January 27, 2016

The Most Revealing Questions to Ask During an Interview


All entrepreneurs have given soliloquies about how finding great talent is our priority. Yet, we rarely take the time to craft the best recruiting processes.

At Enplug, a tech company that builds digital display software for businesses, we found we were able to instantly improve our hiring process simply by asking better interview questions.

It is hard to confirm the truth of a candidate’s answers to traditional questions like “What are your biggest strengths?” or “Do you like tech?” within the confines of a short interview session. That’s why we’ve opted to ask candidates questions that are more likely to reveal useful — and factual — information about them.

Here are a few revealing interview questions we use in our hiring process:

1. If you had unlimited capital and human resources, what would you build?

This is perhaps the single most important question we ask our candidates. When we’re reviewing contenders for a job, we always discuss each candidate’s answer to this question at length. Did the candidate think big? What does the candidate care about? Are they creative?

The less promising answers that we’ve heard include:

– A care package service to send to friends.

– A food magazine.

– An app to track productivity.

Some of the answers that impressed us most include:

– A machine that turns any water into clean water.

– A handheld device that instantly measures personal health (red blood cell count, cholesterol, etc.).

– Batteries that last forever and don’t need to be recharged.

A major part of our team’s culture is our shared obsession with developing impactful and useful technology. When it comes to product development, we are constantly improving existing features, which often means we’re imagining new designs to test. We need candidates who don’t hesitate to share audacious ideas.

portalIf a candidate gives a weak answer to this question, we ask them to think about something grander to build. If their second answer is excellent, we still give them points, because they were able to adjust quickly based on our feedback.

2. Name a company in our industry that you believe is building a useful product

Enplug has built the leading open software for digital displays in businesses — a hardcore tech product. So naturally, we are partial to interviewees who answer “Braintree” instead of “Nike.” We encourage candidates to take a few seconds to name a company to avoid defaulting to Apple or Google. I want the candidate to give me an answer that my grandfather in China couldn’t give me as well.

3. What tech leader do you admire? 

This is a difficult question to answer on the spot, so when candidates do give firm responses, we award them bonus points. There’s no right or wrong answer. Instead, what’s more important is how the candidate answers.

For example, “I like Bill Gates because he’s built a great company and has a great cause now” is not as strong as “I like John Legere (T-Mobile’s CEO) because he’s unapologetically rebellious and outspoken. He has openly criticized other mobile carriers on social media.”

4. What are a few of your biggest accomplishments? Please brag! 

We want to be surprised. The majority of our sales candidates boast of “consistently beating quotas” or being a “top sales rep” on their resumes. However, the candidates who tell us they then started an art gallery and run it on the weekends are the ones who really catch our attention.

May your next new teammate be only one quirky, revealing question away!

A version of this article originally appeared on BusinessCollective.

Nanxi Liu is the cofounder and CEO of Enplug, a technology company that builds the leading open software to manage and distribute content on digital displays in offices, restaurants, retail stores, and many other places. Fortune 500 companies and thousands of small businesses around the world use Enplug’s software to show interactive social media, graphics, dashboards, and other third-party apps on displays. Nanxi was named as one of Forbes’s 30 Under 30 and Fortune’s Top 10 Most Promising Women Entrepreneurs.

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