Depending on when you ask, I either love or hate job interviews.

Everyone hates job interviews, right? Even most HR reps will probably tell you how much of a pain they are and how little they reveal about potential candidates. I mean, how many times has a potential employee been asked, “Can you tell me about a time when you were part of a team?” or “What are your biggest weaknesses?” and has planned an appropriate (or rather, interview-appropriate, which means, ‘a safe answer that keeps us from removing you from the applicant pool without giving us anything real.’) response.

A year ago, I was tired of asking the same silly questions that meant nothing, so I went looking. I found an idea on how to rethink the process. Joel on Software says that one you’ve gone through the general “does the candidate have a criminal record or two heads?” screen process, really, there are only two things you need to know about a potenial hire: are they smart and can they get things done?

So simple, because isn’t that what we all want? Someone who can get things done? That says so much without having to be specific.

What does “getting things done” really mean? It means being able to see the broad strokes and the details it takes to make it happen. I means being able to put your ego away and find out the best way to make it happen. It means being smart enough to know what you don’t know and smart enough to know how to get the information you didn’t already have. It means being able to speak up to lead and when to carry the water.

To that end, I came up with some new interview questions.

1) Tell me about a time when you really screwed up. Why? I want someone who is honest to speak up and be more real in an interview. I want someone who knows when they screwed up (is there anything worse than someone who doesn’t even realize they messed up?). I want someone who can also show me how they responded when things went to hell.

Also, this really messes with interviewee’s heads. It lets them know they can be honest and stop trying to spin everything. I’ve seen some people almost refuse to answer the question because it goes against everything every interview books says about turning everything into a safe positive.

2) What are you passionate about outside of work? This is a great way to get a “level” and see what this person looks like at their best. Tom Peters always jokes about how we spend billions collecting, training, motivating, managing people, but then we ask them to leave their personalities and passions at the door. I want to see what someone looks like when they are in love, so to speak.

3) How many AA batteries are in use right now? Yes, it’s one of those “Microsoft” questions where they ask you an impossible question to see how you respond. I want to see the work. I want to know why they picked that answer, what the thought process was. Its a glimpse into their head. Also, I might ask how they would design a museum for a dog.