10 best questions to ask an interviewee

When it comes to job interviews, preparation is key…but, that doesn’t just apply to the candidate – it’s equally important for you, as the interviewer, explains Kat Boogaard

This is an edited version of an article which appeared on The Muse website.

An interview is your chance to determine whether that applicant is a solid fit for the position, your team and your organisation in general. However, this information is really only revealed if you know the right questions to ask an interviewee.

So, what should you be sure to ask? Here are 10 good interviewing questions to put to work during your next sit-down with a potential employee.

1. What one skill makes you the most qualified for this position?

While things like culture fit are important, your focus, first and foremost, is to find someone who possesses those necessary, cut-and-dried, qualifications and skills in order to fill that open position. That’s why a question like this one is so important. Not only do you get to hear more detail about what that candidate considers to be her/his core competencies, but it’s also a chance to confirm that the applicant has the appropriate understanding of everything the role entails.

2. To date, what professional achievement are you most proud of?

Candidates show up to interviews with the goal of impressing you, so, chances are, that applicant is armed and ready with a few major accomplishments up their sleeve. Whether it’s an award, a certification or a big project that went exceptionally well, asking the interviewee what in their professional history they’re most proud of will give you a better sense of where their strengths really lie.

3. Can you tell me about a time when you overcame a challenge?

You know that most job seekers absolutely dread these behavioural interview questions – but, that doesn’t change the fact that they’re an effective way for you to gain a better understanding of how that person’s experience translates from paper to the real-world. This specific question is a popular one – and for good reason. Starting a new job isn’t a walk in the park and, even after that new employee is established, they’re bound to deal with some roadblocks every now and then – whether it’s a conflict within the team or a project they don’t quite know how to get started on. Getting an idea about how that person copes with – and, more importantly, tackles – difficult circumstances will help you zero in on the very best fit for your open role.

4. How would you describe your working style?

While you don’t want to build a completely homogenous team, you do need to make sure that new additions are able to work in a way that doesn’t throw a major wrench into the way things already operate. For this reason, it’s important that you ask each candidate about their working style. Do they take a really collaborative approach or would they rather work independently? Do they perform well with a lot of direction or are they more of a self-starter?

5. What three words would you use to describe your ideal work environment?

In a similar vein, it’s smart to ask what the candidate prefers in terms of atmosphere in order to ensure you find someone who can not only survive – but thrive – in your existing culture. Perhaps he or she likes a quieter environment with lots of heads-down work; if your office is extremely fast-paced, and high-energy, that could cause some friction, for example.

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6. If hired, what is the first thing you would tackle in this position?

This is a great question to ask in a later interview round, when you’re choosing between the final candidates you’ve narrowed down. This one is effective for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s yet another opportunity to confirm that the interviewee has the right understanding of all that the person in this position will be responsible for. Secondly, it gives you the chance to understand their priorities. A question like this one also means you can extend beyond the generalities that often come along with interviewing and get some insight into how that candidate would actually perform in this role.

7. Why are you leaving your current employer?

Here it is – yet another question that is sure to make every job-seeker cringe. Nobody wants to seem like they’re bad-mouthing a previous boss or employer, which makes this one tricky for applicants to answer.

However, posing this question will give you some greater insight into that person’s professional history – as well as helping you to identify any red flags (ahem, complaining endlessly about their boss, for example!) which might indicate that this candidate isn’t the best one for the job.

8. What one skill would you like to improve, and what’s your plan for doing so?

If you’ve previously been relying on that cliché ‘What’s your biggest weakness?’ question, give this one a try instead. Rather than asking an interviewee to point out their flaws and poke holes in their own candidacy, you can turn the tables by focusing on areas of improvement.

9. What excites you most about this position?

Skills can be taught, but there’s one thing that can’t be: enthusiasm. When an interviewee is truly excited about an opportunity this will, typically, translate into excellent work and greater longevity with your organisation. Ask your potential employee about what initially attracted them to the position and what makes them most excited about the prospect of working there. Doing so will not only, once again, confirm their grasp of the duties of the role, but will also give you a chance to find out what aspects of the job interest them most.

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

This isn’t one of the most common interview questions, but it’s important to remember that you’re hiring an entire person. You want someone who will be able to connect with you and your team – not a robot who is incapable of forging bonds, sharing interests and building relationships. If you feel uncomfortable asking a question like this one in the formal setting of the actual interview, work it into small talk before or after your sit-down.

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