Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

11 Interview Questions That Will Reveal Your Candidate’s True Personality

By Anthony Hughes | Jul 6, 2015 | Assessing Applicants

If you think about it; interviews are a complete charade.

Everyone’s on their best behaviour (hopefully) and no one is being natural or genuine!

At the end of the day, it’s really not surprising that one in three hires turns out to be a mistake (and a mistake that costs companies on average £8,200 to fix).

The interview is the only time you’ll get a chance to assess a candidate’s true personality and cultural fit (rather than their interview persona) so you’d better be prepared with the right questions.

Recruiter Pro Tip.

Personality questions can help you to work out the following things…

  • How well the candidate will fit in with the team and culture.
  • Whether or not you’ll be able to manage them.
  • What each candidate’s motivators are.

As we always say – there are no right or wrong answers – but there are some worrying warning signs to look out for!

Heads up – don’t ask all 11 questions from the list below (that would take up the entire interview!)  – instead we’d recommend swiping 3 or 4 and including them at appropriate intervals.


Q1: How would your best friend describe you?

Translation: what are you really like; am I seeing the real you?

Warning Signs:

  • Candidates whose answers are a little too rehearsed.
  • Candidates who are clearly fibbing; would a friend really call them ‘proactive’?
  • Candidates who can’t answer or who answer with traits that clash with your culture.

This question will give your candidate a chance to express something a little more natural about themselves like for example, the fact that they’re a great listener or a calming presence within their group.

Hopefully the answer they give will match the impression you already have of them.

Q2: What do you least like about your job and why?

Translation: How negative are you and what tasks might we find it difficult to get you to do?

Warning Signs:

  • Candidates who are overly negative about their current job role.
  • Candidates who dislike tasks, just because they find them difficult.
  • Candidates who dislike some of the key tasks that you’d want them to do at your workplace.

This question will help you to suss out whether there are any clashes between the candidate’s personality and the job role they’re applying for.

Make sure you ask for the reasoning behind each answer so you can thoroughly assess what they don’t like about the task.

Q3: How do you like to be managed?

Translation: Will my management style work for you or will I have to change the way I work, for you?

Warning Signs:

  • Candidates who are openly derogatory about any former bosses.
  • Candidates who are a little too enthusiastic about not having to report to managers.
  • Candidates who work best under management techniques entirely different to yours.

Section TwoThis is an absolute deal-breaker.

You really don’t want to hire someone who can’t (or won’t) be managed effectively.

Recruiter Pro Tip

Perhaps in certain circumstances you would be willing to change your management technique – for the right employee.

But remember, you’re not going to be able to do that for every new person that comes along, so try not to make it a habit.

A great employee will adapt their work approach for you.

Q4: Who is the biggest influence on your career?

Translation: do you actually want this job, or have you just fallen/been forced into this career path?

Warning Signs:

  • Candidates who’ve been swept along by luck, spontaneity and randomness are likely to be less passionate and more fickle.
  • Candidates who’ve made decisions based solely on advice (or even the command) of a loved one are more likely to feel pressured and unhappy and they certainly won’t be as committed.

We all have a variety of influencers in our lives, from celebrities and mentors to family members and friends and discovering your candidate’s will reveal an awful lot about their personal and professional life.

For example…

  • Are they part of a close-knit family unit? If you’re a family company, then this might be a particularly important factor for you.
  • Do they have meaningful friendships? If so, this would imply that they’re a sociable, friendly person.

There’s so much to be learned from who has influenced a person!

Q5: What do you do to get ‘in the zone’?

Translation: How do you work best and will you be able to work productively in our environment?

Warning Signs:

  • Candidates who claim to need peace and quiet, if your office is particularly buzzing.
  • Vice versa.
  • Candidates who don’t have an answer; dig deeper or rephrase the question if they seem confused.

Most productive members of staff will have some sort of process that prepares them for moments of deep concentration and proactivity – whether they prefer a lot of noise or complete silence.

I personally listen to music (with no lyrics) when I really need to get my creativity flowing.

Q6: What book do you think every {Role} Should Read?

Translation: are you passionate about your industry and willing to educate yourself in your spare time?

This question really is a toughie and it’s important to bear in mind that it will be more relevant for higher-level candidates in certain industries (for example, a marketing or sales manager).

So if you do decide to use it, don’t be too harsh!

(If a candidate recommends a blog, industry newspaper or article, then that’s just as impressive as a book, so don’t hold that against them either!)

