Ask Better Questions to Find Innovative Candidates


Looking at better questions to ask your candidates
Looking at better questions to ask your candidates


We’ve talked about culture-driven recruiting, and how it gets something of a bad rap by a lot of HR managers on this blog before. Handled poorly, this style of recruiting can be prone to bias.


All too often, managers find themselves screening out perfectly good candidates completely unintentionally, despite using nominally more flexible recruiting methods.

Usually, this is because they’re asking the wrong sort of question. An interview is, more than anything else, a conversation. If you want a diverse range of innovative candidates, you need to ask better questions.

We’ve found three variants to common recruiter questions and ways to adapt them to allow candidates to really shine.


‘Have you done this task before?’

Instead, you should ask: ‘How would you approach this task?

Why?: Everyone who’s been in the job market for long enough can point to a job description that has ridiculous stipulations. Five years of experience for a programming language that’s only existed for two, the graduate role that wants years’ industry experience, and an assortment of others. They don’t actually tell you whether or not a candidate is capable, merely that they’ve been around for a length of time

This can be remarkably exclusionary to candidates from certain backgrounds. Worse than that, all you’re guaranteeing is that the candidate has done a certain task before.

If you want candidates who are intellectually vibrant, engaged, and willing to adapt and overcome, the alternative question gives you a lot more information to work with.


‘Tell me about an idea you had and how you made it happen.’

Instead, you should ask: Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team to make an idea happen. What happened?

Why?: Despite the popular perception that innovation comes from individuals with great ideas that spring forth fully formed, people with actual industry experience can usually tell you that this is far from the truth. Great ideas come from coherent teams that know how to work together to come up with ideas and to make them happen practically.

Innovative candidates know this fact, know-how teams work and specifically understand how they fall into a team dynamic.

You should follow up with additional questions to try and get into specifics. Ask them about difficulties they faced, and how they solved them. Note the pronouns they use, candidates are often coached to use ‘I’ so as to gain proper credit, but ‘we’ may indicate an actual understanding of the reality of the situation.


‘What are your hobbies outside of work? What are you passionate about?’

Instead, you should ask: What drew you to apply to this company? Or: What makes a project meaningful to you?

Why?: The best ideas come from authenticity. You can’t force innovation in an area you’re not passionate about, and a team will never truly gel together if everyone in it is there to check a box.

Usually, hiring managers will go with the hobby approach to figure this out, but this has problems.

  1. The hobby will usually bear little relevance to work behaviours.
  2. It allows bias to creep into the process- leading to the dreaded ‘hiring the guy I could go for a drink with’ situation.

If you have an understanding of what your employees care about, you can move teams together that have a common interest. Even if everyone on that team has different ways of looking at a problem, having a common desire will help them make a connection, and start pushing towards the solution together because they want to make it happen, not because they feel like they have to.

Passionate people work at their best when surrounded by other passionate people. Put them together with a common goal and you’ll see innovation skyrocket.

An interview is your best opportunity to really get a sense of a candidate’s experience and actual practical skills. Sometimes, a candidate can straight up be a bad fit for your company, but it’s important to make sure you understand what you’re assessing in the first place so you don’t wind up screening out great candidates by accident.

Don’t draw on their background. Draw on their skills, and how they think. By asking better questions you might find unorthodox candidates who truly gel.