Human Resources Blog - Spark Hire

How To Get Honest Answers From Candidates In A Job Interview

The job interview can be a nerve-wrecking process for everyone involved. You want to make sure you’re asking questions that will best expose an accurate representation of the candidate’s personality, experience, and attitude. Although, it’s hard to predict how well a candidate will perform when the interview itself is something they’re desperate to ace.  

While candidates are practicing their perfect answers to the tough questions you may ask, you need to get to the ‘real’ them by asking questions that force them to take their time and answer honestly.

Below are four tips to elicit truly honest answers from candidates in a job interview.

1. Don’t give them any hints.

Don’t ask leading questions that tip off a candidate to the response you want. Resist adding phrases such as, “and how you successfully solved,” or starting with phrases such as, “we are very team oriented.” These phrases clearly tell a candidate what you’re looking for.

The best questions to ask are the ones that reveal a candidate’s attitudes and behaviors. When you strip out the tip-off words and phrases, candidates give you all kinds of interesting answers. I once had a candidate tell me that she was accused of harassing a coworker, and then went on to tell me about her harassing behavior. She didn’t get hired.


Rebecca Barnes-Hogg, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Co-Author of “Rethinking Human Resources,”  YOLO Insights, LLC

2. What motivates them.

Motivation-based interviewing (or “MBI”) skill-assessment questions always involve an obstacle. This obstacle enables the interviewer to gather a second, more valuable, piece of information about the applicant’s attitude. It’s considered the best predictor of future job performance and success. Attitude can be defined as how effectively (or ineffectively) a person responds to obstacles.

It’s common sense that the more effective a person is in the face of challenge, the better results they will achieve. The reason these interview questions provoke honest answers is because a person cannot provide the specific details about the problem-solving effort they put in (“tenacious problem-solving effort” is an effective response to challenge) when they didn’t — those who don’t, typically have a lengthy explanation for why it was beyond their control, not their fault and could do nothing about it. They’ll make it sound convincing, too.

MBI is an interviewing methodology for identifying and hiring High Performers. It assesses the three components common to all top job performers – skill, attitude and passion. People typically cannot fake having an effective attitude when they really don’t have one because they really believe their powerless point of view.


Carol Quinn, Author, Speaker, and CEO,  Hire Authority, Inc.  

3. Ask the unexpected.

An interview is a discussion; you should go into the interview with an open mind and discover who the candidate is during the time you spent together.

I like to use three themed questions:

  1. The Magic Wand (“if you had a magic wand & could improve 3 things about your current job) – the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior!
  2. The Fly on the Wall (“tell me about a time when you handled a situation at your job poorly) – a subtle way to dig deeper into the candidate’s working style and leads you to focusing your time and energy on qualified candidates
  3. The Most Difficult Experience (tell me about the most difficult experience you ever handled on the job) – probes for problem-solving and interpersonal skills

The questions you ask provide insight and metrics into the aptitude of the potential candidate and can help you determine if they’d be a good fit for your company. Also, allowing the candidate to speak and lead the discussion can save time in the end, once you know you’ve identified the right candidate for the job!


Dr. Christopher Croner, Principal with SalesDrive, LLC and Co-Author of “Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again”

4. Look for life outside of work.

The one question that I find most valuable is: “What do you like to do in your spare time?” This question does provoke an honest answer as candidates relax when they are not asked a gotcha question and open up about their passions outside of work life.

I received all sorts of answers from across the spectrum from, “I have no life outside of the office,” to “I love to stay home and write murder mystery novels,” to “I volunteer at my local animal shelter.” I ask this question to determine if the candidate will be a cultural fit for the position, not necessarily the overall culture of the organization.

Spare time hobbies reveal a candidate’s tendency toward an introverted or extroverted personality; and, certain positions demand a certain personality type. 


Jean Marie Dillon, MA, CFP, Human Resources C-Suite Executive

What do you think? How do you get elicit honest responses from candidates during an interview?

Josh Tolan

Josh Tolan is the Founder and CEO of Spark Hire, a video interviewing platform used by 6,000+ customers in over 100 countries.