Job interview

How NOT to Get the Best From a Job Candidate

I subscribe to HubSpot and consider it an outstanding source of marketing news. I often refer to their studies in my posts.

But a recent article entitled 5 Interview Questions to Assess Emotional Intelligence was dead wrong. Having interviewed many job candidates, I’ve discovered that the best approach is to bring out the best in a candidate. What is she proud of? What skills and experience will add value to the organization?

Ask What They Did Right

Unless the interviewer is a trained psychologist, she is playing with fire in trying to assess the emotional intelligence of a candidate with these five misguided questions:

  1. Can you tell me about a time you tried to do something and failed?
  2. Tell me about a time you received negative feedback from you boss. How did that make you feel?
  3. Can you tell me about a conflict at work that made you feel frustrated?
  4. Tell me about a hobby you do outside of work. Can you teach me about it?
  5. Can you tell me about a time you needed to ask for help on a project?

In my view, these questions are designed to put the job candidate on the defensive. The goal should be to get at the candidates strengths. What does she really love to do? Is there a project she is particularly proud of that she’s anxious to tell you about?

In recounting what it took to make that project a success, the candidate will reveal her skills at generating ideas, collaborating with others to make it happen, how she evaluated the success of the project and applied it to other areas of her work.

Sure you could ask about failures, but what does that tell you about his successes? It’s unlikely the candidate will say, “I failed because I just did a lousy job.”

What response do you expect when you ask how someone how he felt about negative feedback? His honest answer is that he felt terrible! How would you feel?

Yet, the author says that if the candidate responded that is he felt “bad” then he might be less emotionally intelligent. Find me someone who doesn’t feel bad about negative feedback and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t care. Not a person I want on my team.

Use Commonsense

Just use your commonsense when talking with a candidate. Think of it as a conversation and not an interrogation.

An interviewer’s responsibility is to create an environment where a job candidate can feel comfortable and knows that the interviewer is sincerely interested in learning about him and his qualifications.

You can’t evaluate a person’s emotional intelligence when you’re sneaking peeks at your smart phone and answering your phone during the meeting. That shows disrespect.

Job interviews are two-way streets. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. That goes for the interviewer and the job candidate. The initial interview is the beginning of employee engagement.

Start with small talk and ask about her trip to the interview. How was traffic? Did the receptionist ask if she needed anything while she waited for the meeting to start? Don’t jump her with your first question.

The candidate should leave the interview feeling that he had the opportunity to discuss his skills and experience and how they would benefit the company.

He shouldn’t leave feeling awful because all the interviewer wanted was to know about his faults and failures.

Leave a Reply


  1. Boy howdy – I’ve been in and experienced interviews that did nothing to identify the candidates abilities. A good interview truly takes skill and understanding as the what they hope to accomplish. ?

    • Susan — Agree. Most people who do interviews don’t have any training in how to get the best out of a candidate. That’s why I couldn’t let that post go by. I thought it was so wrong in its approach.

  2. Agree with you but also think it’s essential to discover how a candidate is likely to react when something goes wrong. Someone who panics when disaster strikes could cause a lot of proflems for the company.

    • Catarina — A candidate for a job that requires experience in crisis communications should be able to describe a situation where he was at the center of a crisis and how he handled it. I think the interviewer can get at that without asking in a negative way.

  3. Thanks for these advises, I have study much of things which are really present now days in interviewer. But only expert discuss beside the skills in the first impression others are straight forward to salaries and timing management or experiences etc.. glad to know these points !

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more, Jeannette. As a former HR Director, our goal during an interview was to get to know the person, bring out the best in them and show the best of us. I always told candidates that taking a job is like getting married–and you spend more time at work!

    To put a candidate on the defensive with these questions–well, if I were that person, I think I’d terminate the interview before the company did. I wouldn’t want to work for a company who approached people that way.

    • Rosemary — coming from an HR pro, I’m glad that you agree with me. Negative questions get the interview going in the wrong direction.

  5. These questions will not bring the best out of a candidate at all – they will as good as lure them into a hole.

    One of your questions may have been useful if it was wordy slightly differently:

    “Can you tell me about a conflict a work that made you feel frustrated” could have been worded;

    “Can you tell me about how you dealt with conflict at work? How did you resolve it/bring about a solution?”

    This question encourages the interviewees to concentrate on the outcome rather than the conflict itself.

