Interview questions you can’t afford to ignore

We’ve all heard the stories about those curveball job interviews where the candidate is asked questions like “If you were an animal, what would you be?” But while these may be entertaining for the interviewer and show how the candidate can think on their feet, they reveal little else about them.

So what are the basic interview questions you should be asking?


Tell me about yourself

A good (or at the very least, prepared) candidate should have a solid elevator pitch for this question. Give them a time limit of around two minutes so they have to be concise about their achievements.

What is key for your next role?

According to Jemma Rawlins, associate director, Home Counties at Hudson HR Recruitment, this can help you to understand what motivates the candidate, and what they want from the role. “Is it salary, location, brand, team fit, or job title that is most important to them? This can vary hugely between people. What might be a great brand for one person might not appeal to someone else,” she says.


Where does this job fit into your career path?

Like the previous question, this establishes the candidate’s motivations, but also gives them some context. A spin on the cliched “Where do you see yourself in five years time?,” this encourages the candidate to elaborate on how the job would fit into their life plan. If it’s a case of “I just saw the ad and thought I’d apply,” it’s unlikely they’re going to really engage with the role.


What do you know about our company and our competitors?

Has the candidate done their homework? Jamie Betts, a solutions consultant at recruitment and outsourcing company Ochre House, describes this as a “motivational fit” question. “What we’re trying to understand through these questions is how motivated the candidate is to perform both in the job, and within the company,” he says. If their knowledge extends little beyond the home page of your website, it suggests they can’t really be bothered.


What’s your ideal company/working environment?

Some people like to work alone, others prefer open-plan working environments where people have ideas around the coffee machine. By establishing the type of environment that stimulates your candidate, you’ll be able to see if they will be a good cultural fit for the organisation.


How do you like being managed?

Betts believes asking the candidate to be specific on areas such as how they work with a manager will help you to establish what they really want out of a job, and what you can provide them. Another way to frame this question is to ask who the candidate’s favourite manager was and why: you’ll be able to see whether they needed to be managed very closely, or were happy to work on projects independently.


Why did you leave your last job?

Candidates that stumble on this question may be trying to cover up something negative, or feel nervous about sharing a story about redundancy or a period without work. A prepared candidate will have rehearsed simple, positive stories to answer this question. Someone who responds immediately with a tale of woe about how they were mistreated, however, might be best avoided.


What will you do in your first 90 days in the role?

This question will show where the candidate’s priorities lie. Are they strategic (stand back and wait) or technical (straight to the nitty-gritty)?

Careers consultant and author John Lees suggests a good candidate will find a steady middle ground between observing what’s going on at the company and suggesting sweeping changes.”The interviewer wants to know what [the candidate] will look like in the role and what impact [they] might make,” he wrote on his recent blog for the Harvard Business Review. You could also ask “What would be the most important thing to do on your first day at work?”


What is your greatest weakness?

Beware here of candidates who turn this into a stealth boast, saying “Oh, I’m a perfectionist”, or “I work too hard.”

A good answer to this question will show you how they turned that weakness into a strength. So someone who has struggled with time management could show you how they’ve used an online diary or productivity program to get them back on track, or a candidate who has had difficulty with numbers might have conquered Excel.


Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult colleague

Like it or not, every workplace brings up conflict now and then. Asking candidates to describe how they have dealt with awkward situations before will give you a good idea of how they will fit into the new organisation.

Have they been able to see the problem from the other person’s point of view, or did they lay down the law? Likewise, look out for candidates who claim they’ve never been in a difficult situation at work, unless it’s their first job.


What would you current/most recent boss say about you?

“This question delves into how they are perceived within the team and by their peers and manager,” says Rawlins from Hudson. “It can sometimes uncover other issues that might not have come to light previously about their relationship with their manager, or their reasons for leaving.”

If this question does raise any concerns about an otherwise promising candidate, you can always pursue these when you take references. Candidates who simply tell you “They would tell you I’m amazing” without backing it up are likely to add little substance to the role either.


Do you have any questions for us?

Turning the interview around and asking the candidate to probe you may seem like standard practice, but it can reveal hidden depths about the interviewee. Their response will vary hugely between stunned silence, a couple of boring, rehearsed quips such as “What benefits do you provide?” and a full-on interrogation.

Detailed, genuinely interested questions about the company and its ongoing strategy show that the candidate has pictured themselves in the role and see themselves as part of your future.


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