The competition to attract and retain exceptional workers remains fierce. Very fierce. Job openings pile up and go unfilled. Employers are desperately seeking skilled candidates who will integrate well with the mission and the team. And the needs of today’s talent, particularly those in millennial generations, have taken more nuanced turns. Cultural fit, skills development and exposure to opportunities for professional growth are key considerations. For recruiters, the process of sourcing and interviewing prospects has reached new levels of complexity. What creative interview questions should you ask? How can you really judge attitude and aptitude? While labor regulations make it clear that we can’t get too personal in our inquiries, there is one bygone line of questioning we should consider reviving — asking talent about their interests outside the office.

Use Candidates’ Interests to Sculpt Their Personal Brands.

In an era of social recruiting, the importance of showcasing a candidate’s personal brand, skills, unique perspectives and cultural fit to employers is critical. Yet asking the right questions has become trickier than in days past. Old standards no longer work or apply. Top recruiters understand the futility of asking about a person’s weaknesses or the reason why an individual should be hired instead of others. Rarely do the answers provide meaningful insight. However, recruitment professionals also know that delving into personal matters can lead to certain risks, so many avoid that conversation entirely.

Certainly, it’s illegal to ask about details that could open the doors to discrimination: marital status, sexual orientation, religious preferences, age, whether an applicant is pregnant and so forth. We’ve also been taught to believe that hobbies and extramural interests are unimportant, and may serve to clutter the essential information a hiring manager is seeking. Even hiring authorities who encourage discussions about hobbies tend to limit their usefulness, considering them icebreakers. While these interactions help engage candidates, they often reveal greater value. The reality is that exploring a candidate’s personal motivations, passions and aspirations presents a golden opportunity to gauge attributes that can determine a strong cultural match.

By learning more about a person’s outside interests, we come to discover the genuine person. We glean a clearer picture of what drives that individual. We peel back the facade of the interview — of applicant-as-salesperson — to find a personality, a goal, character strengths, abilities and other behaviors that help us draw conclusions about the business environments in which talent will shine. Positioned correctly, and appropriately, questions about interests allow savvy recruiters to shape their candidates’ key traits into compelling personal brands.

The more you know about your potential employees, the better you can determine if they’ll be a good fit.