Get to know job candidates with these 16 insightful questions

There’s more to every job candidate than just their résumé. While a list of skills provides useful insight into how well an applicant’s experiences match the position requirements, it won’t provide enough information to help you know whether that person is the right fit for your organization. A candidate who appears perfect on paper may not quite “click” with the rest of the team, while another candidate who lacks certain skills may show great potential to grow within the company.

The Business Journals

To inspire you to look beyond a candidate’s résumé or LinkedIn profile, 16 members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share insightful questions they’ve asked in interviews and what they learned about applicants in the process.

1. ‘How did you enhance the culture in your previous work environment?’
I believe it is important to hire candidates who enhance a company’s culture. I like to ask candidates to share how they have contributed to and enhanced the culture of their previous work environments. Responses are raw, unrehearsed and sincere. – Brigg Bunker, Foulger-Pratt

2. ‘What are some ways you made an impact beyond your job description?’
This question allows you to focus less on requirements and more on potential outcomes. What makes someone an outstanding candidate isn’t always captured on paper or within checklists. Provide an opportunity for them to tell you a story, offer insights into their thought processes and reveal their mindset for impact. – Keri Higgins-Bigelow, livingHR, Inc.

3. ‘What are your long-term career goals?’
We like to know what a candidate is looking for in their career in the long term, even outside of the interview. The range of answers we’ve received has helped us see how we can help candidates achieve their personal career goals, regardless of the amount of time they may be with us. Likewise, depending on the answer, we’ll know if they are a team player for the short or long term and can plan accordingly. – Joseph Princz, Wrecking Ball

4. ‘How do you handle a recurring problem you can’t change?’
Sometimes there are issues that are out of their control. If an employee fixates on problems and can’t move beyond them, it can limit their ability to do the job. – Allison Kreiger Walsh, The Recovery Village

5. ‘What is your genius zone?’
I like talking about the “genius zone” — what they do uniquely that feels effortless and alive but is an obstacle for others. This is different than a zone of competence (what they are good at doing). Success is achieved if you can help someone get and stay in their genius zone. First, they need to be able to articulate what it is. Probing that with curiosity is fun. – Russell Benaroya, Stride

6. ‘What do you want to do next?’
One of my favorite interview questions to ask candidates is what they want to do after their time at our company. One of my jobs as a CEO is to empower the people who work for me. If I know the aspirations of an individual, we can help get them there while they’re here with us. – Blake Miller,

7. ‘What has happened when you’ve been criticized?’
Since ours is a mentor/mentee relationship when starting new people, it’s imperative that they be coachable. Of course, every interviewee claims they are the poster person for coachability. The most insightful item we put on the table is: “Describe several situations in which you’ve been criticized and what happened.” Then, we listen for defensive versive receptive response patterns. – Greg Boucher, ThinkingAhead

8. ‘Tell me about a work task you found challenging.’
I ask the applicant to tell me a story about something they did at work that they found very challenging and whether they were proud of the outcome. The resulting anecdote frequently illustrates their organizational, interpersonal and problem-solving skills. – John Dini, MPN Inc.

9. ‘Describe the best job you ever had.’
I ask candidates to describe the best job they’ve had or the best team they’ve worked on. What made it the best? It gives me insight into how they collaborate, how they like to work, what challenges them and how they define work “success.” The answers are usually about the impact of the work/project itself as well as what they enjoyed about the experience. – Aviva Ajmera, SoLVE KC

10. ‘What do you know about this company?’
It’s always a good sign for me when a candidate has prepared an answer to this question. Good candidates will not only answer this question but also prepare suggestions or ideas that they think could contribute to your company goals. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

11. ‘What did you learn from your most recent failure?’
I want to know about a recent failure and what they learned from it. People fail because they try things they have not done before; they stretch themselves. I want to work with people who are not afraid of going to the edge of their comfort zone and learning something about themselves or the process that they can implement. – Priya Cloutier, Cloutier Arnold Jacobowitz PLLC

12. ‘How do you get customer/client buy-in?’
My favorite question to ask is, “How can you tell if a customer or client hasn’t bought into your proposed solution, and what do you typically do about it?” This question shows you their level of empathy and ability to read between the lines, as well as their problem resolution capacity — all in one question. – Courtney Folk, Textile Restorations

13. ‘What would you do in the following situation?
Ask a candidate to provide their ideas about a real-world business situation you are looking to solve. You’ll get to see what their approach would be to tackle the situation and come up with a strategic response. This insight is key to seeing how they think through things and how they would respond to you or the business on a daily basis. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

14. ‘What is the most significant constructive criticism you’ve received in a performance review?’
First, it’s a red flag if they say they’ve never received negative feedback or criticism. I also want to see how comfortable they are when talking about self-improvement. But most importantly, I want to know what they did to learn from and improve upon that criticism. It speaks to their humility. – Kedran Whitten, Brand825

15. ‘What is your Enneagram type?’
I enjoy seeing what number someone is on the Enneagram. It allows me to see the real person and understand how they relate to the world. I also look at the staff currently doing the job where I have a need and see where they fall on the Enneagram. It helps me know what number will best suit that role when interviewing. – Amber Duncan, Jackie

16. Try some silence.
Silence is actually an extremely effective tool when interviewing. People will tell you all sorts of things about themselves if given the silence to do so. After they’ve answered a question, sometimes I take my time making notes. Often applicants will feel compelled to fill the space with more about themselves. – Tashina Bailey, The Bar Method Portland

16 effective strategies for building a reliable talent pipeline

No matter the state of the labor market, your business should be prepared to quickly fill job openings. One solution to this is developing a talent pipeline — a reliable, accessible and ever-renewing pool of qualified candidates. While this may take extra effort at the outset, it can save your business significant time and headaches when you need to hire quickly.

