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The Best & Worst Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

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As a hiring manager or recruiter, it’s important to maintain a high level of professionalism when interviewing candidates. Knowing the best interview questions to ask candidates and which questions to avoid can make or break your hiring process.

We commend you for taking the time to read this article. It shows that you care about your company and are devoted to improving your interviewing skills. Before we begin sharing some of the questions to ask in an interview, we wanted to clarify a few things:

‘Candidate,’ ‘Interviewee,’ and ‘Applicant’ refer to the person who is interested in a new job.

‘Hiring Manager,’ ‘Interviewer,’ ‘Recruiter,’ and ‘Employer’ refer to the person hiring for the new job.

Quick Tip: It’s important to spend a minute or two building rapport before asking the interview questions. Something as simple as asking, “How’s the weather in (city name)?” or “How has your day been so far?” can go a long way toward making your applicant feel comfortable and open to dialogue.

The Best Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

Please tell me about yourself.

Some candidates may choose to share information about their personal life, work life, or both. This question can be used to gauge the values, personality, and depth of the individual you are interviewing while gaining an understanding of what they are (or aren’t) comfortable talking about. If they share absolutely no information about their personal life, it may make them uncomfortable if you talk about yours. And vice versa. Their answer can be used as a baseline to set the tone for the rest of the interview.

What interests you most about this position?

This question is a great indicator of the interviewee’s preparation and passion. Did they take the time to review the job in detail and understand the role? Are they passionate about the type of work they’d be doing, or do they just want a job?

Based on the candidate’s answer, you should gain a strong sense of whether or not they understand the position and are passionate about it. If it’s clear they don’t understand the position, but you think they’d be a good fit, now is a good time to explain it to them.

What are your strengths/weaknesses?

This interview question is extremely common and has almost grown to become expected by job seekers. Asking about your candidate’s strengths and weaknesses can be useful for various reasons.

  1. It allows you to evaluate the applicant’s self-awareness.
  2. It’s reassuring to hear strengths that align with the type of work you are hiring for.
  3. It can help weed out potential underperformers if their weaknesses are essential to perform the job.

How has your past experience prepared you for this role?

One of the most important goals of an interview is to learn whether a candidate’s prior experience qualifies them for the job. Whether they have direct experience in a similar role or indirect experience that can translate, you need to discern the duties they’ve held in the past that will set them up for success in this position. This question gives them a chance to elaborate on that experience. It will also help you gauge how well they understand the job requirements.

Why are you leaving your job?

Understanding why the candidate is leaving their current job (or has recently left) can save you from devastating surprises and poor team fits.

Worst case scenario: you find out that the interviewee was recently fired for some unforgivable act (which, of course, is a good thing to find out before making an offer).

Best case scenario: You find out that their current employer is simply failing to meet your company’s standards in a category that is a strength.

Whether the candidate is underpaid, underappreciated, overworked, laid off, or has hit a glass ceiling, it’s important to understand their situation to determine whether your job opportunity will provide what they are looking for.

What is your ideal work environment?

We often emphasize the importance of company culture, but culture fit is a tricky thing to analyze when hiring. It’s easy to place too much focus on likability or similarity when culture fit is really about whether a candidate will thrive in a given environment. This question is an effective way to assess a candidate’s alignment with your workplace. It gives them a chance to describe their preferred physical environment, work conditions, and level of interaction with colleagues, all of which are important elements of culture fit. 

Tell me about your leadership experience.

Developing and retaining talented employees is one of the best strategies to build a skilled, knowledgeable workforce. Thus, it pays to identify people who will be motivated to grow into leadership positions with the company (if they aren’t in a leadership role already). Allowing candidates to discuss their leadership experience can help you identify growth potential and learn how comfortable a candidate is with duties like delegating, project management, and giving constructive feedback.

Related: Strategic Leadership Interview Questions to Ask

What do you consider to be your biggest professional accomplishment?

This is a great question because it helps you gather many different pieces of information about a candidate. First, it gives them the chance to talk about a job-related win, which gives you an idea of the results they can achieve. Second, it tells you what kind of accomplishments a candidate views as important, which sheds light on their values. Finally, it forces the candidate to think on their feet, which helps identify adaptability and resourcefulness. 

Do you have any questions for me?

This question is arguably the most important to ask the interviewee. When you have finished with all the others, this should be your final interview question. Allowing the candidate to ask you questions after the interview is crucial to a positive applicant experience.The last thing you need is an uninformed candidate accepting a job offer without knowing what they are getting into.

Other Questions

Before we get into the bad interview questions to ask candidates, here are a few more good ones.

  • What was your greatest failure, and what did you learn from it?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Are you interviewing with any other companies?
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • Have you ever had trouble working with a peer or manager?
  • Why have you changed jobs so frequently?
  • If hired, what would be your 30-60-90-day plan?
  • What can you tell me about this industry?
  • Are you willing to relocate?

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Worst Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

Knowing what not to ask candidates in an interview can be just as important as knowing what questions you should ask. Do yourself and your company a favor by quickly refreshing yourself on some no-no questions to avoid asking during a job interview.

Off-the-wall questions

Questions like ‘If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be and why?’ might seem like a unique way to assess candidates’ creativity and quick thinking. In reality, though, these questions tell you little about the skills that are actually relevant for the job and can even alienate some candidates. 

Instead of asking wacky questions just for the sake of being wacky, keep questions focused on qualities that are tied to performance. There are ways to do this while still asking out-of-the-box questions. For example, ‘If you had an unlimited budget, what would you change about our industry?’ is a unique question that will no doubt get you some unique answers, but it’s still relevant to the job and field. 

Risky questions

Some interview questions aren’t just bad, they’re illegal. Employers in the U.S. are not allowed to discriminate in hiring based on a person’s race, religion, sex (which includes gender identity and sexual orientation), age, parental status, citizenship status, national origin, or disability. In some states, asking about a candidate’s prior salary is also illegal.

The following questions are problematic:

  • What is your salary history?
  • Are you married?
  • Are you pregnant (and/or do you have children)? Where do you live?
  • Do you have any disabilities?
  • What is your nation of origin?
  • Are you a citizen?
  • Have you been convicted of any crimes?
  • How old are you?
  • What is your race?
  • Are you religious?

It’s important to note that these questions are frowned upon and could expose you and/or your company to serious legal issues if you ask them. While this list is not exhaustive, these are some of the most important questions you must avoid.

You also want to avoid questions that hint at any of the above topics or could be viewed as a roundabout way of asking them. For example, ‘Where is your accent from?’ might be something you ask out of genuine interest, but it’s a red flag because you’re prompting the candidate to disclose their national origin.

Closing Thoughts: Tips for Interviewers

Beyond the interview questions, we wanted to leave you with a few closing tips:

  • Be conversational. Don’t blast question after question without allowing the applicant to ask questions or seek clarification.
  • Be open-minded. Don’t assume these open-ended questions have only one right/wrong answer. Seriously consider the candidate’s answer without any bias.
  • Be real. The interview experience is an equal opportunity for both parties to learn more about the company and the people they will be working with. Try to be yourself during the interview; it can be as formal or informal as you decide.

All in all, interviewing is an essential key to hiring and retaining top talent. The best recruiters and hiring managers know how to interview well, and many choose to use the questions provided above in this article. We hope that we can provide you with some useful interview questions to ask candidates.

Related: How to Be a Good Interviewer

If you have any additional questions, please contact us! 4 Corner Resources is a team of headhunters and recruiters that will assist with your hiring needs. We offer direct hire recruiting, contract staffing, and payrolling services.

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn