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The top 12 questions to ask an interviewee (and ones to avoid)
Last updated: September 26, 2022
Kai Dickerson
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The top 12 questions to ask an interviewee (and ones to avoid)
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Being in the hiring manager’s seat is certainly less pressure than being the person on the other side: the interviewee.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the responsibility seriously, though.

Interviewing job candidates is a technical challenge in itself. You have to ask direct and indirect questions that will give you important information relating to the candidate’s suitability to the job description without causing any undue pressure.

The quality and nature of the questions you ask will determine the value of the answers you get. So, in order to discover the best candidates, it’s vital that you ask the right questions.

But what are the ‘right questions’, exactly? Are there questions that you absolutely must include, questions that you definitely shouldn’t, or perhaps any lesser-asked questions that could prove incredibly valuable?

Read on for all the answers.

How many questions should you ask an interviewee?

A job interview should feel like a conversation and not an interrogation.

Accordingly, you shouldn’t create too much of a defined limit on the interview’s length or a set amount of questions.

And remember, the interviewee is also there to find out more about you and your company and build their career path, so you should build in some time for a little back-and-forth as well.

To get a rough idea of how many questions you’ll need to ask the potential new hire in the session, there are some go-to criteria to get you started:

Consider the completeness of their resume/CV/LinkedIn

Are there any gaps in their employment history? Any pieces of information that don’t make complete sense to you? Any interesting tidbits that warrant further investigation?

Reread their resume and cover letter to discover some burning questions that it may leave.

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Plan for your time allowance

It’s possible you’ll be interviewing three, four, or even 10 candidates in a single day, depending on the needs of your company, which means, unfortunately, there might be mandatory upper time limits to be watchful of.

It's not reasonable to plan for 20 questions if you only have a maximum of 45 minutes to see someone.

Factor in how many industry or role-specific questions you need to ask

While most questions at this stage will be both exploratory and related to personality, rather than concrete qualifications, it’s possible that there are non-negotiable questions specific to the position that need answers.

For example, does the role require a valid driver’s license? If so, be sure to ask about that early on.

Generally speaking, with the information you already have from the earlier stages of the recruitment process, it shouldn’t be necessary to ask more than 10 substantial questions.

At 4–5 minutes a question, this equates to 40–50 minutes of interview time, which is pretty standard.

The 12 best questions to ask an interviewee

Now that you know roughly how many questions to prepare, it’s time to start crafting your question set for interview day.

Remember, the aim here is to figure out whether this interviewee is the best possible candidate from the entire group for the position.

You should be familiar with the demands of the role, and develop a hypothetical ideal person for the role based on those demands.

This will help you as a recruiter figure out the good questions you need to assess candidates’ suitability, and give you a yardstick to measure applicants against.

Below we’ve developed a list of high-impact questions that are designed to produce informative, relevant answers.

The list is separated by question category, and we’ve included a wide variety that could apply to any role.

Standard interview questions

These questions might not be all that exciting or innovative, but there’s a reason everybody uses them. They reliably offer useful information relating to the candidate’s interpersonal skills and capabilities.

"Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?"

The open-endedness of this question tends to lead to broad answers that may give you a brief overview of this person’s interests, academic background, professional history, and personality.

"What attracted you to the role?"

The answer to this question should give you clues as to the legitimacy of the candidate’s desire to assume the role. Genuine enthusiasm for the role is a minimum requirement if the person will be effective in their position.

"What attracted you to the company?"

Similar to the last question, but it relates to the company rather than the role. It should also offer you insight into the interviewee's ideal work environment.

"What are your main strengths?"

A classic interview question. This can give you insight into the person’s own opinion of their effectiveness in certain areas. Be watchful for red flag signs of arrogance or low self-confidence, neither of which are desirable traits.

"What are your main weaknesses?"

The same considerations from the last question apply to this one. Watch out for overly generic or empty claims, such as, “I’m a perfectionist.”

Look for a candidate who can acknowledge their weaknesses and demonstrate how they’re working to better themselves.

Behavioral interview questions

These questions are designed to uncover insights as to the person’s practical capabilities, knowledge of industry information, and ability to think on their feet.

Behavioral interview questions are best answered when the candidate uses the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result).

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"What made you leave your previous/current employer?"

This question can reveal the interviewee's considerations and perspectives about longevity in the position.

"What’s the most prominent trend in our industry right now?"

Ask to discover the candidate’s extent of knowledge of the current happenings in your industry. Whether or not you use this question during an interview will depend on the role and level.

"Could you give an example of a critical work situation you successfully resolved?"

The answer to this question will offer insight into the person’s crisis management abilities, though keep in mind because this question is so common, a well prepared interviewee may sound scripted or as if their response is well-rehearsed.

"Could you tell me about a time you disagreed strongly with a superior and why?"

This question tells you about a person’s attitudes and behaviors regarding authority, as well as their willingness to act in accordance with company goals — even when it means disagreeing with a superior.

Abstract interview questions

Abstract questions such as the following have no ‘right’ answers. They are designed to test the creative and spontaneous thinking abilities of candidates. The more interesting answers to the questions you give here, the better.

"What person (alive or dead) do you admire most, and why?"

This question can tell you about the person’s heroes, which you can use to determine what qualities they admire and aspire to.

"If you won the lottery and never had to work again, what would you do with your life?"

This hypothetical question removes the aspect of financial security from the candidate’s mind and should reveal what higher ideals they have for their life’s purpose, if any.

"What would be your ideal superpower?"

There’s some debate in psychology circles about whether this question can provide accurate insights, but a person’s choice could reveal something relating to their core character.

Those who pick flying, for example, may be more extroverted and suited to something like a sales role, while those who pick invisibility might be more introverted and better suited to something behind the scenes.

Questions you shouldn’t ask a job candidate

This is important, as candidates are protected by law from certain questions that should never be used in determining a person’s candidacy for a role.

When preparing your questions, avoid anything relating to race and/or citizenship, age, sex and gender orientation, religious beliefs, disabilities, and family status. You risk exposing yourself and the company to discriminatory law proceedings if you ask these questions.

In addition to those categories, it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid asking questions that are:

  • Overly personal — to avoid discrimination risk

  • Overly general — to use the limited time in a focused, effective manner

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Best interview questions

So, there we have it.

With this starter-pack of interview questions, you should have everything you need to help figure out whether an interviewee’s character, personality traits, and emotional makeup are a perfect fit for the position and your company.

Don’t be afraid to be creative in coming up with new questions or providing a new spin on the classics - the more conversational the interview, the more likely the candidate will feel at ease.

For more insightful conversation from both sides of the hiring equation, visit the vibrant community of recruitment professionals and candidates at Jobcase.com.

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