How to Ask Strategic Interview Questions to Hire the Right Candidate

graduate recruitment

Look, we’ve all been there.

Our employer branding is on point, our job descriptions attract crowds of talent, and our candidate pipeline is overflowing.

Unfortunately, it’s filled with talent that ultimately isn’t a good fit for our hiring role.

The question on our mind is, “How do I know who our best candidates are?”

The answer is: you don’t.

You’ll need to ask candidates strategic interview questions to know if they’ll be a great fit.

So what are strategic interview questions?

Strategic interview questions are a series of behavioral and situational questions designed to give you an unbiased, unfiltered interview with candidates. They are powerful tools for a hiring team because they help you find out precisely what you need to know about a candidate.

Follow these steps to ask the best strategic interview questions and hire the right candidate:

 

Step 1. Build your candidate success profile

A candidate success profile is a robust combination of core hiring criteria and character traits that define your ideal hire for a specific role. This profile is arguably the most critical part of finding and building a superstar talent pipeline since it serves as your guiding blueprint throughout the whole process. It’s also important to create success profiles for each role you’re hiring.

How do you create strong candidate success profiles?

The factors of a success profile consist of the hard skills and soft traits required for role success. As you can probably imagine, candidate requirements are going to vary a lot depending on the role.

Here are some key profile factors to consider:

  • Skills (i.e. technical knowledge of programming languages)
  • Relevant job experience
  • Alignment to organizational values
  • Behavioral competencies
  • Leadership potential
  • Motivations

What would best indicate a candidate that will succeed in the role you’re hiring? Different roles have varying requirements, so don’t be afraid to consult your current data and stakeholders on what traits exemplify the ideal candidate.

Remember, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel for each new role; reconfiguring is the way to go.

 

Step 2. Craft your strategic interview questions

Now that you have a strong candidate success profile, it’s time to create the strategic interview questions that will unveil the best-fit candidates.

The trick here is to “ask without asking.”

This is where open-ended situational and behavioral questions help. Situational questions provide a novel hypothetical situation where a candidate will have to consider and share the steps they need to take to solve a problem. Behavioral questions are designed to help understand a candidate’s past behavior, and how that could apply in the new role.

Close-ended questions, however, tend to stop at a “yes” or a “no,” without a lot of additional insight. They can be useful in questionnaires, but not as useful in an interview environment.

Consider two cases with an interviewer asking a candidate a question about being people-centric:

  1. Close-ended question: “Would you say you’re a people-centric person?”
  2. Situational question: “What would you do if an angry client confronted you? How would you resolve the situation?”

 

Which question is more likely to give you the more useful insight? I think we can agree that it’s the second question.

Why is that the case, though?

We like to make other people happy, even if done unconsciously – we try to give the “right” answer. It’s not the interviewee’s fault, and not all interviewees do it, but it creates a situation where responses are filtered. Filtered answers mean that our insights into the candidate are going to be biased or inaccurate.

If the interviewer asked the general question, “Would you say you’re a people-centric person?” The candidate would have said something like, “Oh yeah, people are great. I love helping them.”

Not very insightful, right?

That’s why strategic questions, like the second example, are so powerful. Understanding the events around a story allows you to follow up on interesting points they make.

Here’s an example of the second, situational question:

  • Interviewer: “What would you do if an angry client confronted you? How would you resolve the situation?”
  • Candidate: “Well, first, I make sure they feel heard. I want them to know that their concern is valid, and my only goal is to help resolve it. After I got them to a point where they know that I’m really listening to them, I would ask questions to try and understand what was going on. After I understood the problem the client was facing clearly, I would connect them to an appropriate solution. The solution might be technical support, an apology, or something else altogether. In a nutshell, to help connect their challenge to a solution, first, they’d need to feel heard, and, second, I need to understand what’s going on. Then it’s much clearer to resolve.”

Can you see how the situation question both answered if the candidate was people-centric, while also providing insight into their conflict resolution skills?

The key is having a prepared list of great interview questions that allow you to follow up and find those valuable candidate insights.

 

What are the best types of strategic interview questions?

The best questions are tailored to your candidate success profile, but the types of questions are the same, regardless of the role. Use some inspiration from the examples below, but it’s essential to make them specific to your candidates.

