing your desire to get to know them will also help put your candidates at ease and allow them to feel comfortable with opening up. The more they open up, the more information you will find out which will allow you to make a more informed and confident decision.
If you’re looking for the best candidate, you need to ask great interview questions that are not surface-level. The standard “tell me about yourself” and “Why do you want to work here” are not going to help you get to know the candidate on a deeper level. These questions allow the candidate to craft a pre-rehearsed answer that tells you more of what you want to hear instead of what you need to know about them.
Strategic questions utilize a mix of skill-based, knowledge-based, personality, preference-related, and behavioral interview questions. These types of questions will give you a more well-rounded perspective when it comes to the candidate.
I should mention, you should never get too caught up on the “perfect” or right answer. When it comes to finding the right person for the role, you should be paying attention to their communication skills, leadership skills, time management capabilities, and specific examples that highlight their work style.
In today’s workforce, having a healthy, positive, and collaborative work culture is required for long-term success. A big part of that success is hiring the right people. That’s why anyone who is tasked with interviewing candidates needs to be trained on how to ask questions and what to look out for.
Asking strategic questions serves as a cornerstone of modern interviewing techniques. While standard questions provide a basic understanding of a candidate’s qualifications and experiences, strategic questions delve deeper, uncovering valuable insights and qualities that are crucial for success in a specific role. These questions help to assess not only technical skills but also soft skills, emotional intelligence, cultural fit, and problem-solving capabilities. By employing strategic questioning techniques, you can create a more comprehensive picture of the candidate’s potential and suitability, ultimately making informed hiring decisions.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint a single “most important” strategic question for all interviews, asking a candidate about their problem-solving abilities can be particularly valuable. Problem-solving skills are transferable across various roles and industries, and they reflect a candidate’s ability to think critically, adapt to challenges, and contribute positively to the organization.
A strategic problem-solving question might be:
“What do you think is the biggest problem you’ve ever solved in a role? Can you walk me through how you solved it? What was the outcome?”
This question can reveal several key insights:
Critical Thinking: The candidate’s ability to analyze situations, break down problems, and devise effective solutions.
Creativity: Their capacity to think outside the box and consider innovative approaches to challenges.
Communication: Can they communicate complex ideas clearly and to a variety of audiences? This question will help uncover that.
Resilience: You can learn about their approach to overcoming obstacles and setbacks during problem-solving.
Collaboration: If the problem required collaboration, this can showcase their ability to work effectively with other team members.
Results-Oriented: The outcome of their problem-solving efforts and the impact of their solution.
This question provides a window into the candidate’s mindset, adaptability, and approach to overcoming obstacles—a skill that’s invaluable in any role. In a fast-paced and constantly evolving world, you want people who have these skills because they are easily transferable and often inspire others around them to adopt the same traits.
Keep in mind, it’s all about HOW you ask questions. You’ll notice that many of the “standard” questions that have been asked in the past, I’ve made them more personal and open-ended. This is because I got the best results from asking candidates questions that they weren’t used to. It made them think and open up in ways they haven’t in the past.
When interviewing job candidates, asking a range of questions helps you assess their qualifications, skills, cultural fit, and potential. Here’s a list of questions to consider, categorized for different aspects of the candidate’s profile:
As you’ll notice, all of the strategic interview questions to ask the candidates listed are open-ended and give the candidate an opportunity to provide a detailed answer. Some of the questions suggested also follow the star method because they are behavior-based. Not sure what the star interview method is? I’ll explain below.
The STAR method is often used for government and public sector roles. This includes local, state, and federal roles. The STAR interview method is used during job interviews to help candidates provide concise and comprehensive answers to behavioral questions. Behavioral questions are those that ask candidates to describe specific situations they’ve encountered in the past, highlighting how they handled challenges, interacted with others, and achieved outcomes. The STAR method stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result, and it guides candidates in providing well-organized and detailed responses.
Below is a breakdown of each component of the STAR interview method:
1. Situation (S): Candidates will have to describe the situation or scenario they were in. This helps set the tone and explain the problem that they solved.
For example: “In my previous role as a program manager, we were tasked with launching a new grant program in a rural community.”
2. Task (T): The candidate will then explain the specific task or challenge that needed to be addressed within the situation. They will share what their responsibility, role, or objective was.
For example: “My task was to market the program within the community and build partnerships with fellow non-profits and associations to increase our enrollment of participants.”
