What are the best questions to ask candidates at interview

5 minutes
Josh Serlin

By Josh Serlin

What are the best questions to ask candidates at interview?

A productive interview is a critical part of your recruitment process. Much more than a ‘box-ticking’ exercise, it’s your key opportunity to find out about your candidate’s approach, values and fit with your business as well as their practical skills. Today, most successful candidates will expect to have at least two interviews – and possibly more if they experience a really thorough recruitment process. So, designing and delivering an interview process that’s beneficial to both you and your candidates is important.

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all interview style. Many companies focus purely on ‘competency’ interviews, and these can produce great results. But they don’t suit all candidates, so you might find you miss your ideal employee. As an employer, you need to know that the candidate has the skills and experience to do the job – and that they will fit into the organisation well, quickly becoming a valuable member of the team. So your interview questions have to cover a range of subjects to give you the best possible information on which to base your recruitment decisions.

We’ve all experienced good and bad interviews – on both sides of the table. So, in addition to following our tips, think about the best interviews you’ve been part of, and what made them good. Rather than over-the-top, tough questions, those interviews are more likely to be marked by thoughtful questions that gave you an opportunity to show the interview panel exactly who you are and what you can do.

Here are our top tips for getting the most out of candidates at interview:

Make sure they are relaxed

Interviews make most people anxious and when we are anxious, we rarely perform at our best. So, your first couple of questions should aim to put your candidate at their ease. Establishing a rapport earlier on will encourage the candidate to be more open and conversational, so you’ll gather more valuable information as you go through the interview.

  • Give them a friendly greeting. It’s amazing how many interviewers miss this basic opportunity.
  • Make sure the interview panel introduces themselves and gives a quick overview of the company and the role
  • Give candidates a bit of time to settle and get comfortable before you get started
Look for the positives

The ‘strengths and weaknesses’ question is common, and it can feel quite combative. Instead, why not ask your candidate about the professional achievement that they are most proud of? This gives you an opportunity to explore what makes them tick, and usually reveals a time when they overcame a challenge or stepped up to the mark.

  • What is your greatest success and why?
  • Tell us about a time you adapted well to change?
  • What are you passionate about?
Check culture fit

A good candidate will have researched the culture and values of your organisation, if you have made them available. Most forward-thinking leaders say that skills can be taught; it’s the attitude that matters. So you should have some questions prepared to see if your candidate will be a good fit in the team and in the wider organisation. You might want to ask why they want to work for your business, or what their top work values are. Or perhaps you could give them a role play question to see if their approach matches your culture.

  • What is your preferred work style?
  • How would your co-workers describe you?
  • How would you respond to a customer complaint?
Why are they moving?

This is always an interesting question, and it reveals quite a lot about your candidate. Look for evidence that they see this as a positive move, and be aware of danger signs that might indicate that they are not the best fit for your business. For example, it’s better to have a candidate who says they are moving because they want to invest in their career progression and learn new skills than one who says their previous company was narrow-minded and stagnant.

  • What was the best thing about your previous role?
  • What are your career plans?
  • What annoyed you most about your last job?
Consider a brain teaser question

This will depend on the type of role you are recruiting for, but a brain teaser question lets you see how the candidates approach problem solving. There’s an art to the brain teaser – too difficult and you put the candidate off working for you. Too obvious and they will have researched the answer. Rather than putting them on the spot in an adversarial way, choose something that feels a bit more relaxed, give them enough time to think about it properly, allow pens and paper for calculations if that helps, and make it clear that rather than being about a ‘correct’ answer, you’re more interested in the approach.

  • If a doctor gives you three pills, telling you to take one every half hour, how many minutes will pass from taking the first pill to the last pill?
  • What is the next letter in the following series: Y Z V W S T P Q ?
  • What day follows the day before yesterday if two days from now will be Sunday?
The interview gives you a chance to assess both practical and personal skills. So, not just whether they are suitably qualified to do the tasks required, but that they have the right approach and values to be a good addition to your business. Candidates will appreciate it, and you’re more likely to hire the best person first time round, saving time and money on your recruitment process.