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How to Get the Most out of Your Interview Questions

No matter how many questions you ask, it’s tricky to get all the information you seek about a candidate from an interview. How you phrase the question can also influence what kind of responses you receive. We took a closer look at two interview question types, experience questions and scenario questions, to distinguish some best practices and help you think about what kinds of questions may be most useful as you meet your job candidates.

As the interviewer, your aim is to learn more about your candidate. You want to hear about who they are, how they think, and perhaps most importantly, what they can bring to your organization. Scenario and experience questions approach this objective in two different ways:

  • Scenario questions involve a hypothetical situation that the interviewee responds to or solves. Since the candidate is hearing the situation for the first time in the interview, these questions can provide insight into their decision-making process in real time.
  • Experience questions focus on relevant skills and knowledge candidates have developed in past opportunities. These questions can help gauge a candidate’s level of experience and collect information about the kinds of opportunities they have engaged in prior to applying for this role.

Both kinds of questions are strong but also have their limitations. For scenario based questions, you may need to adjust expectations to what is reasonable for the short thinking time candidates have to respond. For experience based questions, you may want to develop probing follow up questions to ensure that you can translate what candidates shared into what may be relevant to the position you’re hiring for.

With this in mind, we’ve shared some examples of experience and scenario based questions for criteria you are likely to evaluate in your interviews. Please note, the scenario questions should be specific to your organization. Nonetheless, the examples below provide a template for the kind of information you may want to acquire:

Collaboration

  • Experience question: Share a time you faced a conflict while working on a team. How did you handle this conflict?
  • Scenario question: You’re working on a team of three and your two colleagues have contrasting ideas about the training next month. Adriana thinks it’s important to convene a large group of 100 people and provide a large presentation, but Reggie is convinced small break out sessions are the best way to share the information with participants. How will you work with Reggie and Adriana on a plan for the training?

Adaptability

  • Experience question: Tell me about a project you lead that was not as successful as you had hoped. What didn’t go so well and how did you handle the situation?
  • Scenario question: You are working with the second-grade teaching team to organize a field trip to the city zoo next week. The zoo calls to confirm your appointment but had booked the trip for the afternoon, not the morning. No other times are available for a class trip until next month. What are your next steps?

Time Management

  • Experience question: Tell me about a time your responsibilities got a little overwhelming and you weren’t able to get everything on your to-do list done. What did you do?
  • Scenario question: This afternoon you planned to start drafting your fundraising calendar and finalize your intern’s first-week agenda since they start tomorrow. At 2 pm, your manager shares that a grant proposal deadline was pushed up to 5 pm today and they need your support with copy editing and pulling together statistics about your organization. How do you respond to your manager and ensure all of your responsibilities stay on track?

You’ll notice answers to these questions might sound different even though they are designed to gather more information about the same topic. In some cases, you’ll want to hear more about the actual work a candidate has engaged in and in others, you may really want to hear the candidate share their thinking on a situation likely to come up in the role. Strong interview protocols often employ both scenario and experience questions to help gain a holistic picture of your candidate and their abilities. We hope these examples help you consider your interview strategies and what information you’re most interested in from your candidates as your hiring season gets underway.

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