5 questions everyone should ask when interviewing candidates

Andy Agouridis Recruitment

Everyone knows that candidates should prepare for an interview to get the job. However, savvy employers know they have to prepare too if they are looking to hire the best candidate for the role. Asking the right questions is key, as it allows your applicants to provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision.

With an almost limitless number of questions to select from, how do you choose the best ones? We suggest selecting questions in a way that enables you to cover the required breadth while probing the candidate for all the details needed. Here’s how to discover these gems with 5 interview question types.


Category: Opener

We know that you’re looking to hire the best candidate as soon as possible. However, remember that your applicants (and yourself) are human. If you’re looking to provide a strong candidate experience, build a great relationship with interviewees, and hire great talent. Make sure to turn the interview into an interesting conversation, not an interrogation. Starting with a broad opener allows you to do just that, playing the role of a social lubricant while providing you with important information.

Question: Tell me about yourself

A question that everyone asks but only some interviewers truly understand. “Tell me about yourself” accompanied by a smile is a question that can be useful in many ways:

  • It is broad enough to allow the candidate to answer the way they want. If they feel stressed, this question will help them relax and ease them into the interview. Starting with a challenging and narrow question could set the wrong tone, so you may want to avoid it.
  • Due to its breadth, it typically results in information about the interviewee’s qualifications, experience, skills, achievements, and plans for the future. Also, this information is presented as a story in chronological order, allowing the interviewer to get a better understanding of the candidate.
  • It allows you to understand how prepared your interviewee is. Some applicants give generic answers, which may not be so relevant to your needs. However, others are laser-focused on your vacancy, showing they are serious about working with you.
  • It reveals the candidate's motivation to work with you. “Tell me about yourself” can be a great way for an applicant to talk about their career goals and why your vacancy is their best next step.
  • Some candidates include a personal element in their answer that can be invaluable to assess their cultural fit. Even if they don’t, the delivery of their answer can help you understand how they’d fit into your team.

Category: Job understanding

Candidates who understand your needs are stars. They are qualified, business-minded, and willing to help you. But how do you identify these qualities during an interview? We suggest asking questions that will reveal their understanding of the position. You can focus on related strengths they can bring to the table, ask them how they would approach the position in practice, or both.

Question: What are your top 3 strengths concerning the position?

We love this question because of its multiple facets. Firstly, it shows the interviewee’s understanding of the skills required for the job. Secondly, it allows them to speak about why they enjoy work related to your vacancy. Lastly, apart from demonstrating the candidate’s understanding of the role, it also provides you with invaluable information about what they can bring to the table.

When we use this question, we look for candidates who combine relevant hard skills with strong soft ones. While hard skills enable someone to do the job, soft skills are the ones required to excel at it. We suggest you follow the same approach, by focusing on a diverse combination of capabilities.

Question: If you were hired, what would you focus on during the first 3 months?

This question can be great, as it is action-focused. By placing a candidate in a hypothetical scenario, you can get a glimpse of how they work. Moreover, you can evaluate their understanding of the role and your organisation.

When using this question, we recommend focusing on candidates whose answers are aligned with your vacancy. Applicants who’ve gone above and beyond may also relate their answers to the broader organisation, based on information they have gathered about your goals and any challenges you may be facing. Also, consider whether their thought process would fit well with your culture - top talent will align their answers with your values, too.


Category: Skills & Performance

At the end of the day, all employers are seeking qualified employees who have the skills to deliver the required results. However, it may be challenging to evaluate interviewees on this basis as most interview questions aren’t specific enough. The trick here is to ask questions that focus on experience, achievements, and skills relevant to the vacancy, so that your candidates can share relevant details. Here are a couple of my favorite questions to achieve this.

Question: What is your biggest achievement?

We love this question as it gives interviewees the flexibility to select the achievement they’ll talk about. Based on their answer, you can assess their understanding of your needs. Apart from this, candidates are free to talk about the situation, task at hand, the skills they applied, and the results they achieved.

Interviewers are typically looking for relevant and important achievements when using this question. For example, if an employer is hiring a project manager, a great answer would focus on the successful delivery of a large-scope and complex project in a relevant domain. However, we suggest going above and beyond by evaluating a candidate’s thought process and skills, too. Seek talent whose answers showcase the key skills required for the role. In the above project management example, these could be agile methodology, stakeholder management, and organisational skills.

