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The strongest hiring managers prioritize understanding a candidate’s intent or reason for pursuing the opportunity. Failing to accurately assess candidate intent can waste valuable time for the hiring team and the candidate. While hiring always involves some degree of nuance and judgment, you can use this set of questions as one tool to properly vet the candidate for intent.

Below are example questions you can ask at three key stages of the interview process:

  1. Introductory Conversation
  2. Technical Interview
  3. Onsite Interview

Introductory Conversation

Q: “Tell me your story. I’d like to better understand the trajectory of your career over the past X years.”

Top candidates should be able to articulate a narrative that highlights specific achievements in each role. They will display an understanding of how each role impacted their growth trajectory, and, importantly, will not shy away from discussing transitions from one company to the next. When describing career transitions, top candidates should intuitively highlight what led them to seek a new role. A strong candidate might say something like:

Q: “Tell me about your job search.” You might consider following up with: “What is driving your decision-making process?” 

The interviewer should look for an early indication that the candidate feels a genuine attachment to the company and that the candidate is being intentional about her job search. Startup hiring managers must think carefully about pursuing candidates who don’t demonstrate conviction about joining a smaller company. There are other ways to show attachment (i.e. true interest in the product or team). The key is to avoid moving too far into the process with a candidate who is unsure about the type of company they want to join. In many cases, these candidates will end up choosing the highest offer (likely something your startup cannot provide). A strong candidate might say something like:

Technical Interview  

Q: “Based on what you’ve learned about our product and technology, what gets you most excited? What needs clarification?” “In your opinion, where should we be spending our energy?”

Technical interviews are also an excellent opportunity to continue assessing a candidate’s intent. By this point in the recruiting process, candidates should’ve had at least two conversations with your team. The best candidates will get increasingly excited with each conversation and show it. 

Top candidates will have specific questions and won’t shy away from sharing any concerns. They’ve researched your product and space. It becomes clear that they are actually vetting you, which is a good thing. It means they are thinking seriously about the opportunity. 

Before the Onsite

The onsite interview is a major time investment for both you and the candidate. Before moving to this stage, it’s essential to confirm mutual interest. If you don’t, you risk major time wasted for everyone involved. At this stage, it’s helpful to confirm the candidate’s decision-making timeline. Though it may seem premature, it’s OK to ask a candidate if she feels ready to join your team. Your goal is to understand what, if anything, is holding her back so you can try to address those objections.

Q: “The onsite interview represents the final stage of our interview process. Assuming that we conclude tomorrow’s experience mutually impressed, what, if anything, would give you pause on joining our team?”

It would be unreasonable to expect a candidate to commit to your company before the onsite interview. That said, it’s completely reasonable to ask a candidate for an update on their decision-making process. It shows that you care and that you’re willing to have a dialogue about anything that might be causing concern. Your goal is to emerge at the offer stage having fully surfaced any “blockers” to the hire. 

Candidates who continue to demonstrate strong intent might say something like: