National Backwards Day


One of my favorite interview techniques is to begin at the end.  It lets me get a much clearer, untainted sense of a candidate’s point of view.  I’m not talking about some crazy scheme or complicated process.  I usually start a candidate’s interview with what he or she expects to have a chance to ask only if we have time at the end:  “Do you have any questions for me?”

Do you have any questions for me?

If you haven’t yet, go read Jim Citrin’s recent LinkedIn post: The Undercover Interviewer: “Do You Have Any Questions for Me?”.

Mr. Citrin lists some great ways this one interview question can give you real insight into the mindset of a candidate.  It’s one of my favorite questions to ask for those same reasons.  If you don’t ask it today, try it a few times as the closer question for your interviews.  If you keep his points in mind, you’ll get a ton of value out of it, even as the interviewer.

Why Ask The Last Question First?

These days, I ask that question to start an interview rather than wait until the end.  It gives me an even better feel for how a candidate thinks and helps me decide whether he or she fits right in the team.

In addition to what Mr. Citrin lists in the article, here’s what I’ve found by leading with this powerful question:

  1. The candidate usually will drop her guard. By putting it first, the question catches her by surprise.  She’s expecting a tough grilling question and instead you want her thoughts.  It’s a change-up instead of a fastball.  It puts her in a more relaxed mental state at the interview start, allowing me to get much more “true” impression of how she thinks for the full-time we’re together.
  2. He will then usually ask before he thinks. He’ll ask the first question that pops into his head.  Because he didn’t take the time to edit his thoughts before asking it, it’s often a real example of what’s most important to him personally.
  3. She isn’t able to change her questions for me based on what she now thinks I care must care about.  Same benefit for me as the last point:  I get a clearer read on what’s really important to her.  If she tries to ask the “right question he wants me to ask”, rather than get an answer she needs to make up her mind about whether this is the right job for her, then neither of us really are going to get what we need to make a decision.  That’s not useful to either of us really.
  4. It makes sure he does get his most important questions answered.  Too often, interviews run too long and the last questions get dropped.  The candidate never gets a chance during the day to ask his questions.  He is interviewing us as much as we are he.  We’re hopefully going to do great work together for a long time, so we both need to be sure this is the right fit.  Plus, the more I am able to answer for him during the interviews, the more comfortable he will be taking the job if we offer it.   When competing for a candidate against other offers, the candidate’s confidence can often seal the deal in your favor.

Don’t Get Fancy and Screw Up Job #1: Making The Right Hiring Decision



Ultimately, the most important thing you need to do in the interview is decide whether you believe this is the right candidate for the role.  If you miss that, you’re not doing your job and someone else should interview future candidates.

Frankly, I wasn’t able to use this tactic for a long time.  I needed enough interviewing experience that I could be sure I still was able to ask everything I needed to make that determination.  Some of that came from repetition, understanding what candidate’s will usually answer, and some from pure practice where I got better at guessing which questions were most important to answer for this candidate.  I ‘m sure I easily did 100+ interviews before I started trying a Backwards Day interview.

As I did more and more interviews for the same type of roles, I learned ways to smoothly transition from finishing my answer to the candidate’s question over to related question I’d ask them that probed a point of concern I had.  The candidate stayed relaxed, keeping their guard lowered, even while answering my question; it still felt to them as though it was just an extension of his question.  A candidate doesn’t stress about answering a question wrong because he asked it and didn’t have to answer.  If you can keep that casual feeling in the conversation, you get a less-guarded (and probably more honest) answer.  For technical questions, that doesn’t often matter as much, but it helps on personal questions like what gets him excited to come to work or the projects he is most proud of.

My guess is that you’ll probably realize at some point you have already crossed the comfort line in your interview ability to try this many interviews ago.  That’s what happened to me.  You’ll find you can now easily steer the conversation wherever you need, without ruffling the candidate or shifting the conversations tone.

Don’t rush it. This just helps add another level of fidelity to what you can learn from the candidate.  Without really mastering the base interviewer tools needed first, you still wouldn’t be able to answer the question of whether to hire this person and that’s still job #1.


About the Author -

Hi, I'm Bryan. Thanks for dropping in my little corner of the Internet. I am currently Head of Consumer Products at PayScale, responsible for the design of the company's consumer-facing web and mobile experiences. Before that, I was Redfin's first (and only) Vice President of Products, responsible for the design of Redfin's website, mobile applications, agent tools and information technology systems. Prior to joining Redfin, I worked for nearly ten years at Microsoft as both an engineering manager and a lead program manager. He was responsible for integrating major partners' services with Microsoft's mobile technologies and, prior to that, building I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (go Badgers!) with a degree in computer science and communication arts (tv, radio & film.)