SmartRecruiters Blog

How to Get Candidates to Drop Their Job Interview Facade

This column originally appeared on Here are the 5 Questions to Turn Your Job Interview Into a Job Conversation.

Several years ago, I was recruiting a candidate from a well-known software company. He was strongly recommended by a contact of mine, and I was excited to hear details about his contributions to the company’s success.

When we got to the in-person interview, he answered all of my questions by gesturing to his business card and saying “Well, at The Company we believe in …” and “At The Company, we’ve accomplished this …” Twenty minutes later, I knew The Company inside and out but the candidate hadn’t revealed an ounce of information about himself.

I listened for a few more moments, took his business card from the table, held it up in front of his face, ripped it in half and said, “Enough about The Company. What have you done?”

After the initial shock, he finally dropped his job interview armour and I got to meet the person behind the business card. We ended up talking candidly about each of our needs, wants and goals as they related to the open position.

It was a far cry from the typical call and response of a job interview; it was a job conversation. We were no longer interviewer vs. candidate. We were on a level playing field–two people deciding whether to work together. When we left the room, we both had the information and level of interaction necessary to make an intelligent choice.

Having a job conversation is one of my most successful hiring strategies. Here are five common interview questions I’ve ditched and replaced with conversation starters.


Avoid: Why are you interested in working for our company?

Ask: I would love to hear about what you would like to do here.

Candidates are expecting the first question. They’ve probably prepared a list of reasons that neatly align with your company goals on your website. Conversely, an open-ended prompt gets candidates talking about what they are dying to do for your company. This gives you insight into their passion and value add. Your first interview ‘question’ doesn’t have to be a question at all.


Avoid: Tell me about your past positions. What did you do?

Ask: We have a project right now that we need to speed up by a month. How would you tackle this?

Starting a professional relationship by asking about past jobs is like starting a romantic relationship by asking about exes. (Kind of kills the mood, no?) Leave the past on the resume. Focus on the person in front of you. This is your time to “work” together on a theoretical project, spitball ideas and see if you jive.


Avoid: What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?

Ask: Tell me about a time you approached a challenge at work and how you solved it successfully.

The predictable “strengths and weaknesses” question has a few ready-made answers, including multi-tasking, perfectionism and working too hard, as a few favorites. If you are a fan of canned answers, go ahead and ask this question. But, if you want to get to the heart of candidates’ problem-solving skills, temperament and work ethic, dig into their real-life experiences which, by the way, reveal their strengths and weaknesses.


Avoid: What motivates you to succeed?

Ask: If you get this job, what would you need from the company, your manager and your immediate team to be successful?

The second question reveals more actionable information about not only what motivates candidates, but also the specific tools they need for success–be it flex time, an executive assistant or a standing desk. Nail down details about what fuels the candidate’s productivity,quality of work and happiness to identify what you will need to provide to drive a harmonious partnership.


Avoid: What are your hobbies?

Ask: What are you enjoying in your life right now?

Asking about hobbies often leads to candidates rattling off a curated list of impressive extracurriculars which might or might not be true. Instead, ask what they did for fun recently. This framework creates a safe zone that lets candidates feel more open about sharing their true passions–whether that be Xbox tournaments, dog walking or making a killer vegan ice cream sandwich.

You are going to have some conversations that inspire you, some that you’d rather forget and some that make you tear up a business card. As long as they are conversations and not interviews, you will gain more clarity on what you and the candidate are offering each other and whether you should work together.

So, let’s talk.

Jerome Ternynck

Jerome Ternynck is the Founder & CEO of SmartRecruiters, the industry's premier talent acquisition suite to find and hire great people.