The Value of Knockout Questions

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What Are Knockout Questions?

Knockout questions act as a gatekeeper, “knocking out” (or pre-filtering) candidates who don’t meet the minimum requirements for a job.


Sometimes people don’t meet key requirements because of inability (such as if candidates are legally unable to work in the country) while other times it’s a matter of unwillingness (perhaps an applicant doesn’t want to work weekends). Either way, a wrong answer to a knockout question prevents certain candidates from advancing to the next stage of the hiring process.


Knockout questions are more compassionate than they sound. They save hiring teams AND job applicants valuable time and headspace. Like any relationship, if it’s going nowhere, it’s better to identify a mismatch sooner than later so you can both move on.


When to Ask Knockout Questions

In order to work effectively, knockout questions must be asked very early in the hiring process. These questions can be asked during a video interview, but ideally, it’s done even earlier. Try including knockout questions within your job application forms so you can filter out those who don’t have the necessary requirements.


You can also pair knockout questions with pre-employment skills testing. For example, if you’re recruiting for a position that requires technical competencies, you might ask this knockout question: do you have experience using X software for Y purposes? If the candidate answers yes, you might then ask them to prove it with an online skill test to demonstrate their knowledge.


How to Determine Knockout Questions 

Knockout questions will vary depending on the industry and the position you’re trying to fill. Start by determining the minimum job requirements and core competencies of the position(s) for which you’re hiring. What are your “must haves” for these roles? Develop a set of qualifying knockout questions based on that.

Knockout Questions

Common knockout questions include:

  • Are you legally able to work in X country?
  • Do you have X years of experience in this field/position?
  • Do you have X degree/license/certification?
  • Do you have a valid driver’s licence?
  • Are you willing to relocate? This question is less frequent now that remote work is so commonplace, but some positions still require workers to be at a physical location.
  • Are you willing to take a drug test?
  • Are you willing to undergo a background check?
  • What are your salary expectations? This is a bold, but practical question that’s often asked too late in the recruitment process. If a candidate wants significantly more than you can offer them, it’s better to know that early on.


If you’re an applicant, answer the questions truthfully. Seeking other job opportunities is better than answering interview questions dishonestly. If (or more likely when) the truth comes out, it’ll likely cost you the job anyway.


Legalities to Consider Before Asking Knockout Questions

While knockout questions are a sure-fire timesaver, hiring professionals must be careful not to ask questions that don’t relate to job performance. There are some questions you simply can’t ask; they’re unlawful. These include questions relating to:


  • Race or place of origin
  • Sex, gender or sexual orientation 
  • Religion
  • Age (with the exception of cases where age is a legal requirement, such as working in a licensed establishment)
  • Disabilities
  • Marital and family status


Accelerating Recruitment with Knockout Questions 

Knockout questions eliminate manual vetting and unnecessary interviewing, freeing up time to spend on more qualified applicants and other HR priorities. 


By asking the right knockout questions, you can filter out ill-fit job applicants early in the hiring process—so you can hire employees who do knockout work.


*Note: these questions are provided for example purposes only. They are not meant to be verbatim advice on what to ask during an interview. Please seek independent legal advice as to whether these questions work in your jurisdiction. 
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