Here’s a list of the best strategic interview question types:

Behavioral Questions: For discovering the candidate’s temperament and conflict resolution skills

  • “Could you walk me through a time you made a mistake, and how you handled it?”
  • “Can you tell me about a time you encountered a hard problem and how you solved it?”
  • “Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a peer, and how it was resolved.”

Situational Questions: For determining a candidate’s direct skills and indirect value.

  • “What would you do if you were assigned to the same project as a co-worker, but you couldn’t seem to agree on anything?”
  • “A vendor is consistently late, and it’s impacting your work. How would you handle it?”
  • “Let’s say you notice that a task request from another team isn’t very detailed but labeled as high-priority. How would you go about the task?”

While these are the best types of questions to ask, it helps to get as specific as possible. If you’d love to save the guesswork, check out our new  “Interview Kit” feature. It suggests personalized questions based on the role and the candidate’s existing profile. Then it helps easily collect valuable feedback and share it with stakeholders.

If you want to see what’s been working for us, book a demo here.

 

Step 3. Prepare for the interview

An often overlooked but significant part of the hiring process is communicating with stakeholders before the live interview.

At this point, you know who you’re interviewing and the questions you’ll be asking them.

Now, you can do a couple of things in advance to make sure it goes smoothly.

First off, review your candidate notes and make sure you have most of the basic questions answered before speaking to them. That preparation will make sure your time spent will be on the most valuable questions.

Next, whether you do it every day or interviewing for the first time, it’s a great practice to have a mock interview with a colleague. It will help you catch any awkward-sounding questions and help the interview flow smoothly.

Finally, take a few deep breaths, and relax.

You’ve got this.

 

Step 4. Interview your candidates

Now it’s time to let your preparation do the work and go through your interview stages.

Here’s a quick overview of the main steps:

  1. Small talk
  2. Gather information
  3. Q&A
  4. Wrap-up

 

“Small talk” might not seem vitally important, but it’s a vital part of your candidate’s experience and the insights you can gain. According to a study, an 11% increase in anxiety can result in a 7% decrease in interview performance.

What does that mean?

Just a slight increase in anxiety can be the difference between getting and not getting hired, even if they were otherwise a great fit.

Then, just follow your interview steps and watch the magic happen.

Note: Keep the tone conversational and relaxed – “how we ask” is almost as important as “what we ask.”

 

Step 5. Review the interview outcome

The final step is to learn from the interview and decide if the candidate should move to the next stage.

Luckily, you already have your candidate success profile to guide you. Based on the interview, how similar is the candidate to your success profile?

Here’s a shortlist of good questions to ask yourself:

  • Does the candidate have the skills we need?
  • Does their past work experience indicate how successful they will be in the new role?
  • Will they mesh with the company when they join?
  • Do they have the potential for a leadership role?

To streamline the process, create a scoring rubric based on what’s most important for your role and bucket candidates into three groups;

  1. Does not meet candidate requirements
  2. Does meet candidate requirements
  3. Exceeds candidate requirements

 

Conclusion

In summary, there are five critical steps for asking good strategic interview questions:

  1. Know who you’re trying to hire.
  2. Know the best questions to help identify them in your candidate pool.
  3. Take some time to review your notes, practice your questions, and relax before the interview.
  4. Help your candidate relax, and then interview them. Let the first three steps do the majority of the work.
  5. How closely does the candidate resemble your success profile?

 

Remember: It’s ok if a step doesn’t go perfectly the first time. There are many things to consider, but the important thing is to keep trying and learning, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you make progress.

If you want to save hours on the above steps, check out our new Interview Kit – we’ve built it with this exact process in mind. It’s got all the tools you need, from ideal strategic questions specific to your candidate to efficiently gathering and sharing feedback with key stakeholders.

If that sounds good, you can book a free demo here and see how we’re helping other hiring teams expertly navigate otherwise overwhelming talent pipelines.

John Coburn
John Coburn
John is a strategic growth marketer, with a passion for solving problems. No matter the channel you pick (SEO, SEM, social, flyers, etc), the most important part is how you use them to reflect the value of your product or service and generate demand.

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