Second interview questions: Your ultimate guide (based on behavioural science)

Joe Caccavale

25

January

2021

|

9

min read

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You’ve narrowed the candidate pool

You’ve got your shortlist.

But when you have a handful of equally great candidates, what questions should you ask to make that final decision?

Our guarantee to you: you’ll come away with everything you need to ask the most predictive, behavioural science-approved questions possible and gain a real insight into how candidates would think and work, should they get the job.

Traditional interviewing doesn’t find the best people

As it stands, traditional interviewing simply doesn’t give much of an insight into how suitable candidates actually are.

There are two key reasons for this:

  1. Interviews tend to involve a large amount of bias
  2. Education and experience aren’t predictive of real-life ability

Humans are prone to unconscious bias.

This is an inescapable fact.

We form judgments about others based on mental shortcuts and stereotypes.

This interview bias clouds our judgments and affects decision-making.

Second interview questions usually probe into candidates background...

But the more you ask candidates about their background and personal life, the more likely it is that you’ll be influenced by unconscious bias.

In addition to someone’s race, gender, age etc, we also form biases around education and experience.

We might assume that a certain degree or experience at a big company makes someone a stand-out candidate.

Or, we might take a shine to a candidate (without even being aware of it) because we share a similar background.

Not only do eduction and experience open us up to bias, but they’re also poor predictors of skill.

The chart below is a summary of Schmidt-Hunter’s famous meta-analysis.

Predictive validity of hiring methods chart


Common hiring methods were tested to see how accurately they predicted actual ability.

As you can see, eduction and experience are some of the least predictive means of assessment.

You’ll also notice that ‘structured interviews’ are highly predictive.

Structured interviews involve asking all candidates the same questions in the same order. This is essential to bias-free, more objective interviews.

Since second round interviews are normally your last chance to test candidates, do you really want to spend your time asking about things that have been proven to be weak proxies for actual skills?

Using behavioural science to assess candidates 

So, standard interviews are biased and un-predictive.

But what should we be asking candidates?

If you’re on the second round of interviews, you’ve already thinned the candidate pool down to a final few candidates.

You’ve got most of the high-level questioning out of the way, and they’ve all (hopefully) proven that they can do the job.

It’s just a matter of who would be the best person for the job.

Second interview questions should be used to look at how candidates think, how their skills match up the requirements and how aligned they are with your mission and values.

The most predictive form of assessment is called a ‘work sample’.

These are job-specific, interview-style questions specifically designed to test candidates’ skills.

The idea behind work samples is to simulate the role as closely as possible.

Work samples take a task or situation that would realistically occur should the candidate get the job, and ask them to either perform that task or explain how they would tackle it.

Questions that start with ‘tell me a time when…’ are commonplace in interviews.

And work sample questions aren’t entirely dissimilar.

The difference is, work samples don’t ask candidates about their experience, they instead ask how they would deal with that task, should it happen in future.

Backwards-looking vs Forward-looking interview questions


How to create work samples

Creating work sample doesn’t need to be a long or complicated process.

  1. Decide on 6-8 skills required for the role (these can be a mix of technical and soft skills).
  2. Think of real-life situations or tasks that would test these skills.
  3. Turn these into work samples by posing them hypothetically.

The best work samples are the ones that mirror the job most closely.

You can take small parts of the role itself and ask candidates to perform them.

When it comes to second interview questions, you could get candidates to work through a case study.

Rather than presenting candidates with a scenario, you’d present them with a larger project to think through.

For example, you could present a marketing candidates with an event that needs planning.

You’d lay out all of the context and then ask a series of questions, such as which tasks they would prioritise, what metrics they’d track or what they’d do if a speaker dropped out last minute.

Work sample/ case study ideas:

  • Drafting email to a prospect
  • Prioritisation task
  • Writing a blog post
  • Giving a presentation 
  • Mock sales negotiation email
  • Dealing with a complaint

Why work samples are ideal for second interview questions

Work samples avoid the usual biases associated with interviewing since they don't ask candidates about their experience or background.

They instead focus purely on potential.

If a candidate can do the job well. They’ll make it through regardless of their race, degree or shoe size.

Second round interviews offer an opportunity to look past someone’s CV and test how they would actually perform in the role.

Eduction and experience are just proxies for skills.

And work samples enable you to test directly for these skills.

What could be more predictive than having candidates perform parts of the job itself?

What about culture and values fit?

When it comes to testing for less tangible factors like culture, work samples will allow you to assess candidates objectively - to gauge how passionate they are about what your organisation is doing and how in-line they are with your values.

To do this, you simply have to think of mission/ values alignment as a skill itself and create work samples to test that ‘skill.’

Unlike regular work samples, you don’t need to come up with tasks, you can ask candidates directly about their motivations, reasons for applying and plans for their future.

If your organisation is a startup, or even a large multi-national, you can ask candidates how comfortable they’d feel working in that environment. 

Second interview question examples

Below are some of the real-life second interview questions that have been used to hire the Applied Team.

Whilst some are naturally Applied-specific, you can use these as a template to create your own questions.

The best questions are role-specific, so we’d recommend tailoring these examples to your own organisation’s needs. 

Sales

What sort of industries and companies should Applied be targeting? And why? 

Skills tested: Prospecting, Research


You've received a positive reply from a cold outbound email you sent, agreeing to connect for a quick 10 minute call to find out more about what we offer.

Pretend that I (interviewer) am that lead - let's have that 10 minute call.

Skills tested: Prospecting, Influence, Research


You’ve sent 1,000+ outbound emails over the last 5 weeks and had an open rate of

During your weekly review, your manager asks how it's going and wants to take a look at your pipeline.

What do you do?

Skills tested: Resilience, Prioritisation


You haven't had a sale in x months but you know it's just been an unusual period and you think you're in a good place for the future. Your sales manager wants to help you look at your pipeline and activity levels. 

What do you do?

Skills tested: Resilience

Marketing 

Different members of the team pitch in with content ideas & creation. Tell us about how you would you enable the team to contribute more and manage a process from ideation to publication. 

Skills tested: Creativity, Communication, Strategic Thinking

You've just had a great content idea, how do you decide what medium/channel you should publish on?

Skills tested: SEO, Strategic Thinking

Imagine you were to start this role tomorrow and you were given the objective of increasing the 

number of people requesting a demo on our website. Can you talk us through what your first experiment would be? Why? What additional data would you need?

Skills tested: Web Development, Experimentation


Given all you’ve learned about Company X so far, From a digital marketing perspective, can you talk to us through 3 growth actions/tactics you would implement or look at straight away and why?

Skills tested: Data, Analysis, Experimentation, Inbound Marketing

Product

*Present candidate with a user story*

How would you help the devs understand what needs to be built? What would you write in a ticket for the devs for example?

Skills tested: Product Development, Attention to Detail


Imagine you had CX come to you with a list of bugs to solve today, how would you take a decision on that? What pieces of information would you need to help you prioritise and how would you weigh them against the current features we are building in a sprint?

Skills tested: Communication

Finance has just been told that the upcoming audit of its expenditure will include an assessment of programme progress and documentation.  You have been asked to collate documentation to provide evidence for the audit, and to review what went on before your post was created, so that you can create the full audit trail for all programmes.  

You have 2 months to get ready and fortunately this work has been prioritised by the CEO and the majority of the original team are still involved.   What do you plan to do?

Skills tested: Communication, Risk Management


Imagine I (interviewer) came to you with a new idea for a feature and you thought it was a bad idea. Talk me through how you would go about that?

Skills tested: Conflict Resolution, Empathy

Customer Success/ Account Management

Keeping our existing customers happy is key for us. What key metrics or information would need to be measured or collected?  What metrics would you use to signal other teams if an account is at “risk”?

Follow-up question:

 Keeping our customers happy can also come with trade-offs. What trade-offs can you think of and how would you try to strike the right balance?

Skills tested: Strategic Thinking, Problem Solving, Collaboration


We would like to continuously improve our Customer Support. Our current system is to create monthly reports of user tickets. How would you categorise these tickets? And how would you make sure that we improve our support service?

Follow-up questions:

What kind of metrics would you use? And how would you define success?

Skills tested: Strategic Thinking, Problem Solving, Prioritisation


The Commercial Director shares a report that shows the average customer account value has dropped over the last 6 months and we're not on track to hit our annual targets. How could your team help?

Skills tested: Collaboration, Commercial Awareness


*Show candidate customer resources/ Knowledge base*

We have created an online knowledge base for our users. 

Having taken a quick look at our Knowledge base, what do you think about it?

Why do you think a knowledge base is important? How would you improve ours?

Skills tested: Empathy, Problem Solving, Strategic Thinking


Mission/ value/ culture alignment

What motivated you to apply for this role? 

What excites you?

Skills tested: Passion, Motivation


What are you looking for personally from this role?

What do you see yourself doing next?

Skills tested: Motivation, Alignment with Vision


Is there any aspect of this role that you think will stretch you? Is there anything you think will take you outside your comfort zone?

Skills tested: Motivation, Self-Awareness


(For startups)

The nature of early stage businesses is that they often have to improvise and change direction. Can you talk about your experience and appetite for that?

How do you cope with fast changing environments while supporting a team?

Skills: Leadership

Interview Playbook Resource


Applied uses behavioural science to make hiring as predictive and fair as possible, using research-backed assessment methods to source, screen and interview. 

To find out how all this is done, feel free to request a demo or take a look at our free resources.