How to Choose Job Interview Questions That Land High-Performing Hires

In 2016, the Indian electronic commerce company Flikpart revealed an intriguing aspect of their hiring process: they don’t interview job candidates at all.

Why would Flipkart cut out this seemingly crucial step? Because, as their CEO says, “The performance of the candidate on that specific day… may not be a true reflection of their skills and temperament.” Instead, Flipkart’s hiring team tracks the top-performing students on the tech-education website Udacity, and hires the “graduates” who achieve the most impressive project scores over time.

Although you might not have a list of long-term performance stats on all your job candidates, Flipkart’s “no interview” policy points back to a simple principle: an interview may not give you a clear picture of a candidate’s true abilities and personality – unless you choose interview questions whose answers are all but impossible to fake.

Here’s how to select questions that’ll show you who your candidates truly are.

Keep your questions specific to this office and job role.

In a 1998 study, professors Frank Schmidt and John Hunter found that “behavioral questions” about past solutions predict a candidate’s success only 12 percent more accurately than a random coin flip – and in today’s fast-changing tech world, that percentage is even lower. Besides, it’s all too easy for candidates to relive (and rehearse) epic stories of past victories, instead of focusing on the unique challenges your business faces today.

A better way to assess a candidate’s problem-solving skills is to start with an open-ended question about their role. For example, “It’s your first week on the job here. What steps do you take to identify the most important problems in your department?” Alternately, ask a similar question, but with a more positive slant: “You think you’ve noticed an opportunity to improve your department here. How do you go about vetting that opportunity?”

Next, step it up a notch, and ask the candidate to walk you through their process of solving an actual problem in your business. For example, “Our executives sometimes forget to alert our IT department when they’ve purchased new mobile devices, and those devices can pose security risks to our company network. Walk me through the steps you’d take to solve this problem.” Alternately, try handing the candidate a one-page summary of a flawed process within your organization. Ask them to point out the likely sources of the problem, and to outline possible approaches for addressing those issues.

Before you ask a specific problem-solving question like this, make sure you have a definite answer in mind. You may even want to create a list of specific steps you expect the candidate to include in their solution. Deduct points if the candidate skips any of the most important steps in your list – but at the same time, remain open to innovative solutions, as long as they’re actually effective.

Push the candidate to look forward.

One main reason Flipkart hires students from Udacity (rather than from a traditional candidate pool) is that self-motivated students are very likely to continue learning throughout their lives. To find out whether your candidates are self-motivated learners, ask specific questions about their plans for the coming years.

Forget the typical vague question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Instead, try asking the candidate what steps they’re taking right now to prepare for the future. For example, “What courses or programs are you enrolled in right now?” Along similar lines, you might ask, “What piece of new technology are you most looking forward to trying?” or “What subject do you most enjoy learning about in your free time?” Your goal is to hire a candidate whose value will increase over time – and that means someone who takes proactive steps to expand their own knowledge base.

You can also learn a lot about a candidate by broadening the scope, and asking them to forecast a major change in your industry. For example, try asking, “What will be the biggest shift in our industry over the next five years?” And here’s a great follow-up: “Walk me through the ways that shift will impact our competitive landscape, and the lives of our employees.” The idea is not only to check if the candidate has read up on upcoming trends, but has actually thought about the implications of those trends at a variety of levels.

By now, you’ve probably noticed that all these questions shift the focus away from stories of the past, and require the candidate to describe their thought processes in the present, as well as their specific expectations for the near future. Even if you don’t have quantitative stats on your candidates, questions like these will tell you a lot more about their skills and personality than traditional interview questions ever could.