60 Best Interview Questions to Ask Candidates: Ultimate List
Checklist For Hiring The Best Employees
Redding Job Search

[fa icon="calendar"] May 21, 2020 8:00:00 AM / by Michelle Nystrom

Michelle Nystrom

60 Best Interview Questions to Ask Candidates & Ensure Quality

Midsection of a businessman shaking hands with a female interviewer in officeThe success of a company relies on the effectiveness of its employees. If your employees do a poor job, it will affect your business, both in the short-term and the long-term. Because of how vital your employees are, the interview process is an essential component of the hiring process. It’s during the interview that you can carefully screen a candidate and determine whether they are qualified for the position you’re trying to fill. Because of how important the interview process is, be sure that you prepare for it ahead of time. You should have a list of questions that will help you determine not just whether the candidate has the necessary skills and experience for the job, but whether they will be a good long-term fit for your company. Here are 60 questions to  consider asking job candidates during their interview:

Questions About Work Environment

You’ll want to get a feel for what a job candidate is used to when it comes to the work environment, as well as how they prefer to work. These questions are essential because it gives you a broad idea of how they will fit with your company’s unique work environment.

1. What is your ideal work environment?

This question gives you an overall idea of whether they will fit within your existing work culture. For example, if the candidate prefers a quiet environment, but your office tends to be more fast-paced and energetic, it may not be an ideal fit for them.

2. How would you describe your own working style?

While you don’t necessarily want everyone on your team to have the same working style, you don’t want the candidate’s working style to clash with that of your current employees either. For example, if the candidate prefers to work independently, but your team emphasizes collaboration, they may not be a good match.

3. What is your definition of hard work?

This question can help you determine what their work ethic is like, as well as whether they’ll be a good fit for the general pace of your company. Keep in mind that hard work doesn’t necessarily mean “working a lot.” Hard work is about doing things the right way. It’s about being willing to put in the work needed to find the best solution.

4. Is it better to be perfect and late, or good and on time?

Generally speaking, it’s better to do good work on time than to be a late perfectionist. After all, missing deadlines as a result of trying to be perfect isn’t something that most companies will deem acceptable. However, many candidates will say that it will depend on the situation. In such a case, be sure to hear them out. In the end, the question allows you to determine how they will prioritize their work.

Questions On Contribution and
Problem Solving

Even though you may be aware of their particular skill sets and experience, you’ll want to get an idea of how capable they are of leveraging those skills and that experience. For example, just because they know how to use a particular software application doesn’t mean that they can figure out how to apply that knowledge to do their job effectively or to solve any problems that might arise. Asking some of these questions will help you to determine how they will contribute to the team and whether they are capable of problem-solving if the need arises.

5. Tell me about a difficult work situation and how you overcame it.

The candidate’s response to this question will show if he is capable of handling unforeseen issues and has the problem-solving capability to address them effectively. The bigger the problem they describe, the more you can trust in their ability to handle difficulties on the job. 

6. Tell me about a time you set difficult goals.

Ideally, it’s best to hire someone who has set difficult goals for themselves before. Someone who sets difficult goals is usually the ambitious sort. Even if they didn’t necessarily reach their goals, it’s a good sign. But there’s a difference between challenging goals and impossible goals. If the goals they describe were impossible, it might mean that they are not realistic about their abilities.

7. To date, what professional achievement are you most proud of?

This is an easy question that you can use to give the candidate a chance to impress you. It will also provide you with insight into what their greatest strengths are.

8. Can you tell me about a time when you overcame a challenge?

You’ll want to hire someone capable of working under pressure, and that can rise to the occasion. If the challenge the candidate describes doesn’t seem like it was very demanding, then they may not have a lot of experience overcoming difficult situations.

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

Not only does this question give the candidate a chance to flaunt some of their accomplishments, which will provide you some idea about their skills, but it gives you some insight into their personality and their goals. For example, someone who talks about the success of a project they worked on might be more team-oriented than someone who talks about an individual award.

