The 3 Interview Questions I Always Ask Candidates (and Why)

The 3 Interview Questions I Always Ask Candidates (and Why)

The 3 Interview Questions I Always Ask Candidates (and Why)Every recruiter has their own unique interview style.

And if you’re anything like me, you probably spend a lot of your time researching ways to improve that style and trialing different kinds of questions, formats and even psychometrics.

Well, after years of testing, there are actually three questions that I consider essential to every single kind of interview, for every type of role.

So I thought I’d share those with you today.

What do we all look for in a candidate?

Let’s be honest, there are really only four things we need to know about a candidate:

  1. Skills: whether they can actually do the job.
  2. Resilience: whether they will work hard and whether they can handle the pressure.
  3. Cultural fit: whether they’ll fit in at your company.
  4. Commitment: whether they really want and are committed to doing the job.

Now, I can’t really help you with number one. Every interview will differ based on the skills and experience necessary for that role.

But I can help you with the other three.

Interview Question 1: Resilience

“Describe a time when you got really stressed at work.”

You have to accept a certain level of pressure in most jobs these days. (In recruitment and sales this pressure is a given). So it’s important to know you can count on an employee to handle themselves, when the going gets tough.

And this interview question could also give you a little insight into their work ethic. If they’ve never been stressed or put under pressure, there must be a reason for that, surely?

Do they avoid extra responsibility? Or do they just not care? Or are they just calm and cool and oblivious to pressure. These are all things you should consider as they answer.

If you’d like to find out more about resilience and why it’s important for your business, please do check out this blog post: 5 Interview Questions to Assess Resilience

What do I look for?

While listening to the candidate’s answer, I’m looking out for three main things:

1. What kinds of things stress them out? You don’t want someone who’s constantly on edge. Firstly, they’ll be at risk of burnout and secondly this stress will rub off on others!

2. Can they cope/ do they actually thrive under pressure? Some people really do excel when the going gets tough. Others crumble.

3. How do they cope? Being able to understand when you are getting stressed and use a coping strategy to get through it is very important. This could be something as simple as listening to music or having a chat with a colleague. If it works, it works.

I use my gut instincts a lot with this question, what aren’t they telling me? How do they react to the question? Does their answer make sense with my previous impression of them?

Warning signs:

Most candidates are unlikely to give a bad answer like “I smashed up my computer” but they may say they’ve never been stressed or that they can’t think of any examples.

I’m very wary with these candidates because it could mean that:

  • They’ve never had to cope with stress before. This is worrying because you just don’t know how they’d cope in their new workplace.
  • They don’t deal with stress very well. If they’re not willing to give any good examples, does this mean they don’t have any good examples?
  • They don’t realise when they are stressed. Perhaps they’re in a constant state of stress so they don’t notice anymore? Or perhaps they simply can’t read and manage their own emotions.

Of course, they may just be struggling under the pressure of the interview… which tells you something about how they handle stress anyway!

Recruiter Pro Tip

I’m a fan of competency questions like this one because they add structure to the interview and provide everything you need, including examples, to make a proper judgement.

They give candidates a way to prepare and structure answers to offer the most insight and also help to discourage lies – they’ll be afraid of getting caught out.

If you’d like to read more about competency questions in particular, check out our blog: 10 Competency Questions to Assess Your Candidate’s Key Skills

Interview Question 2: Cultural Fit

“Tell me something I don’t already know about you.”

Hiring for cultural fit’ is a massive buzz phrase these days.

Why? Probably because companies have become obsessed with the idea of building a great, productive and unique working “culture” that boosts staff happiness and (ultimately) profits.

Now, obviously, the interview is essentially a test of cultural fit. Meeting someone face-to-face is the only real way of judging their personality.

But I always like to find out a little more about what makes my candidates tick – and not just what they’ve written on their CV – so I ask them ‘tell me something I don’t already know about you’ to get them to open up.

What do I look for?

I look for candidates who feel comfortable revealing something a little more personal about themselves (their CV should already tell me everything I need to know professionally). This shows that they are comfortable in themselves and are happy to open up to others.

They may talk about family, their favourite hobby or they may come out with some weird and wonderful fact about themselves – I personally think the quirkier the better (to a point).

While they answer, ask yourself…

  • Do they have similar interests to other team members?
  • Are their values reflective of the company’s (for example, altruistic, caring or creative)?
  • Do they have any passions outside of work?

Warning signs:

Try not to write anyone off too quickly. It’s better to be odd than boring, surely?

Instead, look out for these warning signs:

  • People who try a bit hard to be ultra-“quirky” may irritate other team members.
  • People who don’t have anything to say could lack creativity and personality.
  • People who have a million and one other commitments, may not be fully committed to work.

Again, this is all a matter of using your initiative and trusting your gut instincts. You don’t want to hire all the same kind of people so you lack diversity, but you do want people who can get on with others.

If you have doubts, think very carefully before hiring someone. You can teach skills, but you can’t teach personality.

Interview Question 3: Commitment to the role

“What will you do if you get a counter-offer from your boss?”

One of the most annoying things we have to deal with is candidates who drop out at the last minute, (usually due to receiving a counter-offer).

And this usually happens for one of three reasons:

  • They simply aren’t motivated to leave their current job. It’s easier to stick where they are.
  • They are driven by money. Some will just take whichever offer is the highest.
  • They’re a little bit desperate. They’ve applied for loads of different roles and drop out when they get offered something better.

So, to cut the heartache later on in the process, I actually always ask something like “what will your boss say when you hand your notice in?” right at the beginning, during an initial telephone interview.

What do I look for?

The best case scenario is a candidate who’s so good that their current employer will give them a counter-offer but so committed to your role that they would never take it.

That might be because…

  • They no longer want to work in that industry.
  • They’re looking for progression that doesn’t currently exist in that company.
  • They’re excited about joining a start-up (etc.)

Because this question takes people by surprise, sometimes you’ll just get an “I don’t know” or an honest answer like “it depends how much money they offer.”

This will give you some insight into where the candidate’s head is at and perhaps what their key motivators are.

Warning signs:

Obviously, you will want to be wary if a candidate admits that they would take a counter-offer. They are clearly not that motivated to move and you could get burned because of this.

But of course, even if a candidate says they won’t accept a counter-offer, they might.

So watch out for:

  • Candidates who (really) LOVE their current company. (Would they really say no?)
  • Candidates who can’t give you a straight answer. (Are they on the fence?)
  • Candidates who are desperate to leave their current company. (Why are they in such a rush?)

Keep an eye on body language throughout this conversation (if you’re face-to-face). Do they look like they’re feeling uncomfortable/ lying?

If you want more information on this, read this blog:13 Warning Signs That a Job Candidate is Wasting Your Time.


After 15 years in recruitment, lots of training (including for my CIPD qualification) and an awful lot of testing, I still think these are the three best questions you can ask during an interview.

  • “Describe a time when you got really stressed at work.”
  • “Tell me something I don’t already know about you.”
  • “What will you do if you get a counter-offer from your boss?”

What do you think? What is your favourite interview question?

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Hope you liked the post. Good luck interviewing.

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