Top 10 Interview Questions to Ask a Job Candidate

by | Hiring 101, Hiring Tips

There are a million possible interview questions you could ask your next job candidate and you can find countless articles, websites, books and free pdf guides with lists and lists of recommended questions. But… it can easily become overwhelming.

The more resources you have, the harder the decision will be (trust me, we all went through that phase). No matter how much you read, at the end of the day, you might still be asking yourself which of these interview questions are the BEST to ask.

To make things even harder, you only have approximately 45 minutes for the typical interview. You simply can’t cover everything you would like to learn about a job candidate, no matter how fast you would ask your questions (after all, your candidate will need some time to think as well).

On top of that, you’re taking time away from other important work for interviews. It is understandable that you want to make sure you choose the right questions to ask during an interview. After all, this might be the only chance to get the information you need to make a good hiring decision.

Average time-to-hire a new employee was 39 days in 2016, down from 43 days in 2015.

(Jobvite 2017 Recruiting Funnel Benchmark Report)

Sadly, you should know that there is no magic list of questions to ask during an interview. The right set of questions depends on a lot of factors – the type of job, level of the expertise, requirements, etc…

In this blog post, I want to talk a bit about the most common types of interview questions you should ask your job candidate. These along with some sample answers for each question type should give you enough information to make the right decision.

Let’s dig in…

Question type #1

Opening Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

Let’s start from the beginning – your choice of opening question will set the tone for the rest of the interview.

In most cases, it’s best to open up the conversation with a relatively easy question. This will help your candidate to get comfortable and it will establish some trust and rapport.

Most commonly, interviewers like to use some of the following questions:

  • “Tell me about yourself”.
  • “Walk me through your background,”
  • “Tell me about your professional background and what brings you here.”
  • “Can you take a moment to walk me through your job experience?”

It’s a natural way to give the candidate the opportunity to provide an overview of their background and bring the resume to life in their own words.

Of course, there are pros and cons to this approach. For example, such a general question could be a call for a life story that could eventually take a lot of your interview time. On the other hand, it could give you a good insight into what brought your candidate to that chair across from you.

Question type #2

Behavioral Interview Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

Behavioral interview questions are one of the most effective questions that are often skipped by many interviewers. They are ones that prompt for an example from the past. They often begin with “Tell me about a time…” or “Give me an example of…

Behavioral questions are among the most effective interview questions to ask in terms of getting useful information about a candidate’s past experience, including the approach to work, decision-making style, and work values.

When it comes to crafting the perfect behavioral interview questions, it is very important to take a look at the most important competency areas of the job. Each one can be a starting point for your question.

Example:

Let’s say you are looking for an experienced project manager. One of the key competencies you are looking for is the ability to easily adapt to constant deadline changes. You might say:

“Tell me more about the situation where you had to request a deadline change? What caused the deadline change? How did you handle the request? How did you take steps to prepare or prevent it for the next time?”

Why are these important questions? 

  • You will have a better understanding of their past experience through the situation they describe.
  • You will have a better understanding of their problem perception (Was their organization (or lack thereof) the issue? Lack of people? Or delaying?)
  • You will better understand their problem-solving skills.
  • You will better understand their problem preventing skills.

The behavioral interview questions allow you to hear specifically how a candidate has demonstrated a particular competency in the past. In other words, you get a story about a real situation. And you can use follow-up questions to ensure you get a complete picture.

Remember, good behavioral questions with thoughtful follow-ups make it MUCH harder for a candidate to fake you out with a manufactured or embellished story. That being said, I suggest that every interview should include at least a few strategic behavioral questions.

Question type #3

Hypothetical Interview Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

Hypothetical questions, which you may also see referred to as situational questions, present a job situation or challenge and ask how the candidate would respond. You can create a real situation for them and observe how they approach the situation.

Here is a hypothetical interview question sample that continues from our project manager example above:

For example:

“Let’s say one of your biggest clients (one that brings 75% of the company revenue) calls you and demands a new and unrealistic deadline for your latest project? You know that you cannot lose this client, but you also don’t have enough people to meet the proposed deadline. The company owner is not available to talk some sense into the client, so you are the only one who can handle the situation. ”

Why are these important questions?

  • This would be a very useful question to pose for a client-facing role.
  • You might get some good information about the candidate’s ability to deal with pressure and conflict.
  • In some cases, you might construct a more in-depth scenario – a case or mini-case — to assess every candidate’s different responses, giving you good comparative data.

Hypothetical questions can be good for testing a candidate in a specific situation and hearing how they think. You can prepare a situation in advance and even ask for a role play if you think it will help your candidate better answer the question.

The best advice I can give you for this type of question is to use the real example situation, something they should already experience or something that you expect them to experience in their job role. That way it will be easier for you to value their answer.

Question type #4

Resume Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

In most cases, you’ll spend part of the interview getting into the hows and whys of those resume bullet points.

Recruiters take an average of six seconds to scan a resume.

