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The critical missed step when candidates ask question in a job interview

This interviewer is thinking, “He had the job until he asked me these candidate interview questions.”

Today’s post explains how candidates can have a great interview. The hiring manager is thinking “this candidate is the one”.  Then, in the last 10 minutes, the candidate loses the job because of the candidate interview questions they asked. Unfortunately, candidates don’t realize they blew it.

In 99.9% of job interviews, the format follows something close to the following:

  • A few minutes of chit-chat and small talk
  • Interviewer explains the agenda for the interview
  • The interviewer asks the candidate interview questions
  • The candidate uses the last few minutes to ask candidate interview questions

The above format is pretty standard. And we have all see the lists of interview questions that a candidate should ask the interviewer.

I have a slightly different attitude towards candidate interview questions and I blogged about it here. Check it out to read the specific questions the candidate should ask and more importantly why these candidate questions are so effective.

Below is a list of the typical questions a candidate will ask in a job interview:

  1. What does success look like in the first 30 days?
  2. When you consider a candidate, what do you look for in an Acme Publishing employee?
  3. What is your management style?
  4. Are there common traits that successful Acme Publishing employees share?
  5. What is the most challenging part of the job?
  6. I am sure you are working on challenging problems. What keeps you up at night?

For the record, I don’t care for any of the above candidate interview questions and think they set a candidate up for failure in an interview. You can read more about why I believe this (It might be the 1000’s of interviews I have conducted) in the above-linked blog post. I talk specifically about why number 5 and 6 are doomsday questions.

Kiss of death

I can live with the first 4 questions listed above and those similar in tone. But too many candidates just ask their candidate interview question, listen to the answer and then move onto the next question. And this is the kiss of death.

So, here is a typical interaction on the first two questions:

C: What does success look like in the first 30 days?

HRN: Good question. Success is pretty easily definable. We have a set onboarding and training program with milestones that need to be hit. The training is both in person, and online. Making it through these in person and online training will determine success.

And then the kiss of death. Here is the Candidates response:

C: OK, great. Glad to hear you have a training program. What do you look for in an Acme Publishing Employee?

And when I hear the second question, the candidate lost me. If we are going to ask a question, we need to respond to the answer that qualifies us for the position. Just moving on to the next question is a wasted opportunity. A swing and a whiff. Actually, we didn’t even swing.

Here is another way the candidate could respond:

C: OK, Great. Glad to hear you have a training program in place. The last company I worked had a pretty good program for the first 2 weeks and I created the training program for week 3 and 4. My manager was really impressed with what I learned during the first 2 weeks and explained that I had scored in the top 10% of new trainees. I was a little slow to start, so I ended up taking some of the work home to study after work. I believe this is what put me over the edge.

Scene 2, Candidate interview question

C: What is the common trait that successful Acme Publishing employees share?

HRN: Good question. I think that one common trait that successful employees share is they have a positive attitude. Anything can be accomplished. No one here at Acme is going to say “I can’t do that” or “We can’t do that”. If we can put a man on the moon, we can release some software.

And then the kiss of death. Here is the Candidates response:

C: That is cool. I like that attitude. OK, What is the most challenging part of the job?

And we just missed another opportunity. If we are going to ask a candidate interview question, we need to respond and reinforce our qualifications.

Here is another way the candidate could respond:

C: That is cool. I share that same attitude. I have a saying. Are you an American or an American’t. I absolutely believe that anything is possible. At my last job, I was given what some people thought was an impossible task. I was supposed to build 75 widgets and most people didn’t think it could be done. I knew it could be done, it was just a matter of breaking down what it would take to build 75 and establishing expectations. How long would it take to build these widgets and what would be the cost? We can build them sooner than later but it will probably take more resources. But it can be done.

Just acknowledging the answer isn’t enough. We are being given a softball to set ourselves up with success. The way to do this is by providing an example of our prior work that is related to the interviewer’s answer.

Requisite dating example

If we ask our date “What is your favorite color?” and they say blue, we don’t just move on to the next question and ask them what their favorite food is. We say something like “Me too! Have you seen the Blue Man Group? I can’t believe they found so much blue makeup. I saw it last year in Vegas and they were amazing.” 

If we are trying to be sarcastic and our date is a fashionista, we show quip with,  “What you don’t know is that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? A quote from one of my favorite HR movies, The Devil wear Prada.

The point

We are trying to build a connection and show we have something in common with that job description. We are trying to build a connection with our date and we do this by finding something in common or with an attempt at humor. (I am an interview expert, not a dating expert) 

If you are going to ask a candidate interview question, provide a response. In the meantime, check out the questions I do like candidates to ask and why linked above.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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