10. Describe the work you’ve accomplished that best compares to what needs to be done here.

The candidate’s answer here will let you see whether they are familiar with the role, responsibilities, and tasks required by the position.

11. What project would you consider your most significant career accomplishment to date?

Hopefully, the project they describe is somewhat similar to the projects your company works on or that the role they played in the project will at least be related to the position you need to fill. The candidate's answer should also reveal the scope of the projects that they’ve worked on and how much responsibility they had.

12. What career accomplishment makes you most proud?

Career accomplishments can give you a better idea of what a candidate’s strengths are, whether that achievement was the successful completion of a project, a certification, or an award. This question also gives the candidate a chance to brag a little bit, which can help someone who appears a bit nervous at the beginning of the interview.

13. What one skill makes you the most qualified for this position?

This question lets you find out whether the candidate’s understanding of the position matches the company’s. It also gives you a chance to learn about what they believe their core competencies are. If they name a skill that’s not relevant to the position, it’s an issue.

14. Tell me your biggest success story related to (their skill).

Follow up the previous questions by finding out how they applied their skill (the one they believe makes them qualified for the position) successfully in the past. If they are unable to provide an example, then it’s difficult to accept that this skill can be considered one of their strongest competencies.

15. What skills and strengths can you bring to this position?

This is an excellent question to ask to find out what the candidate thinks the position requires in terms of both skills and competencies, as well as how they believe that they can contribute. A vague answer here probably means that they just matched their skills to the requirements of the job without even thinking about what the position entails.

Questions On What The Applicant Is Seeking

You know what you’re looking for, but what is the candidate looking for? Determining whether a candidate will be a good long-term fit for your organization depends on whether you can offer what the candidate is seeking. For example, maybe the candidate is looking to advance their career as quickly as possible. If you know that there won’t be the opportunity for advancement within your organization for some time, then there’s a chance that the candidate will just use your company as a stepping stone. They will be more inclined to leave your company if the opportunity for an advanced position becomes available. Ask some of the following questions to know whether your company can provide what the applicant is looking for:

16. What made you want to apply for this position?

Learn whether the candidate is qualified for the position by finding out if they read the job description. If the candidate did, they should be able to tell you why they think that they are a good fit for the role. For instance, they may see themselves as a good fit due to the specific skills or experiences that they have.

17. What excites you most about this position?

Skills can be learned and experience can be gained; however, enthusiasm is something that a candidate either has or doesn’t have. This question allows them to demonstrate how enthusiastic they are about the work, which can give you an idea of whether they will do a good job and if they will be a good long-term fit.

18. What is your ideal position and why?

This question allows the candidate to not only share what they believe their best technical and soft skills are but also how they think those skills can be best applied. You can use this information to determine if the candidate’s abilities are closely aligned with the responsibilities of the job position.

19. What interests you most about this position? 

This question can help you determine if the candidate has a good understanding of what the job position requires and whether they will be a good fit for it.

20. Why are you leaving your current employer?

The way a candidate talks about their previous employer can tell you a lot about them. If they had a poor experience and that’s all they talk about, it shows a lack of professionalism. If they had a poor experience, then hopefully they try to be more optimistic about it. For example, they might state that the experience wasn’t what they hoped for but that they learned from it and are looking forward to what the future holds.

21. Why are you leaving your current job? 

Not all candidates leave their current jobs because of a poor experience with their employer. If they had a good experience, you’ll want to know why they are leaving. For instance, perhaps there just wasn’t enough focus on professional development or the possibility for career progression. If they will run into those same issues at your company, you may not be the best fit for them.

22. If hired, what is the first thing you would tackle in this position?

A well-thought-out answer to this question indicates that the candidate understands the role you’re looking to fill and demonstrates what their priorities will be if they get the job. An unsatisfactory answer shows that they haven’t put a whole lot of thought into how they would perform the job. 

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

This question is just a good way to find out about their career trajectory and to understand what interests and motivates them. It’s another way to determine whether they’ll be a good fit.

24. What's the biggest decision you've had to make in the past year? Why was it so big?

Ask this question to identify how much responsibility they’re used to handling and what kind of challenges they are capable of overcoming. Mostly, it’s a way to find out about their experience and their decision-making abilities.

