The Interview Questions Playbook: Your Ultimate Guide to Smarter Interviewing

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
May 27, 2020
min read

Essential Masterclass: How to Debias Interviews

Here at Applied, we’re on a mission to make hiring as data-driven as marketing and remove bias from recruitment - so that you hire the (actual) best person for the job, every time. No gut instinct required, just data.

Our promise to you: in this guide, we’ll equip you with all the knowledge and examples you need to make clear-cut, data-based hiring decisions, and turn your interviewing into a science, not an art.

We’ll show you how to make interviews as predictive as possible, how to remove bias, and what good interview questions should look like.

You can read our full guide to interview technique guide here.

The interview guide

  • Why traditional interviews need a rethink
  • Removing bias from interviews
  • How to come up with interview questions
  • Some example questions for you to use

What’s wrong with traditional interviews?

Fact: traditional interviewing is prone to bias

If you rely on ‘gut-instinct’ to assess candidates at interview, then you’re being biased.

... and you're not alone, according to Indeed, 28% of employers say ‘gut feeling’ is their main reason for hiring someone.

What's the problem with this? Well, your intuitive, gut assessment of others is purely subjective, and can come down to a handshake, smile, or what the candidate is wearing… not whether they’re actually any good.

Here are some of the most common biases that affect interviewing:

Perception bias – we believe something is typical of a particular group of people based on cultural stereotypes or assumptions.

Affinity bias – we feel as though we have a natural connection with people who are similar to us.

Halo effect – the tendency for an impression created in one area to influence opinion in another area.

Confirmation bias – we have a tendency to try and confirm our own opinions and pre-existing ideas about a particular group of people.

So, how can you remove bias from interviews?

Having multiple interviewers means more accurate assessments

By getting other team members involved in interviews, your own subjectivity will be averaged out. Try inviting another two team members along and ask a question each (rather than there being two silent judges).

This will also make your interviews a more predictive means of assessment since you'll be harnessing the power of 'crowd wisdom' - the general rule that collective judgment is more accurate than that of an individual.

We've found that 3 is the ideal number - any more than that and you'll start to see diminishing returns.

Once the interview is over, the 3 of you should score the candidate independently, without speaking to each other about the interview.

Ask the right interview questions using real-life scenarios

Your average interview largely consists of questions about a candidate's experience - but did you know that past experience is actually a poor indicator of ability?

Rather than starting questions with "tell me a time when...", ask candidates what they would do in that situation hypothetically, whether it be a conflict with teammates or tackling a website re-design.

By asking these forward-looking questions, the focus is on potential and not just experience. If someone's experience has made them more suitable, then this will be reflected in their answers - that fact that they have experience alone shouldn't give them an unfair advantage.

Top tip: try working through a case study. Take a real situation your team has or will be encountering and work through solutions with the candidate. In our experience, good interview questions are the ones most reflective of the actual work the candidate would take on if hired.

Create scoring criteria for more objective reviews

For each question (or case study task), write down a set of criteria to score answers against. We use a star system, a 1 star being a poor, low effort answer and 5 stars being a great answer. Your criteria doesn't need to be too detailed, just think of what a great, average and poor answer would look like.

By giving yourself criteria, you'll be able to minimise the role of bias and have a clear candidate scoreboard at the end of the interview process - no debate or discussion required.

Score questions individually to avoid halo effect bias

You should score each answer separately - if a candidate gave a great answer to one question but their previous answers were poor, they should be scored on that one question alone.

Here at Applied, we give equal weighting to all questions, so that interviewers are not swayed by a candidate strong in a particular area.

Bias doesn't just influence interviewing, it plays a part in our decision making throughout the entire hiring process. Since these biases are unconscious, simply being aware of bias doesn't help prevent it. We receive 11 million pieces of information bites every second, and we can only consciously process 40 bits, and so more than 99.99% of information is processed unconsciously!

Creating your interview questions

Crafting great work sample-style questions starts with defining the necessary skills

First off, you'll need to define the skills you're looking for. Ideally, they’ll be a combination of 5-10 hard and soft skills. Once you know which skills the perfect candidate should have, you can base your questions around these skills.

The more reflective of real-life your interview questions are, the more predictive they'll be.

