3 Interview Questions to Ask: Getting Negative Information from Candidates

I know. We should be kinder and gentler during the sh*****w that this past year has been. I generally agree.

There’s just this one little problem. As hiring everywhere ramps back up, we’ve lost any muscle memory we once had related to interviewing. Let’s face it, most hiring managers (and some of us as real recruiters) aren’t great to begin with at interviewing. Taking a half year (or more) off from hiring, and the situation is dire.

How do you teach your crew to get and evaluate meaningful information as you ramp back hiring? One easy hack is to embed questions that ask for negative information. Answers to negative questions have a way of presenting contrast that’s easily identified.

What questions you ask? Here’s three questions that ask for information that likely will have a response that could be framed in negative terms. Use these responsibly, people:

1–When in your career have you been the least satisfied? We’re warming up with a simple, yet powerful question on motivational fit.

Once you get the response from the candidate – it should be the SINGLE time in their career they were the least satisfied, ask “why?” and say “tell me more” multiple times.  Then, s.h.u.t. u.p.  Seriously – stop talking.  Don’t bail the candidate out, but rather force them to tell you what really drives them crazy about jobs, bosses, teams and companies.

5 minutes spent on this question is gold. Once you have the details, you determine if your culture/special sauce is going to drive this person crazy – or not.

2–“What important truth in the world of <insert your profession> do very few people agree with you on?

OK, this is a senior level question, and it comes in a modified fashion from PayPal founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel. In his book,  Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, Thiel goes deep on this question, and if asked the wrong way it could lead to non-work related answers that are political, religious, etc.

We don’t need those answers, so I’ve modified the question to limit it to the field you’re working in related to the answer provided.

You’re looking for point of view (POV) with this question. The higher the level of position you’re interviewing for, the more important this is. Leadership is hard, and you want talented people to have a POV that influences the way they’ll approach having impact at your company.

Asking for what they believe that few people agree with (in your field), is a great way to check their conviction for change.

3–Any list building question that make the candidate describe how others see them.

I was fortunate to be joined recently by Stephanie Lilak (CHRO of Dunkin’ Brands) on my podcast BEST HIRE EVER (click here for episode), and my first question out of the gate was “tell me your favorite interview question.”

She gave me the following:

–“Tell me six words to describe yourself”, then after that’s done, follow up with:

–“Tell me six words others use to describe you”

These weren’t used by Stephanie to extract negative information. But the contrast of asking both questions is interesting, difficult and likely to spring a lot of truth. Any introspective look with depth you can get from a candidate is good. Stephanie mentioned that after the candidate built both lists, she would pick two or three things to dig into.

I got interviewed by Stephanie live with these questions, and I gave her “challenging” as one of the words to describe me. If you heard that in an interview, it’s likely you’d be following up to learn more, and I’d be likely to give you examples of how I’m challenging to others in the workplace. I probably didn’t go into the interview expecting to give that up.

In closing, life is tough. Hiring is so important you can’t afford not to ask questions that have the intent of framing things that are really challenging about and to your candidate in the workplace.

Go get some negative information. Understand that every candidate has negative information and if they’re kind enough to provide it, all other factors being equal they actually might be the candidate you want most.

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