The Business Journals

To help you with your recruiting efforts, we asked the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust how to build a reliable talent pipeline. Below, they share 16 strategies you can use to develop a strong pool of qualified candidates for your business’s needs.

1. Invest marketing resources into your HR efforts.
Seldom do businesses commit as many resources to marketing their labor brand as they do to generating new sales leads. Just like business development and sales growth, building a talent pipeline is an ongoing process that takes considerable expertise from the marketing department. HR alone should not be accountable for creating a talented future workforce. – Paul Weber, EAG Advertising & Marketing

2. Become a mentor to students.
As the leader of a nonprofit working to build a diverse talent pipeline in our K-12 schools, I believe a strategy that would be helpful to education would be carving out time to speak with students or become a volunteer or mentor. Those in the workforce who are underrepresented are the perfect advocates for diversity and inclusion. Female CIOs and CTOs show girls what is possible by example. – Kathleen Schofield, Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub

3. Actively manage your company’s reputation.
We actively manage our reputation within the professional community. People will seek us out. We do this in a variety of ways, including through our website, social media and professional events. The second (and most productive) way to build a talent pipeline is to have everyone’s eyes open to potential new talent. The best people are already working. We seek them out. – John Berendzen, Fox Architects (St. Louis)

4. Stay active in your industry community.
Always continue networking, and stay active in all areas of core competency and the community. You never know when that gem is in the audience waiting to shine in your organization. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising

5. Create an unrivaled company culture.
Invest in your current talent pool. Create an unrivaled culture. If people like where they work, they are going to talk about it. There is nothing stronger than a referral from a current employee. Job seekers look at sites like Glassdoor. If your team loves what they do, building a talent pipeline is as easy as calling on them. – Lane Conner, Fuzse

6. Mobilize your team as ‘talent scouts.’
I encourage all of our team members to think of themselves as “talent scouts,” constantly keeping their eyes out for great people who might be good fits for our organization. There’s nothing better than great, happy employees wanting to make their company better by helping to identify and recruit other talented individuals. – Chris Hogan, Benefit Commerce Group, an Alera Group Company

7. Pay attention to your employer reviews.
Improve your presence on employer review sites like Glassdoor, Comparably and Kununu. Candidates invariably look at these sites today in deciding where to apply for jobs. The more reviews (and the more five-star reviews) you have, the better your chances of growing a strong talent pipeline. – Scott Baradell, Idea Grove

8. Create an employee referral program.
Companies can create a reliable talent pipeline by creating an employee referral program. The best hires often come from referrals from existing teammates who are familiar with a job candidate’s values, work ethic and past performance. Many studies have shown that referred hires are cheaper, onboard faster and stay at their jobs longer than traditional hires. – Vincent Phamvan, Vyten Career Coaching

9. Develop a formal succession plan.
One key strategy is to build an internal pipeline through formal succession planning, mentoring, training and understanding individual employee career aspirations. To support this strategy, new employees are hired based not only on their fit for existing positions but also on their ability to grow into future, more highly skilled roles. – Shawn Kitchell, Madico, Inc.

10. Focus on a culture of well-being.
One way to always have a talent pipeline is to create a culture of well-being. When you have a true well-being culture, people love their work. You then become an employer of choice. Now you can recruit top talent for any role in your organization. Creating a culture of well-being is a journey that your organization has to go through. It’s all about the employee experience. – Debra Young, Sheer Velocity, LLC

11. Volunteer as a guest speaker.
We send speakers to MBA classes that teach our subject areas. That connects us with a broad labor pool and helps us identify the best candidates from that pool. – Reed Holden, Holden Advisors

12. Leverage digital recruitment platforms and networking events.
There are tons of options for recruiters to hire both part-time and full-time employees. It’s hard to pinpoint where you can establish a pipeline, but it would be good to be on digital recruitment platforms and network at every conference that you can attend. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

13. Partner with university career services departments.
Partner with university career services and be a resource for them. Rather than always being on the receiving end of a résumé, we try to show how we hope to help the universities build talent by offering free classes, volunteering to do résumé reviews or mock interviews, and participating in club activities. Knowing that we’re not only adding value by hiring keeps us top of mind. – Jordan Lofton, Golden Source Consultants

14. Build your internal pipeline first.
Consider whether you should build it or buy it and under what conditions. Look internally and hire from within whenever institutional knowledge is required for the position. Build an internal pipeline through formal succession planning that includes a mentorship program, employee learning development opportunities and dialogues to uncover employee career aspirations. This helps increase engagement. – Katie Wahlquist, Star Bank

15. Volunteer to serve on curriculum advisory committees.
Leverage partnerships with two-year colleges to create internships and co-ops, and promote openings through student career centers. Consider mentoring, and help ensure the curriculum is up to date and meets current and future industry needs through volunteering on curriculum advisory committees. Consider youth apprenticeships in high schools, and be sure your organization supports diversity, equity and inclusion. – Vicki Martin, Milwaukee Area Technical College

16. Build a ‘virtual bench.’
Building a virtual bench has been a success factor for us. We never stop recruiting, even if we don’t have any job openings. Having one to three candidates lined up for a position is helpful, and the best hires have most often resulted from building a long-term relationship with someone before hiring them. Sometimes the relationships are built over years. – Kent Lewis, Anvil Media, Inc.