25. What have you done professionally that is not an experience you'd want to repeat?

The important part of the answer to this question is why they don’t want to repeat the experience. Was it because it was difficult? Was it because they didn’t enjoy what they were doing? Pay attention to whether they have learned anything of value from their experience. Have they applied that experience to further their self-improvement?

Questions On Effectiveness and Workplace Interaction

The last thing you want to do is hire someone who won't get along with their coworkers or manager. Someone capable of collaboration, especially if their job depends on it, is the best hire. Someone who is the constant source of conflict will only hurt office morale. Although trying to determine how they will fit in with existing employees can be a challenge, these questions can give you some idea:

26. Describe your favorite supervisor and your least-favorite supervisor — and why. 

By finding out who they liked to work for and who they didn’t like to work for, you get an idea of what kind of supervisor the candidate prefers. You can use this information to determine if they’ll get along with the supervisors at your company. 

27. How would your coworkers describe you? 

If the candidate is unsure, then it probably means that they’ve never had much of a relationship with their coworkers. If they do provide an answer, it gives you more of an idea of how they view themselves. Their answer will help you determine how well they will fit with your work culture.

28. How would your boss describe you? 

The answer probably shouldn’t be the same as for the previous question. How the candidate replies will reflect the type of relationship they try to have with their boss. Knowing who their boss will be should show whether the candidate will be a good match.

29. Tell me about a time you had a difficult working relationship with a colleague. What was the challenge? How did you address the situation, and what did you learn from the experience?

In a perfect world, every employee can get along. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. There’s a chance that the candidate will end up working with someone that they don’t get along with or have trouble working with. If they’ve never had a problem with their coworkers before, that’s fine. However, if they have and they were able to address the situation successfully, it speaks to their ability to adapt to their situation, even when it’s not the best situation to be in.

30. Can you tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with a boss or colleague and how you handled the situation? 

There will be times when an employee disagrees with a coworker or a manager. They must be able to handle the situation in a mature way. A candidate that showcases how they handle disagreements in a positive way is more likely to find a way to fit in with your existing team even if they’re not always on the same page.

31. Do you work best alone or on a team? 

Depending on the position, someone who is capable of working independently or someone who can collaborate with others may be needed. This question helps you identify whether the candidate will meet this position’s particular need.

32. What is a development area, a deficit, or a gap that you’ve had to overcome or improve in your career? How was that identified, and what did you do to improve?

The answer to this question should showcase their self-awareness as well as their desire to improve their abilities. It can reveal their ambition to be as good at their job as possible and to advance their careers within their field. 

33. Can you describe how you handle tight deadlines? 

Working under the pressure of a tight deadline may be part of the job. Find out if the candidate has experience doing so and how they manage it. If they can explain their process, it generally means that they have had enough experience to know how to handle tight deadlines successfully and will be able to keep up with the pace of your work environment.

34. In your most recent role, was there a time when you had to overcome a significant challenge?

The odds are that the candidate’s recent role is somewhat similar to the one that they are applying to. Learning what kind of significant challenges that they were up against in that role can tell you how they will fare dealing with problems executing the role they’re applying for.

35. Tell me about the relationships you've had with the people you've worked with.

Some candidates may not work much with their coworkers. Some may develop strong working relationships. Some may form friendships with their coworkers. Finding out what kinds of relationships they tend to have with the people they work with will give you some idea as to whether they will fit in with your work culture.

36. If I were to poll everyone you've worked with, what percentage would not be a fan of yours?

If they’ve enjoyed positive relationships with everyone they worked with, that’s great. However, if they give you an actual percentage, that could speak to their honesty. Dig a little deeper to see whether they blame those coworkers for the issues they may have had or whether they have bettered themselves after reflecting on past experiences.

