Second Interview Questions to Save You From Red Flag Hires

You've done a round of first interviews and made the necessary cuts. Most of the red flag candidates have been weeded out and you are now looking at a list of the best candidates for your open role. 

It's exciting because you have an amazing list of candidates … but it's also a little overwhelming because you have this amazing list of candidates. The second interview will help you gain clarity on who will receive that final job offer. The following second interview questions will give you Harry Potter sorting hat powers with their magical ability to cut the pile down to most crucial candidates.

While the first interview is often performed by a recruiter and involves questions centered around skill set and matching them to the job description, the second round helps the hiring manager imagine candidates in the seat. In this second round, you are thinking about whether this person will fit the work environment and whether your company culture can support their career goals. The interview that follows the second interview often involves a panel of the hiring team, which is a considerable investment of resources. So, it’s best to use the second interview to reduce the candidate pool down to the very best to avoid interview burnout, hiring team fatigue, and wasting team time on improper candidates.

Here are examples of powerful second interview questions you can ask to help uncover the most compatible candidate for your open role.

13 Clarifying Second Interview Questions

Man interviewing with CEO

1. What interests you in this job?

Why it matters: It sounds like a simple question but the answer will be incredibly revealing about what motivates the candidate and whether there is a strong match for long-term employment. If the candidate is exclusively talking about the work perks or is relying on second-hand information from a recruiter, it tells you that the candidate may have rose-colored glasses on. The second interview will ideally help to provide a more well-rounded impression.

2. What contributions do you intend to make if selected for this position?

Why it matters: This will let you know about a candidate's ability to take initiative and their workplace confidence. Of course, we're not looking for new team members to reinvent the wheel (or your business) here. Some critical thought is definitely a good sign of engagement. Dive even deeper with behavioral interview questions that build on past experience to get them to walk their talk. 

3. What are the first three things you would do if hired for this position?

Why it matters: This is a great follow-up question to the above because it will really bring to light the candidate's ability to apply practical planning versus pie-in-the-sky thinking. Idealism can be frustrating to existing teammates. What you really want is someone who can apply practical steps to achieving an overall critical approach to the role. 

Here’s an example of a good answer: “I want to increase sales. I would increase my personal quotas by 30% and see whether it's manageable or profitable. I would do that by coming in an hour earlier each day. I would measure the results after the first quarter and see whether it has had an effect on sales.”

An answer like this would raise a red flag for me: “I want to increase sales. I would slash our prices by half. I would go to a networking event every day of the week. I would conduct a focus group in my first week to find our weaknesses.”

The second answer is a red flag because I want new hires to spend the first month getting to know our existing customers and team process before diagnosing anything new. I’m always open to new ideas but any new processes should come after an initial learning period.

4. What are three characteristics of a work environment you thrive in?

Why it matters: You will want to make sure that their ideal work environment is somewhat represented within the company. By asking for a specific number it avoids more generic answers and can give you a specific picture on what you'll be able to provide them.

5. What would make it easy to say “yes” to this position?

Why it matters: Candidates have an idea of what salary will make them happy given a host of factors on offer like health benefits, social benefits, proximity to work, personal development fund, and the scope of the work. Higher salaries don’t always mean signed contracts. Harvard Business Review found that most American workers polled said “they’d be willing to forego 23% of future lifetime earnings in order to have a job that was meaningful.”

Asking the applicant what they need to accept the role you are hiring for is smart. Of course, offering a competitive salary is important but learning about their motivators gives you a unique opportunity to soft sell the role and will empower your negotiations down the line.

6. Do you have any questions from the first interview?

Why it matters: This could be questions that you didn't get to due to time constraints or new questions that came out of the interview. It shows you whether the wheels are turning. If a candidate doesn’t have any questions for you, that could definitely be considered a red flag.

7. Do you have any questions about our hiring process?

Why it matters: If a candidate is currently employed, they will likely have questions about the hiring process and expected start date. If this is one of your preferred candidates, it’s helpful to discuss logistics to ensure your expectations align.

8. What practice would you like to carry forward from your current company if you were given the chance?

Why it matters: This is a great question that demonstrates a candidate's comprehension of the open role and makes you aware of transferable skills and knowledge that you will gain by hiring them. It also doubles as competitive research of what other companies are doing — even if you don’t adopt a similar practice.

9. What is our company advantage over our competitors?

Why it matters: This question will show you how much research they’ve done on the company and industry that they’re joining. Depending on your field, there’s a chance that candidates might not have any idea who your competitors are (for example, if you're on the forefront of cutting edge technology) and that shouldn't necessarily be seen as a red flag. 

However, if they can’t articulate any of the benefits of the product or service they aim to represent, that’s a big red flag.

10. How does our mission align with your values?

Why it matters: This question is especially relevant for those candidates you hope to keep in the running because by reiterating why your values align, they’re selling themselves on the position. Half your work is done for you. You’ll be able to gauge quite easily how invested they are in your company by how they answer this question.

11. What do you like about our product/service? Where could we stand to improve?

Why it matters: Ideally a candidate will have taken the time to experience your product or service in some way by either becoming a customer or speaking to those who are customers. Their fresh eyes can serve as invaluable feedback, even if they don't end up working for you. If they sugarcoat their feedback or don't provide any at all, it could demonstrate a lack of confidence in their ideas.

12. Based on our job description, what do you think will be the day-to-day activities?

Why it matters: A wildly different idea of how things will go could be a non-starter. Or at the very least, this question provides an opportunity to manage expectations and confirm whether they’re still interested in the job. You don't want a new hire to be totally caught off guard in any capacity when they start their employment with you.

13. Describe the leadership style that will help you deliver your best work performance.

Why it matters: If you're flexible in your leadership style this will help you learn ways that you can support your new hire as you coach them to success. If you have a specific leadership method that doesn’t align, better to learn this now before any more investment is made.

Using Second Interview Questions to Make the Best Hire

Woman interviews with two men in an office

At the end of the second round of interviews, you want to have a comprehensive picture of which candidate will be the right balance between a culture fit (within the existing structure) and culture add (bringing new ideas and energy to your team). 

If you're unsure about the format that you'd like to use for the second interview or want some more inspiration to modify the above questions, check out our blog on five types of interviews.

The questions you ask should allow for dynamic answers that show how much a candidate knows about your business and industry, the perspective they’re bringing to the table, and where your values align for a compatible, long-lasting hire.

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