This article was published on November 23, 2014

Two incredibly useful questions to ask in a job interview

Two incredibly useful questions to ask in a job interview
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Story by

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Founder & board member, TNW

Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is very active on Twitter as @Boris and Instagram: @Boris.

Hiring great people is extremely difficult. A resumé is a good start, and an hour-long conversation can give you an impression of someone’s character, but you often don’t know if you made the right decision until a few months later.

I’m always trying to improve my ‘people reading’ skills and can recommend reading a book on Body Language or just talking to other entrepreneurs about their tips and tricks. I also have my own tips and tricks and I thought I’d share one of those with you today.

When I studied in art school, I helped out selecting new students every year for one week. Thousands of young people would apply to art school and they would get interviews with two teachers and one student. I would be one of the students they spoke to.

I always loved doing the interviews because you had maybe 10 minutes to try to analyze someone and then write down a few details, and then my opinion could influence the final decision – a decision that would impact their lives. Of course the opinion of the teachers was much more important than ours and we were mainly involved as tie-breakers if there was doubt about a student.

I took it very seriously and felt a responsibility to really try to understand people. I had a few tricks, some I still use when interviewing potential employees, that helped me a lot. My most important two questions were ‘what are you going to do when you get selected?’ and then I always followed up with ‘and what will you do if you aren’t selected?’.

These two basic questions almost always produced the most telling answers. Usually I asked them near the end and presented them like they weren’t really a part of the official interview. I asked like the question just popped into my head and I was just curious about their plans.

The questions told me a lot about how they thought their stay at the academy would be. Some people would say ‘Oh, I will just come here every now and then because I also have a day job so this is just something I would do to pass the time’ or ‘I’m going to study here for a year and then switch to another school which denied me earlier’. Often I would just see that people didn’t really think about what studying at an art school really meant.

The second question was even more interesting usually. I remember one guy who was very young, seemed a bit unprepared but did show talent. I was in doubt, so I asked what he would do if he wouldn’t be accepted. Suddenly he got all excited and told me he saved a few thousand euros and planned on visiting his father in Africa who he hadn’t seen in 12 years.

He added ‘and when I come back I will be better prepared and just apply again!’. It felt almost like a punishment to accept him. The teachers felt the same and we had a meeting with him and told him what we thought and the reasons for not accepting him at that time. And the teachers urged him to come back next year and try again. He left smiling.

I’ve asked people who have applied for jobs at The Next Web the same questions. Some, without reservations, said that they also applied for another job at an even cooler company and that they were really hoping to get hired there. Or they told me this was their last try at a job like this because they really wanted to be in another line of work. Or they would tell me what they thought they would be doing for the next year, if they would get hired, and it would be the total opposite of what I wanted from them.

Somehow people practice for these kinds of meetings and try to say what we want to hear. Once you challenge them to think about their own future, good or bad, they relax and tell you about their dreams and expectations. And those can be a lot more telling than any resumé.

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