10 interview questions to ask when recruiting

What questions are the best to ask a candidate in an interview? Interviews often ebb and flow, but there is a real skill to interviewing someone effectively. If you're unsure what you should or shouldn't be asking, we've outlined 10 key questions for you to ask your candidates in your next interviews.

June 20, 2023

Business is more competitive than ever before and hiring the right people into your organisation is vital if you want continued success.

Ok, that may feel a little bit like teaching grandma to suck eggs, but grandma should realise that there is a real skill to identifying top performers and separating them from the hundreds of applications that will apply for your vacancy.

Your goal in an interview, in addition to checking qualifications and work experience, is to also assess whether the candidate is a suitable fit culturally. And to achieve this, you should neither try to constantly catch the candidate out with a series of unexpected questions, nor should the questions be so formulaic that the applicant feels that the interview is too scripted.

To help you with the recruitment process, I have put together a list of 10 interview questions to ask that you can pick and choose from when interviewing for your next hire. The first five are below and part two and the remaining five are available by filling in the form at the foot of the article.

Let’s kick off with a question to break the ice:

1. See the game last night?

Ok it doesn't have to be this exact question, especially if the candidate isn't a football lover, but before you launch straight into the interrogation process, it is always a good idea to open with a conversational question to break from the formality and help put the candidate at ease.

Applicants will obviously have a sense of trepidation, but by demonstrating a more human side to the interviewer, this should help the candidate not only to relax but also garner more honest answers.

2. Tell me why you want to (or have left) company X, Y & Z.

Although this may feel like one of those obvious stock questions, it should give you an opportunity to decipher what the candidate’s long term career plans are. It is a question that will usually draw out an emotional response and you need to look out for overly negative answers to what is a fairly straight forward question.

There should be alarm bells ringing if the candidate is overly critical of former managers, is alluding to burnout or mentions any company cultural mismatch.

If the candidate has done their fair share of job hopping, now is time to drill down into their career history to understand if there is likely to be a semblance of loyalty if they joined you.

3. What did you think of [recent news item about your company or industry]?

Too many interviews kick off with the stock question asking, ‘tell me what you know about the company’.

Although you would expect any candidate worth their salt to then reel off a bit of blurb about your business, does this really demonstrate how interested they are in the job?

If you want a candidate to really prove that they don’t just want any old job but really want to join your organisation, then this question should separate the wheat from the chaff.

All it requires from the candidate is a bit of leg work in trawling through your website and doing a thorough Google news search on your brand and your competitors. If they didn’t do this, then they have proved that they don't really want to join your business and were hoping to just wing it through the interview.

4. Tell me about a time when you initiated a project that resulted in increased productivity?

You are not really asking someone if they have done something, but really to explain how they done it.

If you don’t feel that the vacancy you are advertising requires this type of question, you could make it more generic and by asking the classic, ‘Tell me about a challenge you faced with a co-worker’. What you would hope from the candidate here is a detailed explanation of how the candidate took control of a conflict or a disagreement with a colleague.

What should hopefully come out of the explanation should be how the situation was resolved for the good of the business and how the resolution resulted in a better relationships moving forward.

5. What's the toughest feedback you have ever received and how did you learn from it?

You will probably find that a lot of candidates are not expecting this particularly teaser. The similar, ‘what’s your biggest weakness' question’, often feels too scripted and too predictable.

This alternative question should hopefully give you a better insight into a candidate’s flaws and give them the opportunity to demonstrate what they've learned throughout their career.

6. What makes you stand out from others?

In my experience, self-promotion doesn’t tend to come easy to candidates. However, good candidates will park this dis-comfort and will be able to promote their strengths.

The ideal response from an applicant is somebody who is able to find that that middle ground between a lack of gumption and excessive self-promotion.

The interview process is put in place to determine which candidate is the best fit for the vacancy. A good candidate should be able to do well in the process by talking themselves up.

7. When have you been most satisfied in your career?

This question is asked to help you understand what motivates the interviewee and whether they would be happy working with the company.

Hopefully if the candidate is switched on, they will understand that there needs to be a direct correlation between their answer and the type of role that they have applied for.

8. If I spoke to three people who have worked with you, how would they describe you?

In my experience of running interviews, the stock response to this is usually one of being overly negative, almost in case you might actually pick three people to ring!

A good candidate will realise that this is a fabulous opportunity to really sell themselves and will give solid examples of how somebody has commended them for leadership or team work in the past.

What you don’t want to hear are examples of personality traits such as people saying that they have a good sense of humour or that they are cracking company on a night out. Although it is important to recruit somebody of a friendly disposition, you would hope that a candidate’s personality comes through in the interview rather than for me to have to hammer it home in sound bites.

9. If you started in the job tomorrow, what would be the first things you would do and in what priority?

This question should help you get under the skin of the candidate to determine whether they have some understanding of the company’s mission, vision and values.

The answer the applicant gives will also provide insight into whether you would need to micromanage the candidate or whether you would be able to leave them to work on their own initiative.

Again, there answer will also demonstrate just how much they want to work for your business, rather than just any business and how much they have read through and digested the job description.

10. If you were me, what's the last question you would ask?

This is a fantastic way to end the interview and a curve ball that the candidate shouldn’t see coming.

If the applicant is smart then they should realise that this question will put them in the driver’s seat at the end of the interview and is a fantastic opportunity to boast about out some of their other strengths.

You will also get some interesting insight into whether the candidate is able to think on their feet or if they will simply utter a something that they feel you would like to hear.

Coburg Banks - Multi-Sector Recruitment Agency
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