Best & Worst Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

Female professional handing a male a pen to sign an employment agreement

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

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 best and worst interview questions to ask candidates, 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 jumping into 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 in making your applicant feel comfortable and open to dialogue.

Good 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 if they 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 candidates’ strengths and weaknesses can be useful for a variety of 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 under performers if their weaknesses end up being essential to perform the job.

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, as well as 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 prior to making an offer).

Best case scenario: you find out that their current employer is simply falling short in a category that is a strength for your company.

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

Do you have any questions for me?

This question is arguably the most important question to ask the interviewee.This should be your final interview question to ask the candidate when you have finished with all the others. 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, not 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 is your greatest accomplishment?
  • 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?

Bad 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.

  • 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 not just frowned upon but could open you and/or your company up to some serious legal issues if you ask them. While this list is not exhaustive, these are some of the most important questions  that you need want to avoid.

Best Interview Questions to Ask Manager Candidates

What was the last project you led and what was its outcome?

Asking the manager candidate about their most recently-led project will provide great insight into the type of tasks they performed at their job. This question allows you to evaluate how relevant their past projects are to the work they would be doing at your company.

Additionally, since you are specifically asking about a project they led, you’ll get a glimpse into their leadership style. While most applicants will tell a story with a positive outcome, don’t be so quick to brush off the candidate who is transparent enough to share about a failed project. The important thing is that they learned and grew from the experience.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Most manager applicants are more than happy to describe their leadership style. It’s important to make sure that the leadership style they describe is in line with the companies. If the manager interviewees’ leadership style is to come down with an iron fist after each mistake, and that doesn’t align with the company, it’s probably time to move on to the next interview.

How have you dealt with a difficult or under performing employee?

This interview question takes a deeper dive into one’s leadership style by specifically asking how the manager candidate would deal with a difficult employee. Managers can either be the glue a team needs to stick together, or the acetone used to break it up. Regardless of how your company prefers to deal with difficult employees, it’s important that the interviewee shares the same values and strategies.

Unique Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

Have you heard of companies asking complete oddball interview questions? We thought we’d have some fun by including some unique/weird/funny interview questions to ask candidates during an interview.

  • You’ve been given an elephant. You can’t give it away or sell it. What would you do with the elephant?
  • If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be and why?
  • Are you a hunter or gatherer?
  • How much do you charge to wash every window in Seattle?
  • How would you design a spice rack for the blind?
  • How many pennies would fit into an airplane?
  • If you could compare yourself with any animal, which would it be and why?
  • Why are manhole covers round?
  • How would you solve problems if you were from Mars?
  • Would you rather fight 1 horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses?

While many of these questions seem a bit bizarre, their purpose is to test the applicant’s critical thinking skills.  And if we are being honest… it’s a bit humorous to hear some of the answers!

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 giving the applicant an opportunity 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 candidates answer without any bias.
  • Be real. The interview experience is an equal opportunity for both parties to learn more. Not just about the company, but 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 manager know how to interview well, and many choose to use the questions provided above in this article. We hope that we were able to provide you with some useful interview questions to ask candidates.

With any additional questions, feel free to 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.

Happy interviewing!

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete is a seventh-generation Floridian whose career in technical recruiting began immediately following his graduation from Florida State University. After serving in leadership roles for two Fortune 500 companies, he founded 4 Corner Resources in 2005 to pursue a dream of building a business that prioritizes people over processes. In the years since, 4CR, the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida, has won numerous awards; most recently Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete and his team recently launched zengig, with the goal of offering the most comprehensive advice, tools, and resources for every career journey. He’s the host of two podcasts; Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology.