As an interviewer, there’s something comforting about having 10 top interview questions tucked away in your recruitment locker – especially when these questions transcend the job level, title or salary range you’re recruiting. Questions like these go beyond finding out whether someone has the skill and knowledge to do the job. They aim to find out whether the candidate will be a good cultural and personal fit for you, your team and your organisation.
So, while it’s important to get prepared and jot down those technical and job-specific questions, there are 10 top interview questions every hiring person should know.
1. Why do you want the job…no really, why THIS job?
Think we’re starting with a cliché? Think again. Knowing someone’s true motivation for a job is vitally important – not only to your happiness but also to theirs. Perhaps they need the money to pay bills and put food on the table? Satisfying the basics of working to live is nothing to be ashamed of. If more people were straightforward about this fundamental need, it would save managers a great deal of time when looking for dedicated, reliable, but perhaps less ambitious colleagues.
Perhaps your prospect is motivated by purpose – wanting to contribute to something that goes beyond themselves? Perhaps they are looking for a career opportunity, professional development, or personal growth? This question helps you understand if your candidate has read the job description and knows something about how they might contribute. Don’t accept a simple, rote learned answer. Delve deep and reveal the person’s true energy and motivation. That way you can work together to make ‘work’ a source of happiness.
2. How do you prefer to work?
This is both a philosophical question and a practical one. From a practical point of view, it’s useful to know if someone has specific employment needs. For example, the need for flexible start times because of childcare arrangements. If there’s a choice in where they work, such as in the office, hybrid working, or pure remote working, what’s preferred and acceptable? The pandemic has created a whole new set of expectations when it comes to ways of working. Knowing personal preferences early is super important.
But don’t stop with just the practical stuff when asking interview questions. What about preferred learning style? For example, do they learn best by being shown a task or by being involved with others? Do they prefer to read, listen, or watch to learn? Is this new hire someone who enjoys the company of others, or do they prefer independence and solitude?
It isn’t always possible to accommodate everybody’s preferences and styles but knowing them can help you spot problems before they occur and help people feel included and listened to.
3. Based on your life experiences, what have you learned about yourself?
If you’re hiring a young person with less life experience, this might feel like a tricky question. It is, however, no less valid than asking someone who has been in work for twenty years. The answer tells you how self-aware your candidate is and how open they are to learning.
For someone starting out, you can learn about early life experiences and how these have shaped them. An older candidate might have more life experience to draw on, so what they choose to reflect on is just as interesting. It’s not a trick question and you’re not trying to catch someone out. It’s about getting to know who this person is.
4. Describe your character?
This question has the added challenge of potentially bamboozling the interviewer! It’s quite possible you’ll get yourself into a pickle if you don’t really know what you’re asking. So be clear about the meaning you intend.
We ask this question because we want to know the mental and moral qualities distinctive to the individual. You might think of it slightly differently. For example, perhaps you prefer the words ‘personal traits’ or ‘attributes’. Maybe you think about it in terms of someone’s qualities, values, or beliefs.
Why does this question make it into our 10 top interview questions? Because the success of someone in a job, team, and organisation is rarely down to just their knowledge and skills. Character determines how easily someone will fit into a team, how likeable they will be and whether their morals and values will align with yours, or those of your team and organisation.
5. Why would someone choose to work with you in a team or on a project?
This is the perfect question to understand more about a candidate’s teamwork style and leadership qualities. When someone voluntarily chooses to work with a colleague or get involved in a project, it says something about how that person collaborates and includes. This is vital for any organisation seeking to promote not only an equal, diverse, and inclusive culture, but also a creative one.
They say teamwork makes the dream work, but that’s only true if people are willing to listen, work harmoniously and share learning and knowledge. We accept it might be a tough question to ask a candidate. You’ll be glad you did if your job hunter needs to work in teams or on projects.
6. What successes have you celebrated in the past?
We think it’s important to know if you’re hiring someone who has space to see life’s positives. It doesn’t mean it has to be ‘glass half full’ all the time, but we’re interested in an individual’s perspective on job success. Do they rank reaching a financial goal as a key success? Have they celebrated their own or a colleague’s promotion? Was it a team goal that was most memorable?
All too often at work, we focus on what’s gone wrong, the goals missed, or the opportunities lost. Celebrating success energises everyone and helps to make people feel valued. A positive outlook can make all the difference – especially when unexpected change happens.
7. Why did you leave your last job/employer?
It’s a straightforward question and on the face of it, you might get a straightforward answer. Perhaps they wanted a higher salary, a promotion or a new challenge? Look beyond the initial words and dig a little deeper.
Depending on what’s discussed, you may discover something about the individual’s professionalism, integrity, and restraint. Do they dish their previous employer? Are they only focused on the future, with little to say about the past? Are their reasons positive and optimistic for something better? If it’s been a while since the individual was in a job you could reverse this question and ask the candidate what they are looking for in a new employer.
8. Thinking about the unconscious bias that exists in all of us, what personal biases do you try and stay alert to?
Ooooh it’s a tough one! Many people will feel positively uncomfortable being asked this question. It might even be worth asking it in advance, so people have time to prepare.
In all interviews, you should want your candidates to do well and make a good impression. The intent of this question is pure. Do you know yourself sufficiently to know what presses your buttons, what gets in the way of you thinking or behaving clearly? For this question to land, you must have worked hard to make your candidate feel comfortable and confident that they can freely express themselves.
9. What are your best strengths?
It’s perhaps the easiest and most pleasant question to answer in our 10 top interview questions. Obviously, as the recruiting manager, you’ll find out whether the strengths discussed align with the job at hand. But equally, you’ll get to understand what might happen if the person overplayed their strength. For example, being expressive and confident are great qualities, but not if you are dominant over quieter or more introverted types.
10. If I gave you one Bitcoin and told you with it you could freely buy for yourself any skill, knowledge, or attribute (for this job), what would you buy?
We love this puzzler of a question. So, tantalizing that it just had to be our number 10! Why ask it? Well, it’s a great question that demonstrates what an individual would like to change if it were easy to do so. The point is that you are potentially getting something developmental for free and without effort. Ask someone to tell you their greatest weaknesses, and immediately people go on the defensive. Ask them this question and they can get creative without feeling exposed.
We’re fascinated when people buy out of weakness. Equally, we’re intrigued when they buy more of an already acquired strength. Try it out on yourself in your current role. What would you buy?
There are many recruiters and managers who shy away from asking difficult interview questions. Perhaps they fear reprisal from a candidate or an accusation of bias. If you treat candidates sensitively, noting any cultural differences that might lead to bias on your own part, then you are on safe ground and these questions can paint a rich picture of the person in front of you. Be kind, be authentic and ask with genuine interest and empathy.
For more information on developing your management capability, try our journal – ‘Becoming a 1st-time manager’.