15 Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

15 July 2021 Projectus Consulting

Pexels Sora Shimazaki 5673489

Interviewing a candidate can sound easy on the surface with a job description in hand describing the specific experience, mindset, and skills needed. Then a recruiter or hiring manager asks a string of questions and voila, you are ready to make a hiring decision.

If only it was that simple.

The touch of interviewing candidates extends well beyond skills and abilities into areas on candidate maturity level, culture fit and self-awareness to assess overall candidate quality. You can mitigate questions if you are attracting informed candidates who are engaged with your employer brand through your recruiting scheme.

Once candidates have been attracted who you think will be a great fit, you will want to ask questions regarding expertise and industry, including broader-based questions to learn how they could ultimately mesh with your team.

The goal is to have a collaborative and communicative conversation during interviews - putting candidates at ease (after all, interviews, and job search, in general, can be stressful for job seekers) and creating a pleasant and comfortable interaction (vs. an interrogation).


Three interview questions to ensure candidate quality include:

1.      Tell me something about yourself that others may be surprised to know about you. 

Why Ask This Question? This question is an opportunity to learn something very interesting and real about a candidate that might otherwise not come up in a standard interview.

2.      If there were something in your past you were able to go back and do differently, what would that be? 

Why Ask This Question? This question is another way to understand life lessons a person has learned and how these lessons may be of benefit when managing others or working in teams.

3.      Tell me about a time you had a difficult working relationship with a colleague. What was the challenge?

Why Ask This Question?  I am looking to understand how a candidate moves through, resolves problems and how the experience and knowledge learned can be applied to possible future situations.

While skills do not stand alone, culling proper skills still is crucial to ensuring a candidate's capabilities to do the job.

4.       So, tell me one of your war stories about that skill.

Why Ask This Question?  I like this prompt because it helps me discern whether or not the candidate has really gotten into the weeds with that skill and gives a good opportunity to evaluate communication ability.

5.      Tell me your biggest success story related to [skill].

Why Ask This Question? This prompt is one I like to use early in the conversation: it helps the candidate feel at ease and comfortable. Candidates lacking a success story, particularly recently, raise a flag. Plus, it often helps to fuel better follow-up questions afterwards. That said, if success is particularly noteworthy, it is more or less timeless.

6.       What is your ideal position and why? 

Why Ask This Question? It offers the candidate an opportunity to share their best skills sets (technical skills) along with their transferable skills (soft skills) and understand what they consider to be the best-fit position. It allows the interviewer an opportunity to see how closely aligned the candidate is with the duties and responsibilities of the position.

"In my numerous years of conducting interviews, there have been many times when a candidate will describe their best-fit position, to find, it does not align with the position they are interviewing for," reinforced Goldman.

Skills-unearthing can provide opportunities to learn about a candidate beyond the actual ability to perform the skill. For example, Han taps into his skills-vetting repertoire to assess a candidate's self-awareness regarding weaknesses.

Here is an interview question Han recommends:

7.      Tell me your biggest failure related to [skill].

Why Ask This Question? The purpose of asking this question is to ensure that the candidate possesses self-awareness. But perhaps as importantly, much like the biggest weakness question, the key thing here is learning what the takeaway was to help avoid recurrence.

8.      What is a development area that you are had to overcome to improve in your career?

Why Ask This Question? It offers a chance to learn how someone deals with self-realisation, self-actualization, and potentially how they overcome obstacles or adversity.

9.      What are two of the most satisfying accomplishments in your career? Tell me about each of them.

Why Ask This Question? When people are invited to tell a story about what is been important to them in the arc of their careers, you get a window into their values. Did they value the impact they had? Did they value the award or official recognition? You have an opportunity to see their motivators and their success markers.

Asking about favourite and least favourite supervisors is yet another strategy Lorenzen uses to gain insight into candidates' attitudes.

10.  Describe your favourite supervisor and your least favourite supervisor - and why. 

Why Ask This Question? This allows some fast insight into how the candidate likes to be communicated with and managed, as well as some revelations into overall attitude and maturity.

11.  Describe work you have accomplished that best compares to what needs to be done.

Why Ask This Question? A pattern soon emerges of where the candidate excels and what organizations best meet their needs.

A more focused way to ask a candidate to talk about themselves is to instead ask:

12.  How did you end up in your current role?

Why Ask This Question? You will get a better sense of a candidate's career trajectory, as well as what motivates them.

Finally, these three questions can help vet out the quality of a candidate's preparation for the interview:

13.  What challenges do you see impacting the industry? 


14.  What interests you most about this position? 


15.  Do you have any questions for me?

Why Ask These Questions? More substantive answers signal a higher level of preparation and initiative. Moreover, the candidate having jotted down a few questions to ask signals interest beyond an individual role and to their overall relationship within and among the enterprise.

How managers at your organization interview candidates matters and will show up in company reviews.


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