Employment Enterprises Blog

5 Interview Questions Every Leader Should Ask

Posted by Amy Zimmerman and Jennifer Richard on Jan 10, 2017 3:54:48 PM

interview questions every leader should ask

The best candidates have qualifications that are more than skill-deep. It’s difficult to discover these qualities during the interview process. But seeing past first impressions is crucial to hiring the right people—that is, people who have not only the skills, knowledge, and experience to do the job, but also the abstract qualities that will enable them to succeed in the organization’s culture.


In some ways, the interview process has a lot in common with some of today’s dating apps. Recruiters “swipe left” on candidates who seem incompatible with the organization because they lack the desired skills, knowledge, or experience. They “swipe right” on candidates who appear to meet the job requirements and have the potential to be a perfect match for the organization. Even after a candidate makes the first cut and advances to a smaller pool of candidates, the organization still needs to do more filtering to find someone who not only meets the general requirements, but also has that certain je ne sais quoi that makes him or her stand out from the crowd.

Because a company’s culture is a reflection of the company’s values, when an organization looks for and hires candidates who exhibit its values, the people it brings onto the team will be more likely to flourish within the organization. Of course, if recruiters want to discover these characteristics, they need to look beyond first impressions and give candidates opportunities to highlight their unique strengths. When asked during a final interview, the following questions can help hiring managers and recruiters understand how candidates think about themselves, how they think about others, and how they generally think through problems.

“What are three negative personal qualities that someone close to you would say you possess?”

This question reveals a lot about a candidate’s self-awareness. Organizations that value transparency often seek candidates who not only understand what their true negatives are but are also willing to admit them. Don’t allow answers such as “I’m a perfectionist” or “I’m a workaholic” or other responses that are actually positives disguised as negatives. When candidates offer answers along those lines, ask them to try again. If they’re stuck and can’t come up with three negatives on their own, have them “phone a friend”—a partner or parent is usually a helpful source of information about someone’s negative qualities!

“What is ¾ plus ½?”

This question elicits some of the best responses. It isn’t designed to test math skills (in fact, it’s fine to let candidates use calculators or search online for the answer) but to offer insight into how candidates handle an unexpected question or situation. At most companies, the days are rarely predictable, and it’s useful to see how candidates respond to curveballs. Do they panic? Blurt out a lot of wrong answers? Do they freeze and get stuck? Do they give up? Organizations need to know that the people they hire are resourceful, capable of thinking outside of the box, and quick on their feet.

“On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), how would you rate how you fulfill your role? And if you’re not at 10, what prevents you from having that score?”

This question, too, this highlights a candidate’s self-awareness. It also leads to discussions about professional growth and ambition. There’s nothing wrong with humble confidence, but when candidates don’t rate themselves as 10s, it’s good for companies to know why—and to understand how those individuals plan to improve themselves.

“Complete this sentence: ‘Most people I meet are _____.’”

An organization that values caring and teamwork need to understand how a potential team member views others. The only answer to this prompt that should be off limits is “interesting,” because it doesn’t reveal any useful details and might actually be a euphemism for something negative. That answer is too open to interpretation and too vague to shed light on how a candidate thinks about and values other people.

“What’s the first name of someone with whom you work very closely?”

A candidate’s ability to answer this question quickly (as well as follow-up questions about the colleague) can indicate that he or she is good at building relationships at work. The ability to work well with others goes hand in hand with being committed to an organization’s community. Companies want to hire people who will take ownership not only of the products they create and offer but also of the environment and culture in which they work.


Interviewing is a crucial component of the hiring process that can give recruiters and hiring managers a peek beneath the resume and application form on the surface. Many people have the general skills and qualifications that a company seeks, but only a few will be the right fit with that organization and its culture. When a company develops and uses interview questions that shed light on how the candidate’s values align with the organization’s values, there’s a much higher likelihood that a “swipe right” will turn into a successful relationship!

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Amy Zimmerman is Head of Global People Operations at Kabbage. Jen Richard is the Head of Learning and Development at Kabbage, Inc. Headquartered in Atlanta, GA, Kabbage has pioneered the first financial services data and technology platform to provide fully automated funding to small businesses in minutes. Kabbage leverages data generated through business activity such as accounting data, online sales, shipping and dozens of other sources to understand performance and deliver fast, flexible funding in real time. Visit them online at www.kabbage.com.

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Topics: Human Resources Insights

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