The best interview questions

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The best interview questions

If you step into an interview with a bank, you realistically need to be prepare for the sorts of beige interview questions that are the hallmark of large and risk averse institutions. While some wildcards remain in the form of brainteasers about ping pong balls and pigs in China, the norm is now questions about overcoming difficulties, leadership experiences, and skill sets, particularly for the junior Hirevue interviews which are mostly about determining cultural fit.  

There is another way.

In a new book*, economist Tyler Cohen and venture capitalist and entrepreneur Daniel Gross, suggest an array of contemporary questions for identifying the best recruits in the third decade of the 21st century. Their questions aren't finance specific, but they are finance-relevant. Line managers who ask them will have a good chance of differentiating themselves from the dirge, and of making interviewees feel like they're interviewing with an organization that understands the zeitgeist.

The best new interview question for learning what someone is really about 

If you're only going to ask one interview question to understand the person who wants to join your team, Cohen's suggestion is this:

“What are the open tabs on your browser right now?”

With this one question, Cohen says you are unearthing a wealth of information: "You are asking about intellectual habits, curiosity, and what a person does in his or her spare time, all at once. You are getting past the talk and probing for that person’s demonstrated preferences."

Don't ask dull questions. Some alternatives

Don't put interviewees to sleep with tedious queries. "Dullness is catching," say Cohen and Gross. Obvious questions elicit obvious answers. "Try not to ask for stories that are likely to be canned. Don’t ask for a story about something the person did right or wrong on the previous job. Don’t ask whether a person is easy or hard to work with."

Instead, they suggest asking some of the more direct questions below. These are harder to shape into a curated narrative. 

“How did you spend your morning today?”

“What’s the farthest you’ve ever been from another human?” 

“What’s something weird or unusual you did early on in life?” 

“What’s a story one of your references might tell me when I call them?”

"How do you feel you are different from the people at your current company?”

“What views do you hold religiously, almost irrationally?”

“How did you prepare for this interview?” 

“What is something esoteric you do?”

“Did you feel appreciated at your last job? What was the biggest way in which you did not feel appreciated?”

“What is one mainstream or consensus view that you wholeheartedly agree with?

"How successful do you want to be?"

"When have you experienced great regret in the workplace and why? How much were you at fault in that interaction?”

The art of the interview, say the two men, isn't to throw candidates off-balance, but to determine whether a person is a good match for a job. In financial services, it's also usually about working out whether someone is a good fit for the company. This means making the interview as non-threatening as possible. It also means asking questions that don't invite answers that can be massaged to fit perceived requirements. The best interview questions are direct and different. They don't involve watching an interviewee sweat while estimating the number of ping pong balls that can fit into a Tesla.

*Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World

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Photo by Rebecca Lawrence on Unsplash

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