Two Incredibly Useful Questions to Ask in a Job Interview

Want to know whether the person you're interviewing would really be the best hire? These two questions can help you separate the good from the bad.
March 27, 2013

Hiring great people is extremely difficult. A resume is a good start, and an hour-long conversation can give you an impression, but you often don't know if you made the right decision until a few months later. I'm always trying to improve my "people reading" skills, and have developed my own tips and tricks while still in art school that come in handy when hiring potential employees today.

At the art school I attended, thousands of young people would apply every year get interviews with two teachers and one student. I would be one of the students they spoke to. I always loved doing the interviews because I had maybe 10 minutes to try to analyze someone and write down a few details, and then my opinion could influence the final decision—a decision that would impact their lives.

I took it very seriously and felt a responsibility to really try to understand people. My two most important questions were: "What are you going to do when you get selected?" which I always followed up with, "And what will you do if you aren't selected?"

These two basic questions almost always produced the most telling answers. Usually I asked them near the end and presented them like they weren't really a part of the official interview. I asked like the question just popped into my head and I was just curious about their plans.

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The questions told me a lot about how they thought their stay at the academy would be. Some people would say, "Oh, I will just come here every now and then because I also have a day job so this is just something I would do to pass the time," or "I'm going to study here for a year and then switch to another school which denied me earlier." Often I would just see that people didn't really think about what studying at an art school really meant.

The second question was usually even more interesting. I remember one guy who was very young seemed a bit unprepared but did show talent. I was in doubt so I asked what he would do if he wouldn't be accepted. Suddenly he got all excited and told me he saved a few thousand euros and planned on visiting his father in Africa whom he hadn't seen in 12 years. He added, "And when I come back I will be better prepared and just apply again!" It felt almost like a punishment to accept him. The teachers felt the same and we had a meeting with him and told him what we thought and the reasons for not accepting him at that time. And the teachers urged him to come back next year and try again. He left smiling. 

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When I asked people who applied for a job at our company the same questions, some would tell me, without reservations, that they also applied for another job at an even cooler company and that they were really hoping to get hired there. Or they told me this was their last try at a job like this because they really wanted to be in another line of work. Others would say what they thought they would be doing for the next year if they did get hired, and it would be the total opposite of what I wanted from them.

People practice for these kinds of meetings and try to say what we want to hear. Once you challenge them to think about their own future, good or bad, they relax and tell you about their dreams and expectations. And those can be a lot more telling than any resume.

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Boris is a blogger, speaker and serial entrepreneur. He founded The Next Web as well as V3 Redirect Services, HubHop Wireless Internet Provider,Twitter and several other companies. You can reach Boris on Twitter (@Boris), Google+ and Facebook.

Photo: iStockphoto