For seasoned HR professionals, conducting job interviews is usually second-nature. But for those of us that run businesses or specialize in other roles, it’s not always so obvious. If you’re about to step into an interview, we’ve prepared a quick guide to the best interview questions that can be adapted for almost all roles.
In my own journey, the first interviews I conducted were terrible! Through trial and error in interviewing hundreds of people, I’ve improved and developed a style that works for me and is usually effective in choosing the best candidate for the particular role I need to fill. However, as recruiting is not something I do every day, I still rely on using a Job Interview Guide with my favorite questions outlined. Without something like this, the interviews can easily become awkward or just a rambling conversation that doesn’t really help you make a decision about the candidate.
Download Now: Free Interview Guide
To make running an interview easier for non-HR professionals, we’ve prepared a quick guide to follow.
Interview Guide & Evaluation
Here’s a quick guide for keeping your interviews on track. Download this and customize to suit your organization.
Ideally, a Job Interview Guide should be specific to each role you’re recruiting for. But there is a common framework and approach you can follow and this generic Job Interview Guide does a good job of covering you for most recruiting situations. Before we get to the specific questions and process to follow, the first thing is to be clear about what you are looking for the role.
Using Applicant Scorecards
When creating a position, hopefully the process of writing the job advertisement will get you fairly clear about what you’re looking for in the successful candidate. But you need to take it a step further than that too. You actually need to define the exact attributes you are looking for and narrow these down to the 4-6 most important ones. In HR Partner, our recruiting function helps you create an Applicant Scorecard by defining the attributes you’re looking for in a candidate. Then all of the panel members can easily rate and comment on how the applicant scores against these attributes. It’s a great way to keep everyone more objective during the interview process and focussed on the qualities you’re seeking. We’ve written previously about how Applicant Scorecards help identify talent here.
When you first come to choose the attributes that are most important, you might end up with a long list. That’s ok, but they do need to be narrowed down.
If it’s a role you’ve had people in previously, it can help to think about what were the attributes of your most successful team members (or conversely, what were the problems with the least successful). Your attributes can be fairly generic (as per the example above), or much more specific and related to the particular role.
The Interview Process
The process of running an interview should not be treated too lightly. Remember, that if you want the best candidates will have plenty of other options so while you’re assessing them, part of your task is to impress them and increase their desire for the job. Following this interview process will help you keep the balance right in the interview and ensure the candidate has all the information they need.
In general, the process you should follow for all interviews is this;
1) Provide all the Information Needed for the Interview
Most likely you’ve sent the candidate an invitation for the interview with the time and location, but stop to really make sure this has all the information they’ll need. If it’s an in-person interview, include details of the exact location, where to park / nearby public transport, and what to do when they get to the office (eg present at reception and I’ll meet you there).
If it’s an online interview, you should send the relevant link for the video meeting, but also include instructions for how to use that tool as not all candidates will be familiar with the same software. You should also give information about whether it will be a video meeting (and instructions for having a camera turned on) or audio-only meeting, and importantly, what to do if they have any problems connecting.
You should also let the candidate know who they’ll be interviewing with, the likely duration of the interview, and in some cases, a brief outline of the interview format or content.
If the interview is arranged a week or more in advance, it’s a good idea to send out a reminder message to your candidate to give them all of this information again. Missed interviews are a frustrating waste of time for all parties!
2) Welcome the Candidate!
When your interviewee arrives, take a few moments to welcome them and really thank them for coming. Think of your candidate as a customer – we want to make this an excellent experience for them!
If you are meeting in-person, walk the candidate through the office and make an effort to show them around or point out anything of note that you’d like them to see (awards, areas where the team sits, common areas like the kitchen or meeting rooms, etc).
If you are meeting online, start with a some small-talk to warm up the candidate and get them comfortable. It could be something related to; the weather, their timezone, something topical in their area, or even something about your day and inviting the candidate to share something about their day so far.
3) Direct the Conversation to a Role Overview
Take a few minutes to introduce yourself and explain your role in the company. Perhaps also give a brief overview of the company and it’s background. Then go over the position they are interviewing for and the details of the role. This might include specific information about why you are currently recruiting for the role, the hours, the pay level, or other details about the conditions and requirements.
4) Ask the Interview Questions
Ask the questions that area relevant to the position – especially focused on questions that will help you score the applicant based on your Applicant Scorecard. The section below gives you some examples of some of the best interview questions to ask.
5) Invite the Interviewee to Ask Questions
Ensure you leave adequate time for the candidate to ask questions about the role and the company. Say something like; “Do you have any questions for me/us about the role or the company?”
The best candidates will normally have some insightful questions and this can shed some important new insights into the candidate’s thinking.
6) Thank You and Next Steps
Once you have asked the candidate all the interview questions and answered their own questions, thank them for coming in/meeting with you and for their time.
Let them know where you’re up to in the recruiting process. Give them a reasonable timeframe in which they can expect to hear back from you about the next steps.
The Best Interview Questions to Ask
Of course, claiming certain interview questions are “the best” is really a subjective matter, but these are the questions that the teams I’ve worked with have come to fall back on as a basis for almost all interviews. Feel free to modify them to suit your purposes!