Questions To Determine A Good Leader

If you’re hiring for a management position, determine if the candidate has the appropriate leadership qualities essential for the job. However, even if it’s not a management position, you may still want to look for such leadership qualities in a candidate. It means that they may have the potential to progress to a leadership position within your company in the future. These questions can help you ascertain whether they have leadership skills or, at the very least, leadership potential:

37. Have you ever been a member of a successful team? If so, describe the role that you played on the team and in its success.

This question allows you to find out whether the candidate is more of a follower or a leader. If their answer involves a team in which they had no leadership role, then it means that they may be more comfortable as a follower. If they did have a role as a leader, it means that they are comfortable taking on that position and were proud of the resulting success.

38. Give me an example of a time when you played a leadership role in an event, an activity, a department or work unit, or a project. Describe how you led the efforts.

It helps to hire someone with leadership experience, especially if the position requires it. Not only do you want to find out if the candidate has had experience in a leadership role, but you’ll want to find out what their leadership capabilities are. By asking them how they performed their role, you’ll get a good idea of whether they are good leadership material or if they have the potential to be a good leader.

39. What could your current company do to be more successful?

This question allows you to see whether the candidate paid attention to the big picture of their former (or current) company or whether they only concerned themselves with their position. Their answer can also provide insight into why they left or are leaving their job.

40. What one skill would you like to improve and what’s your plan for doing so?

A candidate with exceptional leadership skills or potential is always looking for ways that they can improve themselves. Their answer should showcase their level of self-awareness, as well as their desire for self-improvement. Both of these qualities are essential attributes for a leader.

41. What’s the most interesting project you’ve worked on in a past position?

Their answer will reveal what kind of work interests them most. Hopefully, the project the candidate speaks about and the role that they had is relevant to the position. 

Questions They Should Have Prepared For

There are several questions that everyone who is applying for a job should be ready for. These questions help provide you with a little more information about how the candidate views themselves. They are also open-ended questions, which means that you’re giving them the chance to talk about whatever they want. It also gives them a chance to answer in a way that makes them stand out from other candidates. Such questions include:

42. Tell me something about yourself that isn’t on your resume.

This question is a broad question that gives the candidate a chance to share other job-related information. They may also share information not related to their job. For example, maybe they do a lot of volunteer work in their free time. The answer they give you can provide you with a lot of information on the type of person they are and the type of employee that they will be.

43. Why do you want to work here?

You’ll want to make sure that the position you’re trying to fill isn’t just a means to a paycheck for whoever you hire. The candidate's answer should give you information on whether they will fit in with your company culture and whether they will be a good long-term solution.

44. What are your greatest weaknesses?

A candidate who either doesn’t know what their greatest weakness is or tells you that they don’t have any might lack self-awareness. The ability to identify your weaknesses so that you can work towards overcoming that weakness is an important quality to have. Of course, you’ll also want to make sure that their stated weakness doesn’t conflict with your job requirements.

45. What are your greatest strengths?

Their answer allows them to showcase both self-awareness and humility. Hopefully, the candidate's perceived strengths will also align with the requirements of the position they’re applying to.

46. What do you like to do outside of work?

A happy employee is a productive employee, and the happiest employees tend to be those that have an excellent work-life balance. This question will highlight whether they maintain a healthy work-life balance as well as give you some insight into their personality. It’s also a softball question that can help a candidate relax a little bit.

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

This basic question is useful in that it can help reveal a little more about a candidate’s personality. They may provide you information that you wouldn’t have been able to glean in a standard interview, and that could even relate to their position in one way or another. For example, maybe they love playing board games. This answer could tell you that they are competitive, which could translate to the ability to work under pressure.

48. Where do you see yourself in five years?

The answer to this question should provide you with some information as to how ambitious they are (someone who hasn’t given much thought to their future probably isn’t that ambitious) and whether they will be a good long-term fit for your company.

49. Do you have any questions for me?

A good interviewer will always close by asking the candidate if they have any questions. A candidate that has done their research should have at least a few questions about the position or the company. It’s hard to accept that a candidate with no questions has a genuine interest in the job or has spent any time preparing.

