Finding the right talent requires asking the right interview questions — here are some of the best questions to ask candidates.
Here's what you need to know:
- Asking open-ended questions will give you more insight into someone's experience and skills
- If you don't feel like the candidate answered your question fully, ask them to elaborate
- Questions that the candidates ask you can reveal a lot about them and their work ethic
Hiring the best possible candidate for each vacancy is critical to business success. When you’ve made the investment in recruitment, you want to assure all the steps in the process are working toward a successful hire. It begins with a great job posting that draws the widest talent pool possible. A screening process that uses people analytics helps determine where you’re getting the most recruitment bang for your advertising buck. Once these are working well, the next step is a successful interview using great interview questions.
For many SMBs, the interview process can be a shot in the dark. Candidates that interview well can be a great hire. Or they can be someone who interviews so frequently (moves around a lot?) they’ve simply perfected the art. Some job seekers are so nervous when they interview, their talents and skills don’t shine through. Good interviews put people at ease and draw them out of their shell. They uncover who’s representing themselves accurately, and who’s exaggerating their skills and abilities.
How to interview
Interview questions that get revealing answers follow basic guidelines. First, ask open-ended rather than yes/no questions. When you ask a job seeker if they’ve had experience in sales, for example, and they say yes, you’ve learned nothing. When you ask them to tell you about their experience in sales, their answers provide more insight.
Good interview questions are open-ended, not your standard yes/no questions.
Talk less and listen more. Your job is to get information out of the candidate, so they should dominate the interview. Follow the 80/20 rule: 80% of your time should be spent listening, 20% talking, and asking questions.
Gaps in the discussion can be uncomfortable, and interviewers often try to fill them. This is a common mistake: let the candidate fill the gaps. Be prepared to wait for their answer — even encourage them to take their time with a response. If you want a thoughtful answer, you may have to be patient to get it. If there’s a lull in the conversation and you wait it out, the candidate will probably fill it with revealing information.
Delve deep. The more information you can uncover at this stage, the higher the odds of a long-term, successful hire. When answers are incomplete, ask the candidate to tell you more. If a job seeker is avoiding answering a question, or shifting the conversation away from a topic, steer it back to the original question. If they continue to deflect, consider there may be a red flag in their background or experience.
Interview questions that get results
For some SMBs, a structured interview is the best practice. These are interviews with specific, pre-determined questions that are asked of every candidate — no more and no less. They can help level the playing field for job seekers, and reduce bias in hiring. Whether you’re using a structured or informal interview process, these questions should be included.
Tell me about your overall background and experience.
This question sets the tone for the interview. Like the ‘Objective’ portion of the candidate’s resume, they should easily give you a summary of what they’ve done and what skills they have.
Talk me through your work at XYZ Company: what were your responsibilities and achievements there?
Ask for more detail if the applicant touches on something relevant to your open role.
You’ll want them to give you an overview of their role at each of the companies listed on their resume/application. When they touch on something that’s relevant to your open position, ask them to provide more detail. Ask for the high points of their tenure there — what they achieved. You may hear about goals they set and met or difficult problems they solved. These can be enlightening.
If you’re hiring for a customer care role, for example, ask for more information on how they dealt with clients in each role. You’ll likely get a generalized response at the outset, but dig deeper. Ask for specific instances about when they had to manage a difficult customer or respond to an unusual request. Be ready with a question that’s relevant to your workplace to see how they’d handle the situation.
Tell me what you liked most at each job?
This interview question provides valuable insight into what motivated the candidate to come to work. A quick answer might be ‘my paycheck,’ but delve deeper. Ask what tasks were the most interesting or rewarding. Look for areas where their interests match the role you’re looking to fill. If you find a good percentage of overlap, you might be looking at a great potential hire.
Tell me what you disliked most at each job.
This interview question is also invaluable. Here you’ll find out what tasks or responsibilities were the most challenging and often the most avoided. You’re looking for areas where disdain for the tasks might inhibit their ability to perform at your company. Many recruiters are stunned to hear applicants say they hate dealing with customers — for a retail position!
Where do you want to grow professionally? And how are you getting there?
The old ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years’ question was boilerplate for most recruiters. The real question is what is your career plan, and how will you achieve it? For some roles, this interview question is critical: if you’re looking for someone ambitious and driven, they should have a plan. For other roles, it’s not as important.
Ask interviewees about their career plan and how they will achieve it.
Gauge their response according to your needs. If you’re looking for someone who’s content doing the same job for many years — particularly for a position with a lot of turnover — a candidate with no long-term plan or ambitions might be the perfect fit.
Why do you want to work here?
Depending on the role, this question might also reveal whether or not the candidate is a good fit. If you’re looking for someone who lives nearby and is looking for part-time hours to fill the day, ‘location and convenience’ are great answers. If you’re looking for someone higher up on the corporate ladder, you’ll want to uncover whether they’ve done their homework about your company and see themselves aligned with you for the long haul.
Do you have any questions for me?
Most candidates know the best response to this interview question is ‘when can I start?’ Let them know how long the process will take, then ask if they have specific questions about the company or the role. Look for:
- Questions that reveal the candidate wants to clarify the responsibilities and duties for someone detail-minded.
- Someone who asks about advancement, training, mentoring if you want a growth-oriented candidate.
- Questions about corporate social responsibility and volunteerism if you want someone committed to work/life integration.
Bad answers to this interview question can also be revealing. First interview candidates that ask when they can take a sick day off with pay may be revealing their interest is less in the work and more in the paycheck.
Someone who asks about advancement, training, and mentoring, is someone who is looking for career growth.
Studies show the average conversion rate from interview to new hire is about 35%. That means only about a third of the candidates you meet with will result in an offer, even under the best market conditions. For the investment you make in recruitment and training (not to mention the high cost of turnover), getting the interview done correctly is key. Ask questions that require longer answers and listen carefully to the responses for cues on who will be the best hire for your company.