Question: Tell me about a time when you + key skill or behaviour.

If you are looking for relevant answers, ask specific questions. Competency or behavioural questions related to the role have always been a great source of information and we don’t see this changing anytime soon. Here’s how to ask the most relevant ones.

In most cases, interviewers are hiring managers or recruiters. With this in mind, they have a great understanding of the role they’re hiring for. If this is your case, think of the top skill and behaviour required for your role. For example, if you’re hiring for a Software Engineer, it may be that you need strong Java skills. Or, if you’re looking for someone for a technical role in the Oil & Gas industry, you likely need someone safety-focused. Once you get clear on your needs, ask a couple of questions where you prompt candidates to share related stories.

Then, emphasize interviewees whose answers demonstrate deep expertise in the skill you’re after. Also, we love candidates who share details about their thought process, actions, and (quantified) results. Lastly, interviewees who have applied relevant skills and behaviours in similar situations and roles may be the most suitable.

Category: Motivation

Being skilled doesn’t mean much if someone lacks the required motivation for the job. With this in mind, questions that evaluate a candidate’s motivation for the opportunity are a must. There are 2 types of questions that you can use here, direct and indirect. You can find an example for each category below.

Question: Why are you interested in this opportunity?

This is a direct question where the candidate has the opportunity to speak about everything they find interesting about your vacancy, team, and business. It’s a great question to separate candidates who apply to every job out there from the ones who’ve self-screened and have selected your vacancy over others.

When asking this question, we focus on candidates who provide multifaceted answers. Of course, a candidate’s motivation for the job may be the most important. In this sense, interviewees who explain how the role aligns with their strengths and interests should take the lead. However, we love candidates who also focus on my business more largely. A great example of this is a candidate who thinks and works in harmony with your values and ways of working.

Question: What are your future career plans?

The rationale behind this question isn’t to find someone who can predict the future. Even if no one knows what the future holds for their careers, it’s the intention that matters. For example, the short-term goals of your ideal candidate would align with the scope of your vacancy.

In addition, savvy interviewers focus on applicants who demonstrate multilevel commitment through their answers. While a short-term alignment is necessary, you may want to look for a long-term fit, too. On this basis, candidates who showcase a long-term commitment to your line of work and industry combined with a desire for growth may be the best fit and long-term investment.

undraw_Close_tab_re_4cj6Category: Cultural fit

Savvy hiring managers know that cultural fit is the secret ingredient that turns a good hire into a great one. The reason? Even the most skilled employee would struggle in the wrong environment. On this basis, we love questions that allow interviewers to assess cultural fit. Although this process can be more subtle than evaluating hard skills, it is possible if you use the right questions. Here are a couple to add to your toolbox.

Question: How would you describe your ideal working environment?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. However, there are relevant and irrelevant answers. Finding a candidate whose ideal working environment is close to how your organisation operates maximises the chances of making a successful hire.

For example, if your onrganisation has a flat structure and focuses on collaborative work, you may want to focus on candidates who feel comfortable influencing others without direct authority, working socially, and operating in ambiguity. On the other hand, if your organisation is more hierarchical and top-down, your best candidates may enjoy a structured environment, clearly defined responsibilities, and the concept of authority.

Question: What’s your management style?

People managers can make or break your culture. Having responsibility for an organisation is no easy feat, which is why finding capable and relevant managers should be a key interviewing goal. When assessing potential people leaders, we suggest evaluating both their management skills and style.

In this case, we would evaluate answers using a cultural lens. For example, if your culture is informal, direct, and flexible, you may want to look for someone whose answer reflects these qualities. Lastly, candidates who’ve already had the opportunity to practice management in a similar culture may be the safest bet.

Andy Agouridis

Andy helps candidates and employers connect faster and better. Apart from being a Jobylon contributing writer, he is the Director of CareerHigher (https://www.careerhigher.co) and a Careers content creator. He has a background in HR with Fortune 100 businesses, holds an MSc in HRM, and is a Chartered member of the CIPD.

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