Background & Motivation
- Tell me about your career so far and what lead you to where you are now…
Get the candidate to do a brief walk-through of their resume to get a starting point for your discussions.
- Why did you (or are you planning to) leave?
Sometimes this question can lead to insights relating to the candidate’s motivation, or sometimes to problem areas (eg disagreements). You may want to ask this for previous roles as well.
- What has been your favorite role / project you’ve worked on so far? When were you the most motivated and excited to get to work?
This is a nice positive question and can also give some insights into what drives the candidate.
- What do you know about [your company]?
Asking this question can reveal whether the candidate has done any research about the company. It tells you something about their initiative and motivation level. We are looking for candidates that are excited about our company and will add to our culture.
- Also: Take note of the candidate’s presentation.
Did they arrive on time? Dress appropriately? Communicate clearly? Make good eye contact?
Even if the role is not customer-facing, a minimum level of respect and communication skills are required for almost all roles.
- What appeals to you about this position?
Again, this also sheds light on the candidate’s motivation. You are looking for more than “the pay” or “the location” or something else that won’t lead to ongoing job satisfaction.
- What do you like most about working in [profession]?
Try to understand what parts of the role the candidate would be most motivated to do. Usually these will also be the areas they excel in.
- And conversely, what do you like least or find frustrating about working in [profession]?
Acknowledge that there are a parts of all jobs that people find frustrating and try to understand what they would be for this candidate. Chances are, these are the areas they will be weakest in.
- Can you tell me about a time when you…
Based on the role you’re recruiting for, and particularly on the qualities you’re looking for based on the attributes in your Applicant Scorecard, ask questions that address these areas. The past is usually the best predictor of the future, so word these in a way that ask your candidate to tell you about a real example from their working history. You could also say; “have you ever had a situation where…” or “I’m guessing you must have had xxxx from time to time – can you tell me about an example of that?”
- went above and beyond for a customer?
- exceeded your manager’s expectations on a project?
- implemented a new process?
- had a difficult employee – what was the situation and how did you handle it?
- gave input with ideas for improving the instructions you were given?
- were given a goal / target that you thought would be difficult to achieve?
- worked long or extended hours – how did you maintain your energy levels?
- had a stressful situation at work – what happened and how did you handle it?
- had multiple projects and conflicting deadlines?
- had a difficult customer? What happened and what did you do?
- had a difficult technical challenge? How did you go about resolving it?
- had a customer that was having a difficult time making a decision? What did you do?
Working Arrangement Fit
- This position…
If there are specific working arrangements for this role, you should lay these out and have a direct discussion about them. Don’t assume the candidate knows about them or has worked in that type of situation previously. Ideally, get them to acknowledge the challenges of the working arrangements and outline how they would (or have) manage them.
- requires you to work evenings, weekends and some holidays. Have you ever worked a similar schedule in a previous position? How did you handle these kinds of requirements?
- is fully remote with people working in different timezones. Have you ever worked remotely before? How do you manage the challenges of remote work?
- involves working outside and being on your feet for much of the day. Have you ever had to do that before?
Understanding the Whole Person
- Who did you report to at [last role position]?
If we were to speak with them, what do you think they would say about you?
You can just ask this question generically, but it’s much more powerful if the candidate actually visualizes their manager and takes the time to reflect on what they would say. This information will generally corroborate with previous answers given but it is the next part of the question that is actually the most useful.
- That sounds great, and what do you think they would say are the areas you could improve on?
This is probably the most helpful question of all. Sometimes it can be a bit awkward to ask but trust me, it is worth persevering. Occasionally the candidate will struggle for an answer and say something like “I can’t think of anything, they were always happy with my work”. Acknowledge this but explain that “every single one of us has areas where we could improve, even if it’s in order to take the next step. What do you think [manager name] would say are your opportunities for improvement?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years time? or What are your goals for the future?
Although this question is quite cliche, understanding the candidate’s longer-term ambitions can also be useful in determining whether they’re right for this role. If they don’t know, ask them if they’d be happy doing this role in 5 years time or if they see themselves doing something else by then. This line of discussion can sometimes encourage the candidate to express some of the personal goals as well.
- What do you like to do in your spare time? How do you relax?
You’ve hopefully got a good idea of the candidate from a professional perspective, but it is also useful to get some insights into their personal life as well. Of course, you can’t ask personal questions directly, but this is an invitation for the candidate to share more about themselves – which may help you assess how well they’d fit in with your current team.
As you ask these interview questions, take notes as you go. If you’ve got a few interviews to do, their responses can easily get confused so write them down! Ideally, you can enter their responses straight into HR Partner as you go, but otherwise, you may want to use an Interview Guide to capture their responses and your assessment of them against the attributes you’re looking for.
Are there any other questions you’d add to this list of the best interview questions? We’d love to hear about them so let us know in a comment or by contacting us here.
In the meantime, good luck with your interviews! We hope these questions will help you choose the perfect candidate 🙂
Fiona Adler is a director at HR Partner and has spent her career building businesses. She loves creating tools to make it easier for small and medium businesses to grow and become more efficient.