Four Questions You Should Ask To Start An Interview Instead Of ‘Tell Me About Yourself’

Four Questions You Should Ask To Start An Interview Instead Of 'Tell Me About Yourself'

By Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Originally Published on


One of the most frequently quoted statistics that I see in talent acquisition is that approximately 46% of new hires fail within 18 months. Nearly half of the leaders who are hired from outside an organization fail within the first 18 months, according to a survey reported on by Harvard Business Review. And worldwide employee engagement is at 15%, based on the findings of Gallup’s “State of the Global Workplace” report. No one goes out of their way to attain results like this, but it’s clear to me that no one is hiring with the end in mind.

Although many like to point to how data-driven hiring is replacing hiring for “fit” when interviewing, the facts suggest that (“hiring for fit”) is still prevalent in the selection process for new hires and that managers are often incapable of doing so properly because they lack real data about how someone would actually fit. Even when technology is used to compare the potential new hire with those previously hired, the data set for the existing employees is old. These people have already changed since being hired, making the data obsolete.

Interviewing has developed into a mechanistic process. Yes, identical questions should be asked of potential hires to identify skills competence, but going beyond those questions, other questions asked do little to source the truth from people. After all, with many interviews starting with, “Tell me about yourself,” this yields information about what the potential hire has done professionally and how it matches up to the requirements of the job. What are you really learning about the person other than the personality attributes that you project onto them?

For example, I remember debriefing a hiring manager after an interview who told me many negative qualities about the person they met with. “How do you know that?” I asked, and then listened to an explanation of their opinions about the person. The hiring manager asked nothing to determine those qualities, however.

That’s the problem I find with hiring. The people charged with hiring are often ill-equipped to assess for fit, are on good behavior with the potential hire and forget that the job hunter is on good behavior, too. What needs to change is we need to create an environment where candidates believe we want to get to know them and that it matters to us. To do so, start with these four questions:

1. What’s most important to you in the next job or organization?: Ask this instead of asking “Tell me about yourself,” and follow it up with “What will you need to see or hear to believe we would be the right choice for you?” Why waste your time and theirs if you can’t provide it?

2. Why do you do what you do?: Ask this question once you’ve determined your firm has an opportunity that could meet their objectives. What you will find out is how they decided to work in this profession and attain this level of success. For example, “I started off as a software engineer in school and now manage a team of engineers. I became a manager because ….” With this question, you can take them off the scripted answers they are prepared to use and start to facilitate their opening up to you and revealing something of themselves.

3. What did you want to be when you were growing up? This will teach you about their childhood dreams and afford you an opportunity to hear their passion completely unfiltered. “I wanted to be a pitcher for the Yankees.” “I dreamed of being a professional ballerina.” Look for their excitement and their embarrassment (often shared in the form of an awkward smile or laugh).

4. How did you get from there (Yankee pitcher or ballerina) to here? Do not judge the answer. We know that reality set in. For me, I wanted to pitch for the Yankees, but I discovered I didn’t have talent. Maybe the same is true for the ballerina. The interesting thing is how they got from there to here. The story may go on for a few minutes but listen carefully. The stories shared will often explain how you can tap into their hearts, provide them with positive recognition and inspire them when you start to manage them.

Then, start asking questions that will help you evaluate the skills and experiences the person would bring to you and your organization.

If you treat people like machines, like a machine, they will eventually break. Often, what breaks first is their spirit, desire and passion. By identifying and fostering the qualities in your people, you can help keep them engaged and inspired as long as you lead from that place instead of from one where you treat people as disposable and replaceable.

Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2019



Jeff Altman, The Big Game HunterJeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2000 episodes.

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