30 Best Interview Questions To Ask Candidates
Google used to be famous for asking obscure questions during an interview. These brainteasers were designed to see how a candidate thinks and evaluate their cognitive ability. Questions such as “How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?” or “How much would a passenger’s valuables be worth on a flight from London to Glasgow at 7.30am on Monday?“.
Sounds great, except all they accomplished was to make the interviewer feel smart and the interviewee feel dumb. Google realised this years ago but employers still seem to use them.
A good interview question should try and get a candidate to open up to you and help you evaluate whether they are a good choice for the position. You should be trying to determine whether they have the skills for the job, the right attitude for your company and whether they would be a good cultural fit for your team.
So what questions should you ask? We have come up with a list of the best interview questions to ask your next potential employee.
1. What do you know about the company?
This is a good question to find out if the candidate has done enough research about your company. Nowadays, finding out information about a company is as simple as going on their website and reading the materials there.
This question separates those who are applying for every job under the sun just to get work and those who are genuinely interested in working for your company. If they can’t answer this question then consider it a warning sign that they may not be the best candidate.
2. What excites you most about this position?
Again this question determines whether the candidate has done their research and actually knows what they are applying for. If the candidate doesn’t have a clear view of what the job will entail then they may not be a good fit.
If they don’t get this question right then make sure your job description is informative enough so future prospective candidates will be better informed. If this is the case then give the candidate the benefit of the doubt and explain what the position involves. That way you can judge their reactions and responses to see if it is what the candidate wants.
3. How did you hear about the role?
This question isn’t really to test the candidate but it is great feedback for your company to determine where their advertising budget is best spent. Your company will likely be paying thousands in advertising and agency fees, by gathering data you can help to make sure that this money is better spent.
4. Can you tell me about a piece of work you are most proud?
Hopefully, over a varied career, a candidate should have at least 1 piece of work they are proud of. This is a great way to see what a candidate is passionate about and can help determine the kind of skills they have.
If their accomplishment seems more like a team effort then it is good to try and drill down and find out what part of the project they did and why they are proud of it. This is also a great open-ended question and gives the candidate a chance to showcase their best skills and how they would apply to your organisation.
It is always best to try and avoid closed questions as it can become very difficult to determine what a candidate is like.
5. Why are you leaving your current role?
I love this question as you can see whether a candidate is having to come up with a creative answer or not.
Candidates leave positions for a number of reasons. They may be bored at their current job, overworked, underpaid or they may hate their boss. If they are bored then it would be worth determining why so you can make sure they wouldn’t get bored in this position as well.
Their reason for leaving shouldn’t tarnish your view on them so much as how they answer this question. If they start trash talking their current employer not only is this unprofessional they may also talk the same about you when they move to their next job.
6. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hiring employees is expensive. Ideally, you want your employees to stick around and carrying on working for you for many years to come. Obviously, there are other factors you need to address at a company level to make sure you have a low turnover rate but making sure your hire is planning on sticking around is a good start.
If they answer this question with “I want to be working at Google” or “Running my own company” then chances are this job is just a stepping stone for them and they will be looking to move on to “better” things in a year or so.
Smart candidates will know this so you shouldn’t get too surprised at the answer.
7. What are your biggest strengths and what are your biggest weaknesses?
Generally, people aren’t great at self-evaluation and any answers you get to these questions will likely be sugar coated. However, they do help to see what the candidate thinks they are good at and not so good at.
You should probably expect their biggest weakness to be phrased as a positive thing. So answers such as “I am such a perfectionist” or “I am just too organised” are common. It is quite refreshing when a candidate gives an honest answer here.
If the candidate has a true weakness then they should hopefully say what they are trying to do to improve that.
8. If you had £50,000 to build your own business what would you do?
A lot of people dream of starting their own business one day. This is a good question to find out where their passions are and how it might relate to the position. £50,000 isn’t an enormous amount of money so the candidate will need to think how to get their best ROI from the money.
9. Why should we hire you?
If other questions aren’t working and you still aren’t sure whether to hire this person then just be blunt and ask them outright. Some candidates might stutter at this question but their answers may just give you the information you were missing.
Candidates should be prepared for this questions but others may need a couple of minutes to work out what to say.