So, we recommend taking real-life scenarios that have either come up in the past or will come up in the future and turning them into interview questions.

For example, with a sales candidate, why not ask them what they'd do when repeatedly facing the same objection?

Not only is this more predictive of real skills than just asking if it has ever happened before, but it'll also give you an insight into how candidates would think and work through problems if they did actually get the job.

You could also present candidates with a larger project to talk through together - using the same case study to ask multiple questions. How would they break it down into smaller tasks and prioritise them? 

To give you an idea of what this looks like in practice, we've collected some of the interview questions we used to hire the Applied Team. While we haven't interviewed people for every possible type of role, they should show you how we use real tasks and scenarios to build questions…

Psst. You can read our guide to nailing second interview questions here.

Example questions to ask in an interview

Sales interview questions

Question: What sort of industries and companies should we be targeting?

And WHY?

Skills tested: Research, Prospecting

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

Skills tested: Analysis, Prioritisation, Resilience

Question: You've been given a list of cold leads of management consultancies, how do you engage with them?

Skills tested: Sales, Entrepreneurship

Question: You're 6 months into the role, everything is going well. The last 3 calls you've had, there's been a new objection that's been raised that you're unable to answer and is not in the objection-handling document. You think it is going to block future deals - what do you do to overcome it?

Skills tested: Entrepreneurship

Question: You haven't had a sale in a few 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

Product interview questions

Question: You’re a week into a project, at standup one morning things are looking behind schedule. One dev thinks the team will be a week later. Another 3 weeks and one says it’ll be done on time. What would you do?

Skills tested: Communication, Prioritisation

Question: 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: Prioritisation

Question: Which product's UX do you like or dislike and why?

Skills tested: Passion

Question: We are looking to redesign [x feature]. What changes would you make to this view? What additional pieces of information would you need? (We give candidates additional pieces of info and do this as a collaborative task)

Skills tested: User research, Problem solving

Question: Let's suppose you did a redesign of this view and I came to you and said I didn't like the design at all. How would you approach that?

Skills tested: Communication, Collaboration

Customer success interview questions

Question: What do you think are the main challenges from a Customer Success Lead point of view? How would you organise your first month in order to address those challenges?

Skills tested: Strategic Thinking

Question: How comfortable would you feel leading the overall strategy for improving our customer support experience? What skills do you have or think you would need to learn?

Skills tested: Strategic Thinking

Question: *Show the candidate real customer support data* What information from the summary is relevant in order to work out if we are being efficient and effective with our customer support? What other information do you think is missing?

Skills tested: Analysis

Question: *What are the 3 main actions that you would lead/take in order to address the main findings from the question above?

Skills tested: Analysis

Question: *What are the 3 main actions that you would lead/take in order to address the main findings from the question above?

Skills tested: Analysis

Question: You've started to identify some frequent needs and features loved by customers and applicants.What would you do in order to create value from this information? What skills from other members of the team do you think will complement your set of skills in order to create such value?

Skills tested: Strategic Thinking, Initiative

Marketing interview questions

Question: You attend the weekly team meeting which the whole company attends. Here are five issues raised from the meeting that the business has to think of solutions for by next week. Could you go through each issue and give us one or two ideas that could solve them?

  • The second-biggest customer about to churn due to budget review
  • New sales objection started to be raised around that they think we only solve x, which they don’t have
  • We’re hosting an event next week that currently has lower than usual sign-ups
  • Someone has left a bad public review that raised some legitimate points

Skills tested: Strategic Thinking

Question: You are running a PPC campaign, the CPC for the best performing ad keeps going up in price, why could this be happening? What would you do?

Skills tested: Experimentation

Question: Given the information you have about us 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: Experimentation, Data Analysis

Question: Imagine I 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: Strategic Thinking

Question: Given what you know about us, which community do you think would work best for what we are trying to achieve? And how would you go about building this community?

Skills tested: Strategic Thinking, Entrepreneurship

We built Applied to assess candidates purely on their ability to do the job and remove unconscious bias from the hiring process to find the best person for the job, every time.

Our blind hiring platform uses behavioural science to make the process 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, take a look at our free resources or browse our selection of skills-based interview questions.