Yes, I’m giving some of my secrets away.  Gratis.

I’m going to out myself by sharing some of my most powerful, make-or-break interview questions and why I ask them (when I’m the hiring manager).  For the next person who interviews with me, you best ready yourself by reading through this post.  You’ll be completely set up.  For the rest of you, I’m hoping you can benefit by isolating your interview opportunities here, while also gaining some tips to help you refine your skill for when you have to sit on the other side of the table.

I prep to interview candidates by reviewing their resume, looking for obvious places where my desired skills and experiences would likely be demonstrated.  I also look for gaps and plan for how to audit those during the interview.  From this I develop a list of questions and add a few other standard ones that fit into the following three buckets that are consistent with the key questions every interviewer wants to answer:

  • Background / Credentials
  • Fit for company and role
  • Career Ambitions

I also plan to deliberately test poise and communication ability.  More on that later.

I don’t ask questions in any particular order but rather segue from one topic to another based on how the conversation flows.  Somehow I manage to cover all the bases as my eyes dart down to my prep notes as we talk, which allows me to guide the conversation.  I’m a bit of a Dateline reporter in how I roll, intertwining fluff questions with zingers.  So as I shake and bake between topics you will find that I ask most of the standard questions, and certainly the following faves:

Walk me through your resume.

OK, sometimes I’m buying time because I haven’t been able to adequately prepare for the interview.  Guilty.  But, the main purpose here is to test your communication skill.  For you, think ROI on this process where the Return is how much value I’m getting out of understanding your suitability and the Investment is time spent on the question.  Can you concisely get through your resume and leave me feeling you’re awesome?  Hint: find yourself connecting your resume walk with your candidacy.  Example:  “Working on this project required a lot of team building and conflict resolution on my part in order to hit our deadlines, which we did.  This tough test has got me really prepared for the next challenge.  I can provide more details if you like.”

That last line is golden.  Don’t assume you’re doing down the right path or even interesting your interviewer.  Err on the side of being concise but check in with interviewer to see if they would like more depth.

If you’re merely reading your resume to them, that’s bad.  If you’re selling, that’s good.  If you can get through your walk in less than 2 minutes while delivering some key selling points, that’s magnificent.  I’d already be half sold.

Ask hiring managers to estimate the percentage of candidates that are long winded in interviews.   If your mini-survey yields an under 50 range, I’d be floored.  Concise means you can cover more ground, thus providing more reasons to hire you.  Prepare an efficient and powerful resume walk; and then when you do it in a real situation, check in a few times with the interviewer to ensure you’re giving the right level of detail.

Talk to me about your past jobs and what you liked and disliked about them.

This is a ‘fit’ question that allows you to probe into the type of duties, culture, management and work styles the candidates thrive in…or avoid.  I can’t tell you how many times candidates for marketing roles complained about all the Excel work in their past jobs.  Has anyone told them marketing is quite the analytical pursuit?  I usually accomplish a lot with this question as people build either momentum or begin to filter themselves out with their answers.

This question is also an entry point into “…so what are you looking for then.”  It’s like saying you’ve been on a bunch of OK dates, so now you know what you want.  While I’m not worried about where you see yourself in 5 to 10 years – hate that question – I do expect you to have some keen insight about what’s next.

Why do you want to work for this company / in this industry?

Nothing really new here, but I’m discussing this question because I seldom encounter a candidate who nails the answer.  I strongly encourage you to think carefully about this question and provide some solid observations when answering.  When I recruited for Warner Bros. I got to the point where I had to counsel (threaten) headhunters against sending me candidates who wanted to work for us ‘because they like movies’.  That’s like…who doesn’t like to eat and sleep?  Everyone likes movies.  Now if you act on your passion by pursuing acting or movie making that’s different.  I’ll buy it.  But otherwise, you haven’t shown me that you have a clue about what it’s like to work in the industry and why you’d be a fit.  More importantly, I’m left feeling you haven’t prepared. Next!

If I pulled you off the team and put one of your competent peers on it, would the team have achieved the same result?

It’s not easy to ask this question without sounding like a jerk, so I’m careful with my tone.  Nevertheless this question means I’m in a decent mood and I’m giving you a second chance.  You have thus far failed to explain your specific contributions to a result, so I’m giving you another crack at it.  I don’t buy the “…yeah I was put on the team and yadda yadda yadda we grew sales by 10%”.  You can’t slide by me – and many try to — so if properly motivated I step up to enforce the STAR format (look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about).  I have found over time that wording the question this way helps candidates truly get what I’m trying to draw out. The message for you is to sell your impact, pointing out your core abilities and leadership skills.

How do you spend your time outside of work?  What are your passions, hobbies and interests?

I ask this question in different ways (“tell me what you did yesterday/this week”, for example) to get a sense of how candidates use their time.  Typically, busy people come off as having more drive and tend to accomplish more….or at least that’s the belief.  I also get a sense of your hobbies and passions; many times they help validate your career objectives.  Candidates will often list these on a resume, but this question gets to the root of how actively you spend time being a leader, being productive, nurturing an interest or building relationships.

P.S. as I have mentioned before, an answer like “movies, music and hanging out with friends” leaves me feeling you don’t have much ambition.  Careful.

When I finish interviewing for this position, I’m going to sit down with all the resumes and think about each candidate.  When I think about you and our meeting together, what would you like me to remember?

Another favor I grant during interviews!

As I talk to candidates I open several doors for them to easily walk through and sell themselves.  Often, they don’t fully seize the opportunity.  If I’m sufficiently interested by the end of the meeting, I will give them a friendly reminder at the end via this verbal sledgehammer that they haven’t really driven home what they bring to the table.  So there it is. The chance to give me all they got.  I’ll sit and listen to what will be the last impression of the interview.

Keep in mind not everyone will help you out with such a prompt, so make sure you’re prepared to deliver your three key points during the interview.

Why should I hire you?

Gets at the same thing, but is less friendly of a question.   I like to see how some candidates react when they are up against it or are put on the spot directly.  I take this tone if I feel the need to test poise.

So, what can I do for you (followed by silence and a blank stare)?

I don’t do this often, but I’m including it to make a point to those reading and interviewing.   This is a lot like my “Be Ready for GO” story on interviewing preparedness.  On occasion, should I sense the need, I’ll hand over the reigns of the interview to the candidate with such a question.  I’ll let some awkward silences happen to see if they can run with the interview and sell themselves.  For them, it’s a great opportunity to make whatever point they want, ask what they want and take the interview where they want.  I’m curious to see what happens if they are handed control.  If they sit and wait for a question, I have a very telling sign about to what extent they are wired for business.