10. Is it better to be perfect and late or good and on time?
The answer to this question will probably depend on your industry. Take 5-star restaurants, for example, every dish has to be perfect going out even if it is a couple of minutes late. However, in most industries good is good enough. Most things can usually be tweaked once they are out anyway.
If you are part of a fast-paced startup up then you will almost certainly prefer good rather than perfect. However, if you work in finance, serious bugs could cause you financial damage. Either way, the candidate explain their reasoning.
11. What do you do outside of work?
You might like to keep all your interviews on topic but asking more personal questions about their hobbies and activities can help warm up the candidate. These questions can also help see if the candidate would be a good cultural fit. If a lot of your team enjoy rock climbing or skiing and they share the same interests there is a chance they might get on well with the team.
I wouldn’t read too much into these answers beyond cultural fit. If the candidate likes reading, it doesn’t mean they are an isolated individual that doesn’t get on with people.
12. Tell me about a time you screwed up
Everyone makes mistakes, it is one of the key ways humans grow as individuals. What matters is how you overcome the problem and avoid doing it in future.
How they answer this question is important too. Do they try and deny all responsibility and pin the problem on someone else or do they hold themselves accountable?
When did they tell the supervisor about the problem and did they come up with a solution or did someone else? Try and determine how they handled the situation and how they would handle it again in the future.
13. What is something you would be happy doing every day of your life?
This question helps determine where someone’s passions lie. Ideally, the answer to this question should be work related not “Lying on a beach all day”.
If they are passionate about something and it fits in with the role then perfect. Try your best to see where their passion might fit into your job position. If you think this is a great candidate it is your job to try and convince to take the job as much as it is for them to convince you they are a good fit.
14. In five minutes, could you explain something that is complicated but you know well?
In nearly every job good communication is critical. Part of good communication is being able to articulate your ideas and help other people understand them.
The “something” doesn’t have to be work related it can be anything from black holes and special relativity to how a combustion engine works. What you are looking for here is that the candidate can explain it enough so that you can understand what they are saying. Bonus points if you learn something new.
15. Can you tell me about a time when you overcame a challenge?
A classic question which most candidates will be expecting in an interview. Even though their response maybe rehearsed it is still a good question to understand how a candidate deals with challenges.
Even if rehearsed, asking more questions to get a better understanding of how they tackled the problem can give you a good insight into their problem-solving abilities. If they are lying then it could just all unravel in front of you.
16. What one skill makes you most qualified for this position?
Everyone has a super skill. One skill which differentiates them from the pack. Finding out what this skill is can be useful to see how they will fit in with your team.
Getting candidates to self-evaluate themselves can be a great way to really think about a question rather than relying on a pre-rehearsed response.
17. How do you go about continuing to develop your professional skills and knowledge?
While it is important that you as an employer offer training resources, it is ultimately up to the individual to take charge of their own learning. The best candidates are always reading, learning and perfecting their skills.
If the candidate says their current employer doesn’t offer training then try to ask them why they haven’t tried looking for training resources themselves. People need to be responsible for their own learning and progression.
18. What is your definition of hard work?
Hard work can mean different things to different people. They say if you enjoy your job then you never need to work a day in your life.
Everyone wants their employees to work hard but what does this really mean? Does it mean putting additional hours?
In general, what most employers want is for their staff to be committed to their work and not just leave dead on 5pm unless work is in a position that it can be left.
If they describe hard work as some gruelling exercise they wouldn’t want to do which happens to describe a typical working day in their new role, then you may have an issue.
19. Who is the smartest person you know personally and why?
Me… You can only hope that isn’t their answer! Getting them to describe someone they personally know will stop you getting everyone answering Steve Jobs or Elon Musk.
This question gives you an idea what qualities the candidate admires about others. There is no right answer here but can give you an idea of the qualities a candidate would likely to have.
20. What made you excited to get up and come to work at your last job?
Too many candidates are trying to get away from their last job and may think they only have negative memories.
However, if they have been in the job long enough then there must have been a time when they enjoyed it.
Asking this question can give you an idea the types of work the interviewee likes doing and can give you ideas on how that fits into the role.
At the end of the day, it is in your best interest to have enthusiastic and engaged employees working for you.