(TheLadders)

There are some standard resume questions that you’ll likely want to ask all candidates. For example, something like:

“What were your proudest accomplishments in your last role…”

(This gets right into the high points of particular job experience.)

“Or what made you decide to leave Job X for Job Y?”

(It’s always useful to understand the motivations behind job transitions.)

In other cases, candidates may have different projects or experiences that call for further exploration.

Additionally, you may want to ask about career changes, unusual experiences, or anything else that appears a tad unconventional.

It is always good practice to prepare in advance for each interview by taking some time to read their resumes before they are actually sitting across you. You can highlight areas of their resumes you feel you need better understanding and ask about those areas during an interview.

Question type #5

Technical Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

For some roles, it will be important to dig into technical skills to ensure the candidate is qualified. This can be particularly tricky if you are hiring roles that you are not familiar with, potentially getting trapped by asking questions you don’t understand.

It’s important to do your homework and truly understand, in so far as you are able, the technical responsibilities for the role. It is a good idea to also have someone who does have the technical skill on your team of evaluators so you can ensure that the candidates are being judged fairly on their abilities.

Well prepared interview questions to ask will help you get all the information you need to make the best hiring decision.

In some industries, technical skills are verified in initial screening interviews, through skill assessments, or separate technical interviews. No matter when the technical skills are tested, ensure you are ready to properly interview and evaluate candidates on their technical abilities.

Technical skills will vary a lot by industry and job, so spend some time thinking through what skills (and what level of ability) are needed for the role.

Question type #6

Red Flag Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

There are times when you need to ask a follow-up question about a potential red flag.

In this context, we define “red flags” as any signs of potential warning or risk. Anything that indicates that this candidate could be a risky hire for this position. Red flags could be related to skills, experience, attitude, reliability, or truthfulness.

Asking the right questions can help you understand when red flags are real and when they are false alarms.

Examples:

“Tell me why you left Position X after 6 months.
“What made you decide to change careers?”
“Why are you excited about this opportunity?”

Why are these important questions?

  • It’s better to do your due diligence upfront instead of bringing on a disastrous hire that hurts your reputation as a hiring manager and causes headaches and expense for your company.
  • Often time there are very good reasons for what are considered “red flags” (short tenures, gaps between jobs, etc.) and asking just a few clarifying questions can make the situation clearer.
  • Asking red flag questions can help you know immediately whether or not a candidate is a good fit.

Question type #7

Career Goals Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

Asking questions about career goals will help you understand how this position fits into a candidate’s long-term objectives.

These questions can help you identify which candidates are good long-term bets, with goals that align with your goals for the position and the organization.

American Millennials are now more likely to say they will stay 5+ years with a company than to leave within 2 years.

(2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey)

The best-known and most overused version of this question is, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” but there are others that are more effective. For example, you might want to ask your, job candidate, one of the following questions:

  • What are your long-term career goals?
  • What is your ideal job at this stage in your career?
  • What are you looking for?
  • How do you define success?
  • What’s most important to you in your career?

The best answer to that question should be something that goes along with the company goals, but it should be just “I want to work here until I die”. Some of the things that might say a lot about the candidate are their foals for skill improvements for example.

Question type #8

Motivation Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

Motivation is the key to performance. They will help you determine what drives a particular candidate. In other words, what motivated them to do a specific action, both good and bad.

You might ask about motivations behind career decisions like:

  • Why you decided to leave a past job
  • Why you decided to make a career shift or
  • Why you decided to go back to school.

Most importantly, you want to ask questions about each candidate’s motivations for pursuing the job you’re hiring for.

Question type #9

Case Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

Case questions are based on a case study or scenario presented to the candidate. They can take different forms in different industries.

Case questions are a critical part of the interview process for management consulting and some types of finance jobs, for example.

Case interviewing is useful in understanding a candidate’s approach to problem-solving and critical thinking.

Example:

Company X has 60,000 visits to their blog every day, but only convert 1% of their traffic into sales. What strategies would you propose to solve this problem?

A media start-up has a goal of gaining 200,000 Youtube subscribers in the next 12 months. Walk me through how you would accomplish this goal.

A small business wants to launch a B2B content strategy but is having trouble knowing where to begin. What approach would you suggest they take?

Question type #10

Culture Fit Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

Some interviewers like to ask questions about a candidate’s outside interests or personal qualities to determine cultural fit.

These questions can sometimes be useful but should be approached thoughtfully.

Even well-intentioned interviewers can be biased toward candidates they find it easier to relate to, which can lead to poor hiring decisions.

Conclusion

These top 10 questions to ask job candidates encapsulate the most common and useful types of questions to ask when interviewing.

You’ll notice that there may occasionally be some overlap between categories.

For example, you might use a behavioral question as a red flag question or you might ask a resume question that is also a motivation question.

So which of these questions should you include in your next interview?

It all depends on the role and the company and your own priorities for the position.

To get into specific recommended questions for each category – and more advice on how and when to use them, get started with Skillful Managers.