Talent Canada
Talent Canada

Features Recruitment
The anatomy of an effective job interview: Avoid yes, no questions and overcome unconscious bias

Avatar photo

January 24, 2024
By Todd Humber

Photo: Getty Images

Editor’s note: It’s Recruitment Week at Talent Canada. This special theme week runs Jan. 22 to Jan. 26 and is putting a focus on our recruitment coverage. Follow www.talentcanada.ca/recruitment-week to see the best of our coverage throughout the week. Thanks to our silver sponsor partners at Cegid for supporting this week!

The perfect recipe for a good job interview starts long before the candidate walks into the room or logs into the Zoom call, according to Kiljon Shukullari, Toronto-based HR advice manager at Peninsula Canada.

“You need to be prepared as to who you are going to hire,” he said. “What’s the fit? What’s the skill set? You need to do that analysis.”

Questions that can elicit simple yes or no answers should be struck from the list, he said.


“I’m not interested in the yes, no, can you do it checkmark questions,” said Shukullari. “Give me an example. I want to see the thought process. Maybe ask about a particularly challenging situation that you had at work. How did you handle it? You want to see the problem-solving skills and the types of resources they engage.”

For example, if the person’s first instinct when they encounter a hurdle is to go higher up the chain for a resolution, that’s worth knowing, he said. Depending on the situation, it may be appropriate to come up with their own solutions or it may be better to seek assistance and approval from a manager.

Cliché and leading questions

Addressing a common pitfall, Shukullari warns against cliché questions like: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Instead, focus on the specific role and its unique challenges.

“For example, tell me how to stay up to date with industry and changes in legislation,” he said, emphasizing the need for questions that reveal a candidate’s ongoing engagement with their field.

Poor questions not only fail to provide meaningful insight, they can actually create a negative atmosphere, he said.

Also, ensure that the hiring manager sticks to the script — as consistency is important in evaluating multiple candidates. In an age of transparency, it can leak out that different candidates were asked different questions, which can create issues and questions around biases.

He also warns against asking leading questions such as “Do you know how to use Microsoft Office?” That’s because, if it’s a job requirement, the candidate will of course say yes. Instead, ask for examples of how they use it.

“The question should be about the proficiency level. How do you use Microsoft in your day to day? They can talk to you about reporting, they can discuss pivot tables or whatever they’re doing,” he said.

Asking about weaknesses is also taboo in his opinion. “It doesn’t really get you any information. It just makes the conversation very negative.”

Instead, steer the conversation into how they cope under pressure or how they prioritize their day and juggle competing deadlines.

Unconscious bias

Unconscious bias in hiring is a critical issue that Shukullari touched upon. He warns of the dangers of hiring candidates based solely on personal compatibility, which can lead to a homogenous workforce lacking fresh ideas and perspectives.

“You might be losing out on a candidate who actually brings some freshness in,” he said, advocating for a balanced and open-minded approach to candidate evaluation.

“You’re hiring an employee, a manager, a supervisor — you’re not necessarily looking for a friend,” he said.

To avoid that situation, strike out questions that aren’t relevant, including “Where do you hang out?” and “What are your hobbies?”

“It is tricky, to be honest, because a lot of people are very open to having these types of conversations,” he said. That’s particularly true for newer managers who may not have much experience in hiring and will veer off script.

“It’s really important to have someone that can guide you, to help start building up questions and how to find the skill set you have in mind,” he said.

Offbeat questions

Discussing offbeat questions, like those famously used by companies like Microsoft or Google in the past, Shukullari sees their relevance in specific contexts.

In How Would You Move Mount Fuji: Microsoft’s Cult of the Puzzle, author William Poundstone outlined a couple of the offbeat puzzle-type questions used:

“There’s a tennis tournament with 127 players. You’ve got 126 people paired off in 63 matches, plus one unpaired player as a bye. In the next round, there are 64 players and 32 matches. How many matches, total, does it take to determine a winner?”

Another one was this: “Suppose you had eight billiard balls. One of them is slightly heavier, but the only way to tell is by putting it on a scale against the others. What’s the fewest number of times you’d have to use the scale to find the heavier ball?”

“They are actually meant to challenge the way that people think and maybe potentially bring new ideas into businesses. In some scenarios, they may actually make sense — maybe for Amazon, Tesla, SpaceX or whatever” said Shukullari. However, he advises that for most positions, simpler, more relevant questions can achieve the same goal of assessing a candidate’s critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Shukullari’s parting advice focuses on avoiding leading questions that elicit superficial responses. He recommends asking open-ended questions that allow candidates to demonstrate their skills and thought processes in real-world scenarios. “How do you cope with a challenge? How would you prioritize your day?” he suggests, highlighting the importance of understanding a candidate’s approach to common workplace situations.

Print this page


Stories continue below