21. Tell me something about yourself that others may be surprised to know about you?
Trying to get an idea of someone’s personality from a short interview can be difficult. Questions like this can help with that.
It might be that the candidate is an amazing guitarist in their spare time or super athlete. Their answer to this question can help form an impression on whether they would be a good cultural fit for your team.
22. What is your ideal position and why?
If you still haven’t managed to work out if they would enjoy the role you are employing them for then ask them to describe their perfect day at work.
Determining whether the candidate’s aspirations match up with the position you are hiring for is a great indicator of whether they will stick at the job for a decent period of time.
23. What’s the biggest decision you have had to make over the last year?
The purpose of this question is to try and assess how they go about making big decisions. Are they a planner who does meticulous research before jumping in or are they someone who makes impulsive decisions.
Hopefully, the candidate’s answer will be work-related. You may want to steer them in the right direction if they start divulging intimate personal details.
24. Tell me about a time you set difficult goals.
With this question, we are trying to determine firstly if the candidate sets goals and whether they were able to achieve them. Try and get them to explain what they did to achieve their goals and the actions they took.
The answer to this question can help you determine whether the person can reliably stick to goals they set and whether they are likely to achieve their goals in the future.
It is good if the candidate has managed to set themselves realistic but challenging goals that they have been able to achieve. Setting extremely unrealistic goals could be a sign that they are overestimating their abilities.
25. What would your former colleagues say about you?
Another question to try and gauge a person’s personality. In previous questions, we have asked more self-assessment questions but if that was unfruitful putting the candidate in their colleague’s shoes is another option.
This question is likely to be heavily rehearsed but it gives some indication of how the candidate feels they are to work with. You will likely get answers such as well organised, punctual, meticulous attention to detail etc.
They are unlikely to tell you they are a nightmare to work with and never listen to other peoples opinions. Then again you might be surprised.
26. What would your first 30, 60, or 90 days look like in this role?
Depending on the candidate’s experience they should know how they will settle in with a new company.
Generally, it can take a month to settle into a new role. Expect answers relating to getting to know the environment, getting to know colleagues and being able to work with little to no assistance at the 1-month mark.
You want new hires to start being productive from as soon as possible. If candidates still think they will be finding their way around the office after 3 months there may be an issue.
27. What is one skill you would like to improve and what is your plan for doing so?
Everyone has skills to improve on, no-one is perfect. If they think they are, then end the interview there and then. Candidates should know what their weaknesses are and have some sort of plan to gain the experience they need.
If the skill they would like to improve is one they are going to be doing on the job then great. Obviously provided their current skill level is enough to complete the job in hand.
Candidates that show a willingness to learn and improve can become great employees in the future.
28. How would you describe your own working style?
Here you are looking for answers such as organised, with high attention to detail and methodical.
However, it will highly depend on how your company operates. If you work for a fast-paced startup then their might always be an element of chaos in the air and having an employee who thrives on that can be a great asset.
Figure out what you are expecting of the role first before asking this question. Do you want someone who is proactive or reactive?
29. Is there anything about this interview process you would change?
For all areas of your business, you should look at getting feedback. Maybe your interview process is too long and it is putting off candidates. It is possible your technical tests are too easy or ineffective. Embrace any feedback you can get and use it to streamline your recruitment process.
30. Do you have any questions for me?
Your candidate should be able to come up with at least 1 question if they are truly interested in the role. This is especially true for senior candidates who you would expect to come prepared with a list of questions.
For junior candidates, it is not always surprising to not have any questions as you may have answered them all throughout the process.
If I like a candidate and think they would be a good fit I will generally give them some information about other aspects of the company such as company socials or benefits. If they haven’t impressed you, then now is a good time to finish the interview and part ways.
When conducting an interview you need to remember that the candidate should be interviewing you just as much as you are interviewing them.
Asking the right questions can help you get a better picture of the candidate so you can make an informed decision whether to hire them or not.
Just remember when you are sitting on the other side of the table. Interviews are one of the most nerve-wracking exercises you can go through. Sometimes candidates need to be guided into giving you the answers you are looking for.
Have any other great interview questions? Let us know your favourites in the comments.
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