How to Craft Outstanding Interview Questions

One of the first steps in crafting good interview questions is knowing what you are looking for in a candidate and, of course, this is different for every company and every position. To illustrate how to craft great questions, we’ll assume one of the strengths we want to assess is the candidate’s problem-solving ability. Use the following three framing techniques for your questions:

1. Tell me about a time when…

Open-ended questions that ask candidates to describe an experience allows them to reflect on their achievements. Any interviewee worth their salt should have prepared some decent stories to respond to these kinds of questions. These questions should always be followed with a “why” or “tell me more”. For example:

  1. Tell me about an achievement or project in your previous experience, where you were specifically acknowledged for your problem-solving abilities. What did you do that deserved this recognition?
  2. Unfortunately, some solutions don’t always correct problems. Can you think of an interesting solution you generated that did not correct the problem? What was the solution? How did you come up with the idea?

2. Spectrum Questions

Spectrum questions offer a range of possible “right answers” that require candidates to dig a little deeper when responding about themselves. The purpose of spectrum questions is to get to know the person behind the resume. For example:

  1. When it comes to solving problems, some people like to get a working hypothesis going and start testing their solutions, realizing there are diminishing returns to more research. Others prefer to do their due diligence and make sure their solution will work before wasting time on implementation. I’ve noticed very few people fall squarely in the middle of that spectrum. Where do you fall?
  2. There are always a range of approaches to solving problems. Some people play it safe and go with methods they’ve seen work in the past. Others are less risk averse and like to be more innovative in their approach to problem-solving. On a scale of 1 – 10, with 1 always going with the way you’ve seen work and 10 being the most innovative problem solver imaginable, where do you fall? Why? Why didn’t you pick a lower number? Why not a higher number?

3. Test Questions

Whether a role-playing scenario, a technical test, or just a discussion to crack through the formality of the interview and see how the candidate performs under pressure, test questions allow you to evaluate how the candidate actually performs instead of how they say they will perform.

  1. I’m going to describe a situation we might face in a typical day. I’d like you to walk me through how you’d solve that problem.
  2. How many shoelaces are there in the world? Walk me through how you might figure that out.

Interviewing is a “Christmas Task”. It doesn’t come around very often but it’s important when it does – you don’t want to forget what you learned the last time you did it. Take some time to craft your ideal interview questions and keep them on file to use again and again. That way, even when there is a candidate pool of just one for a specific role, you’ll have your experience interviewing for this position to fall back on to see if there is a fit.

Bellrock is a process benchmarking and change management firm based in Vancouver, Canada. If you enjoyed this article, consider sharing it with your networks.

Written By:
Tara Landes

Tara Landes is the Founder and President of Bellrock. She has spent over 20 years consulting and training in small to medium-sized enterprises. A sought-after speaker on a wide range of business topics, Tara has delivered workshops and seminars at conferences and industry associations across Canada. Tara obtained a BA (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and earned an MBA from UWO's Richard Ivey School of Business.

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