3. Action (A): They will then provide details about the actions they took to address the challenge or task. The candidate should focus on what they did, how they did it, and the steps taken to achieve the goal. Listen closely because this will shed light on their skills, ability to navigate new challenges, and their decision-making process.
For example: “I conducted a thorough market analysis to identify our target audience and current programs offered within the community. I then developed a multi-channel marketing campaign that included news media interviews, public interviews, an agency open house, and cold outreach to local agencies.”
4. Result (R): This is where the magic happens. The wrap-up! This part will be the conclusion where they share the outcome or results of their actions.
For example: “As a result of the campaign, we enrolled 150 families in less than 2 quarters when the yearly goal was 200.”
With the STAR method, candidates can provide you with a clear and organized account of their experiences. This approach also allows you to see the candidate’s ability to communicate and explain outcomes. If you heavily rely on the STAR method, I recommend notifying your selected interviewees that this is the method you will be using. Why? Many professionals are not accustomed to this method and will need a heads up to review it to make sure they are answering the questions fully.
Asking strategic interview questions requires intentional preparation. To craft meaningful questions and create a positive experience for your potential employee, consider the following guidelines:
Be Specific: Frame questions that are specific to the role and day-to-day activities of the position. This ensures that the candidate’s responses are directly relevant to the job requirements.
Use the STAR Method: Encourage candidates to provide Situation, Task, Action, and Result (STAR) responses. This structured approach helps candidates provide detailed and relevant examples from their experiences.
Probe Deeper: Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions. After their initial response, ask follow-up questions that encourage candidates to elaborate on their experiences, thought processes, and outcomes. This is your opportunity to get to know them more and to create a comfortable space for them to share!
Encourage Self-Reflection: Ask questions that prompt candidates to reflect on their actions, decisions, and lessons learned from past experiences.
Be Open-Ended: Use open-ended questions that allow candidates to provide answers with detailed explanations. Avoid questions that only require a yes or no.
Strategic interview questions can be grouped into several categories, each targeting different aspects of a candidate’s profile. By strategically incorporating questions from these categories, you as a hiring manager can gain a well-rounded understanding of the candidate’s capabilities and potential. Let’s explore some of these categories and the types of questions that fall under each:
1. Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking
Interview questions in this category assess a candidate’s ability to analyze complex situations, devise solutions, and think critically under pressure. They offer insight into a candidate’s problem-solving approach, creativity, and adaptability. Examples of questions include:
2. Cultural Fit and Team Compatibility
Fostering a positive and mentally safe work culture involves hiring the right people. Before extending an offer, the interview is your opportunity to understand their morals and values. Cultural fit is crucial for long-term success within the organization. Relevant questions might include:
3. Adaptability and Change Management
Questions about adaptability and managing change allow you to evaluate a candidate’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances, embrace new technologies, and thrive in dynamic work environments. With the rise of AI, mergers and acquisitions, as well as workplace trends, candidates need to be able to adapt and thrive. These answers here can provide insights into a candidate’s flexibility and openness to learning. Examples include:
4. Leadership and Decision-Making
These questions are valuable when interviewing candidates for leadership roles. They assess a candidate’s leadership style, decision-making process, and ability to guide a team toward success. Sample questions include:
5. Future-Oriented and Growth Mindset
Questions in this category uncover a candidate’s aspirations, willingness to learn, and commitment to professional development. These questions offer insights into a candidate’s long-term goals and alignment with the company’s trajectory. Examples include:
6. Communication and Interpersonal Skills
Effective communication and interpersonal skills are essential for collaboration and building strong relationships within a team. Strategic questions in this category assess a candidate’s ability to convey ideas, listen actively, and resolve conflicts. Relevant questions might include:
The world of talent attraction and management is constantly evolving. Having the right people in the right positions is essential for the company’s growth and success. The people you hire are a part of that success.
Incorporating strategic questions into the interview process is a powerful tool for you as a hiring manager to gain deeper insights into candidates’ potential, values, problem-solving abilities, and cultural compatibility. By exploring different categories of strategic questions, you can tailor your interviewing approach to the specific requirements of the role and the organization. By adopting this approach, you will be able to make informed hiring decisions and build teams that are equipped to thrive in the dynamic and evolving business landscape. Remember, the art of asking strategic questions during interviews goes beyond the checklist—it’s about unlocking a candidate’s true potential and finding the perfect match for your organization’s success.