How to Perfect Your Job Interview Questions

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer May 24, 2023

​Well-designed interview questions help you figure out how candidates will perform as future employees, whether they will be great additions to the team and if they will thrive in the role.

Ineffective interview questions, at the very least, waste everyone's time and ultimately do not give the hiring team enough information to make a good decision.

"Unfortunately, bad interview questions are very common," said Melissa Dobbins, founder and CEO of Career.Place, an Austin, Texas-based consulting and technology firm with the aim of making hiring more equitable. Dobbins was speaking to attendees of the recent 2023 Recruit DC conference held in Washington, D.C.

Before outlining the elements of effective interview questions, Dobbins provided a few examples of what doesn't work:

  • Leading with the obvious. "Do you work well with people?" Few people will say no.
  • Asking for a scripted response. "Walk me through your resume."
  • Asking vague, overly open-ended questions. "What's your biggest accomplishment?"
  • Asking wacky, irrelevant questions. "Which color lightsaber are you?"
  • Using metaphors or analogies that depend on cultural references, like the lightsaber example or "It's the bottom of the ninth … "
  • Asking exclusionary questions, such as "As a woman, how do you … " "Thankfully, that last one is not done as much anymore," Dobbins said.

Traits of Good Interview Questions

Dobbins noted that all interview questions must be clear, measurable, relevant and insightful.

Clear. Candidates need to understand what is being asked, she said. The question and the intent should be clear. "Start with intent—why are you asking the question? What do you need to know from the candidate?" 

She provided an exercise to test a question's clarity. "Try to answer each question, but completely miss the intent." For example, in response to "How do you run meetings?" you could say "Very quickly." If you can answer questions without providing much value or easily miss what the interviewer is looking for, then candidates can do it accidentally, Dobbins said.

Measurable. How can you compare candidates if you can't measure their responses? Before asking any questions, the hiring team should have an understanding of what kinds of responses the hiring manager is looking for, Dobbins explained, along with an answer key or measuring scale to grade the responses.

"You cannot objectively evaluate candidates if you have no form of measurability," she said. "Without objective, consistent and equitable measurability, you're left relying on personal preferences."

Dobbins advised using a simple scale with four to five rankings for graders. "Too many options, like a 1-10 scale, is not effective, because who really knows the difference between a 7 and an 8," she said.

Each ranking on the scale must be described, and the interview should be documented as close to in real time as possible. Dobbins recommended recording the interview or basing an evaluation on notes immediately after it ends.  

Relevant. Does the question relate to the job? "You're looking for questions that will help you evaluate the candidate's ability to perform tasks, achieve the outcomes to have success, be productive and allow for a safe work environment," she said.

"If the question can hit these criteria, you have relevancy. If it can't, ditch the question."

Insightful. You are spending a lot of precious time interviewing. How will the candidate's responses to your questions drive a decision? "For example, asking 'What was your biggest accomplishment in your career?' does not really guarantee an insightful answer," Dobbins said. "It's too vague. Also, if it's a question that can be answered in one sentence, it's probably not very insightful."



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