    • Phoenicia — excellent solution to the conflict question. The candidate can focus on the positive solution and not the conflict, as you say.

  6. Jeannette — You make some excellent points here. I agree that creating the right atmosphere for the interviewee and actually engaging in a conversation with that person will result in a much better outcome for everyone. It just seems logical that putting a candidate at ease will give that person the confidence to be more forthcoming and provide the interviewer with much more valuable information for making a good hiring decision.

    Asking a series of negative questions is more likely to put the candidate on edge and make him/her hesitant to respond in a meaningful way. A better way to assess how successful a candidate might be in resolving complex work problems or confronting big issues is to ask how he or she might go about solving an issue that is relevant to a particular job. That could naturally evolve into a discussion on the lessons the candidate has learned by handling complex issues in the past, and that would provide the interviewer with all sorts of information on the candidate’s judgment, business acumen, people skills and overall ability to solve problems.

    • Mark — agree that it’s important to create the right atmosphere. Every company is seeking the the most qualified employees so why torpedo an interview by starting off with such negative questions?

  7. I’ve never agreed with using negative questions in interviews either as most people don’t have the training needed to truly process the answers. Most of the interviews I went on when I got my first teaching job were group interviews, and the interview panel I participated in at my school also used a group format. It always ended up feeling like an interrogation.

    • Jeri — you reaffirm a point I was making in my post: that most interviewers aren’t trained psychologists with the skills to evaluate emotional intelligence.

  8. I totally agree with this! Job interviews are always stressful, especially for an introvert like me. I for one would not like it at all if an interviewer only focuses on my weaknesses and failures instead of my strengths and successes. It might even make me think twice about joining their company. Thanks for sharing your post!

  9. Oh my, I can’t tell you how happy I am to not have to worry about job interviews anymore! I couldn’t agree more with your point Jeannette, especially about how these questions would tend to put someone on the defensive. In many ways, I realize how fortunate I was to spend so much of my working life in Maui because the job market is so different.

    Looking back, with the exception of the first couple of jobs I got when we moved to the islands I never applied for a job, companies contacted me based on my reputation and visibility in the community. That’s kind of like an actor getting to the point where they no longer have to read for a part. You can get spoiled real quick that way and I’m not sure how I would have handled a move back to the “real world” on the mainland in those days.

    • Marquita — lucky you that you were in such demand! I wish I could say the same. I had job interviews where the interviewer had no idea how to proceed.

  10. When I was still working in the professional world I had opportunity to interview people. I was never comfortable with scripts designed to assess emotional intelligence. (I never had much training in that area.) As an interviewer and interviewee I like the chance to focus on strengths and what a candidate might bring to a job. Balancing the interview between conversation and specific questions which will be posed to all candidates is a bit of an art I think.

  11. Another title Jeannette, “How To Interview to Bring the Best Out of You and Your Candidate.” I’ve been on both sides. Before understanding some of the subtle nuances of making it a positive climate for the candidate, I might have been as you describe here! But with training and practice, I know not only was the candidate feeling better, but we could see the potential that a candidate had and would bring to our company.

    Truly hope managers find their way to this post! Valuable content.

    • Patricia — Hard to believe you were ever hard on a candidate. I think one word I could have used in the post is “respect.” There needs to be mutual respect in an interview, just like in any relationship.

  12. I think it’s about knowing the best as well as knowing how the candidate will act in crunch situations as one must be able to work the best all the times.

  13. I have done interviews, and have been interviewed numerous times. In all these, I have noticed one common denominator, it seems the interviewer is more concerned about NOT getting the wrong person, they fail to notice if they are getting the RIGHT one for the job.

    • William — Most interviewers are more interested in screening candidates OUT which is why so many preliminary interviews are done by phone.

  14. In my opinion, your assessment is right on the money. If a job candidate says she is fine with negative feedback, she is lying or detached. Why ask questions that lead people to fib or exaggerate? That’s not helpful. Great post.

    • Jen — Agree that asking questions designed to make a candidate squirm will not help in getting to know that person’s core competencies.

  15. Hi Jeannette,

    awesome post as always
    i truly agree that asking questions you mention is a great way to test the candidate and get the most out of it! EQ & and the ability to handle stressful situations is very important.

    btw i m also a fan of hubspot

    • Kristina — You can get at how a candidate handles stressful questions by asking them how they got a positive result out of a challenging project.