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How to Separate the Champs From the Chumps in the Hiring Process Ask candidates these 8 essential questions to ensure you find the best fit for the job.

By Rafe Gomez Edited by Amanda Breen

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When recruiting new talent for open roles at their companies, most HR managers rely on a standard set of tools to ascertain the desirability of prospective hires.

They pay attention to the college that a prospect attended, assuming that the school's level of prestige correlates with the candidate's intelligence; the names of past employers, believing tenures at top-tier firms to be the most impressive; and responses to conventional interview queries: "What are your greatest weaknesses?" "What's your five-year career plan?" "Tell me about yourself."

The problem with this unimaginative approach is that it doesn't offer any indication of a candidate's ingenuity, his or her understanding of the terrain in which your firm operates, or the ways in which he or she can potentially achieve valuable results. What it does offer are opportunities for slick and savvy applicants who are well-studied in the hiring game to present themselves as capable when, in reality, they can't actually deliver.

Related: What to Consider When Hiring Employees

The right questions inspire a dialogue that predicts measurable results

To unearth energetic, resourceful and truly expert prospects, it isn't necessary for them to serve up dozens of referrals or submit multi-page resumes. Instead, you must present them with a brief set of challenging and incisive questions in their in-person or remote interviews. Their answers will inspire a dialogue that indicates whether or not they have the chops to produce the measurable business benefits that your organization seeks.

I'm not recommending that you lob tricky "gotcha!" questions or murky quizzes at your applicants to trip them up: That's an exercise in futility and a complete waste of everyone's time. What I'm referring to are precise questions that will allow applicants to present their ideas, explain their solutions and reveal their thought processes in a way that clarifies their potential value to your firm. The candidate whose replies are the most well-constructed, creative and comprehensive should get the job.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Hiring Is the Single Most Important Skill for Founders

Here are the questions to ask prospective hires that will get the feedback you need in order to locate the best candidates:

  1. Can you provide me with data-based, before and after summaries of the positive outcomes that you made possible for your previous employers?
  2. Who are our buyers, what do we sell, and what are the benefits that our products and services make possible for our buyers?
  3. Who are our biggest competitors, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  4. Which opportunities in the marketplace are we overlooking, misunderstanding or dismissing?
  5. What are our vulnerabilities and our unique competitive advantages?
  6. What are we doing wrong, and how can we fix it?
  7. What is your unique professional superpower, and how would it help our company?
  8. What are the greatest challenges that face our industry? Are we prepared to withstand them? If not, what should we do?

Discover how candidates think and problem-solve in real time

While not all of these questions are right for every job category or role, the common thread between them is that they let you hear how your applicants think, ascertain and decode in real time. Their answers won't be a bunch of nebulous, theoretical ponderings with no relevance or applicability to the particulars of your company. They'll be specific, timely and, in the best cases, workable suggestions of alternatives, options and directions that you may have never considered.

The questions are as suitable for first-time job seekers as they are for experienced professionals, especially if they're given as homework assignments that can be discussed during their interviews. While the newbies may not have legit on-the-job credentials that they can point to, these questions give them a chance to do their research, use their problem-solving abilities to formulate responses and demonstrate their worth as bold thinkers and doers.

These questions also level the playing field. Regardless of where candidates went to school, where they've worked or what professional credentials they've earned, there's no ability to hack, hustle or camouflage a lack of preparedness or ingenuity. They can either crush this opportunity to share their insights and recommendations, or they can't.

Related: How to Hire Like a Pro

If you're looking to add someone to your team, that means you aren't able to solve your problems, meet your objectives or overcome your challenges with your current employee roster. And each day that your search continues for top-tier applicants, the ability to maximize your firm's productivity is delayed. Leaning on the familiar yet ineffective standard operating procedure of hiring won't accelerate the talent-discovery process. Focusing on a new set of foolproof interview questions that give budding rainmakers a chance to demonstrate their gifts will help you find and recruit them faster.

Rafe Gomez

Co-owner, VC Inc. Marketing

Rafe Gomez is the co-owner of VC Inc. Marketing, an award-winning provider of sales support, media coverage and content-creation services for organizations across the U.S. His perspectives on a variety of business topics have been featured in Inc., CNBC, PR Daily, MSNBC, Forbes, Under 30 CEO, AdWeek, Marketing Profs and many more.

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