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Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

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Not all interview questions are created equal. While some probing inquiries can reveal a lot about a candidate’s skills, experiences, and attitudes, other questions can lead to irrelevant tangents that waste time.

Every company — and every position within that company — needs to ask different sets of questions of their candidates to ensure their fitness for the job at hand. There are, however, a number of standard questions that can be helpful for an interviewer to ask for almost any position. Here are 10 questions proven to be effective at gleaning the most important information from potential hires.

1. What are you most proud of in your professional career?

A candidate’s answer to this question helps determine culture fit by offering insights into what types of projects or accomplishments are most memorable and valuable for them. The answer can also reveal how a candidate tends to react to and learn from new experiences.

A different way of getting at the same information is by framing the question in the form of stepping up to challenges. “Tell me about a specific time when you overcame an obstacle at work," or "Tell me about a challenging experience that worked out well" can be excellent questions for gauging how an interviewee handles difficult situations or disappointments.

2. How did you get along with your last boss?

Asking about a candidate’s relationship with their previous manager can be a good way to determine if the candidate will fit in with your company culture. A discussion of past work relationships will offer valuable insight into the value and effort the interviewee puts into developing ties with coworkers.

The answer to this question can help determine whether or not the candidate tends to form close relationships with coworkers and managers wherever they work. In addition, the interviewee’s response can reveal how open the candidate is about sharing personal details about themselves.

3. Why do you want this job?

A candidate will apply to a job for many different reasons, some more beneficial for your organization than others. Ideally, an interviewee will be excited not just about the salary and benefits you offer but also about working specifically for your company — and taking on the duties of the job in question in particular.

A question about why the candidate is interested in working for your company or taking on the job can be an important way of gauging fit. A good answer will show they are passionate about the role and understand its importance in your company's success. The interviewee’s answer to this question will likely also reveal more about how well-suited they are for the role.

4. What's your salary expectation?

Salary expectations can range widely, even for jobs with identical titles. Depending on everything from the complexity of the job to the company’s current finances to the location of the company’s offices, companies may set very different salary ranges for similar-sounding positions.

Thus, it’s important to get a sense of what an interviewee expects in terms of salary during the early interview stages. Most candidates will answer this question with a range — between $100,000 and $130,000, for example — and hopefully, that range will coincide with the range your organization has in mind for the position. Asking this question will help determine if compensation expectations are aligned.

5. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Inquiring about a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses can be an easy icebreaker during the interview, simply because many interviewees expect it and have prepared answers to this question. A frank conversation about strengths and weaknesses also allows you to get to know the candidate a little better.

The best way for candidates to express their fitness for the job at hand is by tailoring their answer to the duties of the position they’re interviewing for. Ideally, the interviewee will not simply regurgitate generic answers about how hardworking and dedicated they are, but rather talk about the specific strengths and weaknesses they bring to the position you’re discussing.

To probe further and learn more about the employee, consider following up on this question by asking for concrete examples. For example, if a candidate names “flexibility” as one of their strengths, request a specific story of a time when they used their flexibility in past roles.

Often, candidates will be able to talk in detail about their strengths, but have difficulty discussing their weaknesses. In these cases, consider asking more concrete questions, such as about past projects they disliked or felt didn’t go well, or the types of tasks they have more difficulty with than others.

6. Why should we hire you?

In addition to assessing a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, interviewers must be prepared to ask about the candidate’s commitment to the position. Ideally, the candidate will be prepared to discuss how they believe their work can benefit the company. In short, you want the candidate to demonstrate their understanding of what's required to perform the job well and to explain how they expect to meet those requirements.

While listening to the response to this question, the hiring manager or recruiter should look for evidence that the interviewer not only knows the duties of the job but has the experience, skills, and motivation to think critically about the tasks and perform them well.

The interviewer should also show a desire to work for your organization. A response that shows they’ve done their homework about the company — whether it’s a knowledge of your products and services or an understanding of your competitive landscape — can reveal that the candidate is familiar both with your organization and the industry at large.

7. Describe a conflict you handled well.

An interview can’t focus solely on the positives. Unexpected difficulties and challenges arise in every job, so it’s important to assess candidates for their ability to handle uncomfortable situations.

By asking how an interviewee dealt with past conflicts, you can find out whether or not the candidate has experience in dealing with challenging situations and people. If the interviewee has, in fact, worked with different types of people, environments, and organizations, that shows that they've had some exposure to different approaches and ways of doing things.

The interviewee’s answers should also shed light on the following concerns: Can the candidate step up and take charge of conflicts without shirking responsibility or hiding from it? Can they find ways to collaborate and move forward on projects even when there are initial disagreements with coworkers about how best to handle the situation? Do they have the ability to compromise and find win-win solutions?

To get the full picture of a candidate’s ability to handle conflict, ask for specific details. The interviewee should be able to give you a clear sense of what the conflict was, how it began, and how it was ultimately handled. Asking what the candidate learned from this experience can also be a good way of gauging the interviewee’s ability to adapt and grow as an employee.

8. How would you describe your current or previous coworkers?

By asking a candidate about the people they previously worked with, you’ll be able to get insights into how the interviewee tends to interact with others in a work environment. After all, you want new hires to be able to fit in well with your team and benefit from your company culture. You want to ensure the candidate you bring on has the necessary qualities that will allow them to work well with others.

The question about past work relationships can be phrased in a number of ways. Open-ended questions such as, "Can you tell me about a time when you worked well with someone?" can be a great way to start. Then, once the candidate has started talking about that experience, you can follow up with questions like, "What did that person do that made working together easy?" and "What was one thing about them that made them enjoyable to work with?" These follow-up questions will provide additional insights into the candidate’s ability to get along with others and function in group settings.

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

Asking questions about a candidate’s life outside of work helps show that the interviewee isn’t seen solely as a potential worker but as an individual with duties and interests beyond the workplace. The interviewer should show genuine curiosity about the interviewee’s hobbies and interests.

While this question allows for a chance to have a more personal or casual conversation with the interviewee, it is important not to let the discussion push into areas that are prohibited by law. Avoid, for example, asking candidates about plans to have children or requesting that they share other legally protected information.

10. Tell me about a time when you had to be creative.

A question about creativity gives candidates the opportunity to highlight their problem-solving skills as well as their ability to adapt and think outside of the box. Ideally, the candidate will describe a time when they came up with a unique solution at the workplace.

Pay attention to the candidate’s answer to learn how they were able to identify the problem or challenge at hand, and what methods they used to approach and resolve the situation.

Asking the Right Questions to Find the Right Candidate

The above interview questions are great to ask when you're looking for a candidate to fill an open position. Listening to the answers will give you a better idea of what makes the interviewee tick and whether they'll be able to handle the responsibilities required by the role.

That said, hiring managers and recruiters should also ask questions that are tailored to the job. Thus, it’s imperative to craft additional questions that relate directly to the position at hand. Know the experience and skills required for the job to successfully match candidates with any upcoming roles in your company.

Find the right candidates for that new opening at your company by using Joblist's post-a-job feature. It’s a fast, easy-to-use job board that provides companies like yours more control in the hiring process. Try it today, and let us know your feedback!

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