Interviewers: There is no magic bullet interview question that you can ask.
Candidates/Applicants: There is no magic bullet interview question that you can be asked.
Some interviewers that I've worked with in the past have a particular question they rely on during interviews with the intent to arrive at a binary decision (go/no go) on a candidate quickly. Unfortunately these interviewers risk turning great candidates off by relying on a crutch like that. The interview process isn't just essential to vetting candidates; the experience can help convince the best ones to join your team (one of the reasons that recruiting is still very much a sales function). As a mentor from my agency days once put it, "People are smart, and the best candidates always have the upper hand." Instead of trying to trick or outsmart candidates when asking questions about their resume or addressing their concerns try to have a genuine conversation that engenders trust, and don't be afraid to ask the tough questions head-on. As we mentioned in our last blog post, if you have any lingering concerns about a candidate, then it's better if you don't hire them.
That said, there is one question that I’ve asked at the beginning of every interview. “What do you know about my company so far?”
This is one of the single most useful questions to ask candidates at any level, for any department, in any region. It can allow you to assess how interested they actually are in changing jobs, the depth of the conversation they planned to have with you that day, or even what will ultimately motivate them to accept an offer at another company (some candidates don't care about product or culture). For any client-facing role this is especially important as an indicator of their ability to solicit or retain business, as well as the likelihood that they'll protect your competitive or confidential information if you hire them.
Regardless of their answer, it's important to give yourself time to build a relationship with the candidate so that when you ask challenging questions you get honest responses. This will go a long way with candidates that interview particularly well, and doing some of your own homework on the candidate's background can also help (please don't backchannel). The less you rely on magic bullet questions, the less likely you'll have to click on a link like the one below on some lonely night.
As an aside but related to the importance of prep; over the last two days I've had four recruiting agencies reach out believing that PopShop was a software company (we'll get there eventually!). One, when prompted, even shared the names of two active clients (if you're reading this, we've reached out and scheduled a call with one of them so far!). We'll talk about how to assess agencies in another post later this summer, but as you can see they can be your leakiest ships.