Questions They May Not Be Expecting

Although you do want to see how prepared a job candidate is for your interview, you’ll also want to throw out a few curveballs. Asking a couple of questions that they may not expect will force them to think on their feet. Such a quality is essential in an employee, especially if their responsibilities will ultimately require them to successfully handle pressure, such as having to overcome unforeseen challenges while facing a deadline. The following are a few examples of questions that will throw them for a loop so that you can see how they react:

50. Tell me about a time you screwed up.

This question forces the candidate to reflect on something they did wrong, which can be difficult to talk about. However, their answer can give you valuable insight into who they are. For example, if they provide an example but then follow that up with an excuse for why they screwed up (or lay partial blame on someone else), it could indicate that they are incapable of owning up to their mistakes. You want to hire someone who can take responsibility for the mistakes they make.

51. Who is the smartest person you know personally? Why?

This question is excellent because it will always result in an answer unique to the candidate. It makes them think on their feet and gives you a good idea of what their perception of an intelligent person is and what kind of person they aspire to be.

52. Can you tell me about your current job?

Their answer should provide you with more information about their most recent role than what they likely provided on their resume so you can qualify the candidate more effectively.

53. What is something you'd be happy doing every single day for the rest of your career?

Hopefully, their answer is related to the job they’re applying for in some way. Ideally, you’ll want to hire someone who will be happy doing their job.

54. In five minutes, could you explain something to me that is complicated but you know well?

This question will help gauge the candidate's intelligence, their ability to communicate, and exactly how knowledgeable they are about the competencies or skills that the job requires. The way they answer can also provide you with an idea of how passionate they are about the subject.

55. What has surprised you about this interview process so far?

Most candidates won’t expect you to ask about their thoughts and feelings concerning the interview, but it will show how honestly they express themselves and how open and confident they are.

Testing Their Knowledge Of Your Organization

Finally, you’ll want to make sure that the candidate is serious about the position and that they are seeking a long-term position with your company. You can do this by asking them questions that test their knowledge of your organization. Candidates who aren’t able to answer satisfactorily probably didn’t do enough research into your company. Not only does this show a lack of preparation, but it shows that they must not care that much. It means that this is just another job to them and nothing more.

56. What challenges do you see impacting the industry?

If the candidate has experience within your industry, then hopefully they can demonstrate some interest and awareness of it. This question will reveal just how much they are paying attention. If they’re coming over from a different industry, they should have done some research to be able to provide some kind of an answer. Either way, the ability to answer shows that they care about the industry and see a potential long-term fit working within it.

57. What do you know about our company? 

A candidate who knows nothing about your company didn’t bother to do any research. If they didn’t care enough to do just a little bit of research about your company, then they probably don’t care enough about the job itself.

58. What made you want to work here?

You don’t want to get stuck with an employee who just applied to every job available and doesn’t care where they end up working as long as they are paid well. Someone who cares about where they work will more likely work hard and will want to succeed.

59. Pitch our company to me as if I were buying our product/service.

This question will help you determine if they bothered to do any research about your company. It can also give you a good idea of how passionate they are about your company and its products or services. Hire someone who believes in your company.

60. How do you believe that your current skills will contribute to the accomplishment of our company’s goals and mission?

The candidate’s answer should reveal that they have some knowledge about what your company’s goals and mission are as well as what they believe they can bring to the table in terms of not just the requirements of the job, but also skills like time management or leadership. Essentially, this is another way to find out how well the candidate will fit within your company culture over the long term.

Ask The Right Questions to Reveal His or Her True Value

The interview is the one chance you have to determine the true value of a job candidate. It’s critical that you ask the right questions. These are examples of questions that can help you obtain detailed information that can give you an idea of a candidate’s personality, work ethic, work style, goals, potential fit with your company, compatibility with your work culture, and more. Whether you use these questions or not, make sure that the questions you do ultimately ask are open-ended so that the candidate can provide you with as much information as possible in a way that is unique to them.

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This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  No attorney-client relationship is created between the author and reader of this blog post, and its content should not be relied upon as legal advice.  Readers are urged to consult legal counsel when seeking legal advice.

Topics: Hiring the Best People