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The Smartest Interview Questions You Could Ever Ask

No one wants to hire a dummy.

That's part of what the interview process is for -- it's a chance for your hopefully soon-to-be boss to determine your preparedness for the position, and asking intelligent questions about the company, your boss and the opening you're applying for is a step in the right direction.

U.S. News asked notable professionals what was the smartest question a job candidate asked them during an interview. Their responses have been edited.

Sara Clemens, chief strategy officer for Pandora Internet Radio

"'If you were to rank all the people who have done this job in the past, tell me about No. 1 and why you would put them there?'"

Clemens: Why the Question Stood Out

"It demonstrated the individual was critically evaluating the fit between the role and their own capabilities and characteristics."

Ted Rubin, social marketing strategist, keynote speaker, brand evangelist and acting chief marketing officer for the firm Brand Innovators

"The smartest question a job candidate ever asked me during an interview was something personal about my career that showed they had done their homework."

Rubin: Why the Question Stood Out

"It was relevant, in context, and incredibly insightful with respect to me and the job she was looking to win."

Traci Schweikert, senior director of human resources for NPR

"I was describing the organization I was working with at the time to a job candidate, who asked: 'You've described this as a place that welcomes innovation. Can you tell me about a time when you failed at something, or when someone else in the organization failed at something? How did the organization deal with it?'"

Schweikert: Why the Question Stood Out

"In my role I ask situational questions all the time. The job candidate mentioned to me that she'd had friends who started working for 'innovative startups' that had stated they wanted good people, but those good people were thrown away when they didn't immediately succeed. She wanted to ensure the same thing didn't happen to her."

Adam Grant, professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, author of 'Give and Take'

"'Fast-forward a year, and imagine that you're looking back on this hiring decision. The two people you hired have exceeded your highest expectations. What did they do that impressed you most?'"

Grant: Why the Question Stood Out

"The question stood out for four reasons. First, it demonstrated that the candidate had extremely high standards and was motivated not only to succeed, but to contribute above and beyond the call of duty. Second, it showed that the candidate was thinking about my perspective instead of just her own. Third, it challenged me to think about what I value most in employees. Finally, on a related note, it encouraged me to extend beyond the usual discussion of desirable traits and highlight the specific behaviors that mattered most to me."

Michelle Herrera Mulligan, editor-in-chief of 'Cosmopolitan for Latinas'

"There are several questions I loved that people asked me or my team on an interview: 'What qualities did the person who held this job previously have that you'd like to maintain?' 'What are the most important qualities that the person filling this job should have?' 'What's your definition of success?'"

Herrera Mulligan: Why the Questions Stood Out

"I loved [the first] question because it showed she cared about what we were looking for, beyond what the job title asked for. The second is a great question because it goes deeper than the job description. It showed that she cared about whether we would be a good fit as colleagues. The third is an amazing question! It was a subtle way of asking what types of goals I would hope to pursue, and for her to pursue, in the position. I liked her right away and put her on the top of my list after this one."

Matt Mickiewicz, CEO of the tech recruiting firm Hired.com

"'As CEO of the company, what worries you and keeps you awake at night?'"

Mickiewicz: Why the Question Stood Out

"The question seeks to understand the biggest challenges and obstacles facing the business. It's someone seeking a 40,000-foot view and seeking to understand the big picture and how their role fits into the bigger puzzle."

Joanne Rencher, chief people officer of Girl Scouts of the USA

"The smartest question, hands down, was a candidate who asked me to describe the skills and characteristics of those considered 'high potentials' at our company/organization, meaning, those who are known to have excelled through key results and behaviors. In essence, they wanted to know more about my views on the exemplars of my organization."

Rencher: Why the Question Stood Out

"The candidate was smart enough to do two things, brilliantly and simultaneously: One, sell themselves for the job after what was carefully done homework on the organization, and two, not be satisfied that the salesmanship was sufficient enough to impress. Asking me to describe those considered high potential gave them a clear window into what I considered the ideal match -- not in hypothetical terms, either. The candidate went on to sell themselves, but now with information gleaned straight from the prospective employer."

Ellyn Shook, chief human resources officer for management consulting firm Accenture

"'How does a leader come into a company like Accenture that has such a strong culture and make an impact, and how does the organization help enable success?'"

Shook: Why the Question Stood Out

"The first question stands out for two reasons: One, because this leader understood that we have a strong culture and that competency alone does not yield success. And two, because the person believes he or she could be successful and was willing to ask for help, even at a senior level -- an important characteristic of successful leaders at Accenture."

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