Startups may be ditching the rules of traditional recruiting processes — scrapping resumes, online applications and at-home testing — but in many companies, interviews still matter, and knowing the best interview questions to ask candidates is essential.
As a recruiter, sitting across from a candidate and asking them probing questions can say a lot about their personality, attitude to work, and ability to fit into the company culture. Interviews, like it or not, say HR managers, are a crucial step in understanding that person and their potential.
To get some insight into what European startups want to know from candidates, we asked five HR managers from various industries what they thought were the best interview questions. Here are their answers.
A key question that Vivid, a Berlin-based digital bank and trading platform, always asks candidates is “what achievement in your life are you most proud of?” »
Pilar Alonso, head of talent at Vivid Money, explains that the company asks for this to see what it considers outstanding and exceptional and to gauge how ambitious and adventurous it is.
“A boring answer would be ‘I scaled a startup,” says Alonso. “We want to hear crazy stuff.”
Examples that Alonso has liked in the past include: “I climbed Mount Everest”, “I cycled around France in 20 days” or “I moved on my own to another continent and I left everything behind me except a backpack”.
Another question Alonso likes to ask is, “Did you expect me to ask a question that I didn’t end up asking?” If so, what would your answer have been?
“It usually surprises the candidates, and we can see how they think and how spontaneous they are,” says Alonso. “At the same time, we see how they assess we as hiring managers and the company as a whole. »
One question Fiverr – a platform that matches freelancers with temp jobs – typically asks candidates is, “Have you ever launched anything beyond the scope of your position?” Like a new process, a new technology or a new way of working.
“There are several reasons why we ask this question,” says Sharon Steiner, Human Resources Director at Fiverr. “One of our key values is to find candidates who are ‘doers’, who find ways to be creatively productive. But often a response we get is that a candidate had some great ideas in their previous role, but didn’t feel empowered to share them.
Fiverr likes to believe that “the next big idea can come from anyone on the team,” according to Steiner, so they look for people who have the courage to share and execute on big ideas.
At Alan, the French healthtech unicorn, a question frequently asked by the recruiting team is: “Let’s say you join us tomorrow. Three years later, you step back and realize that working for the company has been the best experience of your career. What happened professionally and personally to make this happen?
This question is posed to candidates, explains Paul Sauveplane, Alan’s Chief Corporate and People Officer, to check whether their “deep drivers” for joining the company are aligned with Alan’s culture.
“It tests the candidate’s ability to set bold goals for personal and professional growth — which aligns with one of our leadership principles, ‘ambition without fear’ — but also the milestones to get there” , explains Sauveplane. “As our product manager said, ‘What I like about this question is that it forces the candidate to draw a journey and not just a goal, it goes beyond ‘what is -what do you want to learn with us?
Another key interview question with Alan is, “What do you think you can achieve with Alan, personally or professionally, that you can’t achieve anywhere else in the world?”
Sauveplane says this question is all about whether Alan is really the best place for a candidate to grow professionally. “Personal and community growth is also one of our fundamental principles. If we can’t offer (candidates) an environment close to their ideal, we don’t think we can properly prepare them for success.
The SaaS startup Pipedrive practices “value-based recruitment”. This means it tests whether the candidate and the company’s values are aligned, how the candidate would fit into the team and the culture – and what kind of colleagues they like or dislike working with, explains Pipedrive’s Director of People and Culture, Tanya Channing.
Two must-have Pipedrive interview questions are “Can you tell us about one of your best days at work? ” and “What’s the last thing you did to improve yourself?
“That being said, in the past our co-founder Martin Henk also liked to ask the question, ‘Who wins if you put a gorilla and a crocodile in the same room?’ There was no right answer, but it showed creativity and how the candidates reacted to difficult situations,” adds Channing.
When it comes to recruiting leaders, the all-in-one HR software platform Personio asks the following questions during interviews:
- How has Covid impacted your leadership style?
- What is one hard lesson you learned in life or at work that shaped you as a people manager?
“These questions are designed to help candidates open up and create a more comfortable conversation,” says Ross Seychell, Personio’s Director of Human Resources. “These not only allow us to assess candidates, but also give them a better idea of what we expect from Personio leaders and sell them the experience of working with us.”
Seychell adds that Personio generally likes candidates to ask questions at the end of an interview, such as “how would my work impact the department or organization at large?” The company also likes candidates to show an interest in the company, especially the challenges it might face, its competitors, its growth potential and its corporate culture.
For insurtech WeFox, it’s important that candidates already have a “natural understanding” of company culture, says Michael Becher, chief human resources officer, because it helps the team “find people who instinctively share our values and our purpose”.
A typical question asked by WeFox in an interview is: “Can you tell me about an achievement or accomplishment in your life that you initially thought was impossible? And how did you achieve or accomplish it? This helps WeFox determine how the candidate overcame big hurdles and how much they pushed themselves to develop.
Another typical question is: “Can you tell me something about yourself that differentiates you from others?”
“It’s a great way for us to see the candidate in a very authentic way as they share a view of themselves,” Becher says. “It could be an unusual hobby or a passion – anything really. Their ability to disclose this demonstrates that they will be fully engaged at work every day, and that makes a difference.
Miriam Partington is Sifted’s DACH correspondent. It also covers the future of work, co-authors Sifted Startup Life Newsletter and tweets from @mparts_