Warning signs:

  • Candidates who can’t name an industry book or author.
  • Candidates who can name a book, but can’t describe it’s subject matter.
  • Candidates who recommend really weird books; it’s a professional interview, after all!

In an ideal world, your new employee will not only enjoy the training provided at your workplace, but will also take the time to learn outside of working hours too.

Passion is an important part of any job role and if a candidate can prove that they go out of their way to improve, grow and learn, then they’re truly worth their weight in gold.

Q7: If you could, what animal would you be and why?

Translation: Are you creative and can you have a laugh?

Warning Signs:

  • Candidates who can’t seem to answer the question – where’s the creativity?
  • Candidates who refuse to answer the question – it’s an interview, you make the rules!
  • Candidates whose answers are just a bit boring like ‘a cat, because they’re my favourite animal’. Again – where’s the creativity?
  • Candidates whose answers are just weird like ‘I think I’d like to be a tapeworm. Warmth, security, and a 24×7 all-you-can-eat buffet.’

It may sound a little bit random, but this question is actually a favourite among experienced interviewers.

It’s a great way to quickly assess whether a candidate is creative (or completely not).

Q8: What motivates you?

Translation: Have I got the necessary resources to motivate you/ would you fit in with our culture?

Warning Signs:

  • Candidates who can’t answer; something must motivate them surely?
  • Candidates whose motivations are at odds with your culture.
  • Candidates who are clearly motivated only by money or perks (especially if that’s something you can’t offer).

You can tell an awful lot about a person by what motivates them.

Do they want security? More money and benefits? To help other people?

Ask yourself honestly, can you (and do you even want to) offer them what they want?

You’d be surprised how many candidates won’t cite money as their motivating factor.

In fact, a study conducted by TINYhr on 200,000 anonymous employees showed that the main motivator was actually peer camaraderie!

Q9: Tell me about a time when you failed at something?

Translation: Are you willing to admit your imperfections, how do you cope with them and will you take constructive criticism?

Warning Signs:

  • Candidates who blame others for their failures.
  • Candidates who are too negative about themselves.
  • Candidates who claim they’ve never failed at anything in their life.

Nobody is perfect and a good candidate will be able to acknowledge that.

The most positive answers will be honest, describing how they faced their failure head on and used the experience to learn and grow.

Q10: What are your pet peeves?

Translation: Will you fit in with the other people in the team and do you play nice?

Warning Signs:

  • Candidates who reel off a big list of things they don’t like about other people.
  • Candidates who will quite clearly fit in terribly with the team.
  • Candidates who start bitching about people in their current (or previous) workplace.

Everyone has their own pet peeves and little irritations, but some can handle them better than others.

Watch a candidate’s body language; are they quite obviously frustrated? Do they look like they’ve lose the plot?

Be honest in your assessment of whether the candidate is genuinely going to fit in with others.

Q11: What will your referee say is your biggest weakness?

Translation: Answer honestly or I’ll find out you’ve lied!

Warning Signs:

  • Candidates who admit to weak skills that are integral to the role.
  • Candidates who panic.
  • Candidates who say they don’t know – this shows a lack of understanding of their current job performance.

This is a great question (although pretty harsh).

Even if you have absolutely no intention of calling your candidate’s referee, you can be sure that 99% of candidates will answer honestly, just in case you do.

Recruiter Pro Tip

You could start a whole range of questions with ‘when I contact your referee’ to make sure you can get an honest response.

  • When I contact your referee what will they say is your strongest attribute?
  • When I contact your referee what will they say is your main responsibility?
  • When I contact your referee how do you think they’ll describe your personality?

Of course if you do get a chance to ask their referee, it will also give you an idea about how well they can assess themselves.


Interviewing is never going to be a perfect process.

Unfortunately, you will occasionally waste your time on inappropriate candidates and you also might miss some great ones.

This blog isn’t about perfection, it’s about improving and streamlining your interview process to be as easy, efficient and effective as possible, using a combination of the basic interview questions, some behavioural questions and just a couple of curve-balls (if necessary).

If you’d like to receive more interview questions (along with candidate attraction and employee engagement advice) click here and we’ll pop over an email to you every Tuesday.

Good Luck.

- Anthony Hughes

Anthony Hughes

Anthony is a recruitment veteran of 18 years and is also one of the original founders of Coburg Banks. He now trains recruitment consultants on the best methods to utilise when sourcing and assessing applicants for their clients. 


> More blog posts by Anthony Hughes

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