How You Answer This Interview Question Quickly Reveals Your Authentic Self

By Betsy Mikel
Owner, Aveck@

Weeding out narcissists in interviews isn’t always easy. Candidates come prepared with bullet-proof answers to the stock questions. They know how to highlight their best qualities — and leave out the not-so-great ones. That’s why some companies think outside the interview box to make absolutely sure they don’t hire a dud.

So what’s a hiring manager to do, especially with limited time and budget? Ask questions that give candidates the opportunity to open up and be authentic.

Ideally, you’ll have a couple go-to questions that help reveal someone’s true character. That means steering clear of the standard questions that everyone expects. Hypothetical questions are also out. People can make up anything.

Instead, ask candidates to provide specific examples about how they’ve handled a challenging situation, coworker or project in the past. This advice comes from Melody Wilding, a performance coach and former social worker. She recently wrote about identifying toxic employees during interviews for Quartz at Work.

“By asking them to dig deep, you’re likely to get answers that are more honest, more spontaneous, and more indicative of their potential for toxicity,” Wilding says. Here are some examples:

Talk about an unsuccessful project. What went wrong?

What types of personalities do you find challenging to work with?

Describe a conflict you’ve experienced at work. How did you resolve it?

These are tough questions. Their answers will reveal more than the “what’s your greatest weakness?” question ever will. The candidate will have to get real with you and may have to talk about times they’ve failed. That’s the point. Does this person have a tendency to blame others? Do they acknowledge their own shortfalls? Do they express that they’ve learned from their experiences or do they seem to think that none of it is their fault?

“Ideal candidates… will present problems without pointing fingers at people, shaming others, or playing the victim,” says Wilding. “Candidates who complain or gripe about their supervisors, co-workers, or direct reports are likely to exhibit similar toxic qualities in other contexts.”

Wilding even recommends that you ask the candidate what they think former employers would say about them — positives and negatives. It’s important that they have enough self awareness to understand how others perceive them at work.

Everyone’s human, of course. We all have our flaws. The purpose of these questions is not to find perfection. It’s to encourage candidates to be a bit vulnerable so you can have an honest conversation. You’d rather know the type of person you’re dealing with before you extend the job offer — not months later, when it could be too late. ‚Äč