Although it can be tempting to use common interview questions when interviewing candidates, take that route at your own peril. Bad hires are not only costly; they can impact staff morale and damage your brand reputation.
Roles that need to be filled are as diverse as the individuals who apply for them. Team dynamics evolve constantly. Interview questions that were brilliant a year ago might not be that great today.
Your interview process needs to evolve.
Whether you're a recruiter, hiring managers, or potential job candidate, you need to know the common questions and answers to focus on.
What makes great answers?
What work experience is most important?
Spend time upfront planning and crafting questions that fit the role and the ideal candidate so that your next job interview is a success.
And if you're a job candidate looking for a new role, check out these common interview questions and possible answers to prepare for your next interview.
Let's get started.
What Are the Most Common Interview Questions (And Possible Answers)?
These job interview questions are used often, but many interviewers overlook their value. Don't accept generic sample answers.
Listen, follow up and probe into their career path, salary requirements, problem-solving skills, and life at their current company. Next, hiring managers need to move into behavioral questions to understand what candidates are looking for in this new opportunity.
Finally, assess these responses to get insights into whether a candidate will be a good fit for both the job and the organization.
1. Tell me about yourself.
This is a common first interview question that allows you to gain insight into what matters to a candidate. Listen carefully and ask follow up questions to probe issues of interest or concern. There's no right or wrong here; it depends on the requirements of the job. This question gives insight into personal motivations.
If the candidate focuses mainly on their personal life and family, you know that's their priority. If they focus strongly on their career progression, they're ambitious. Most people will tell you about both aspects of their life. You'll also find out what their future goals are.
What you'll learn:
A very family-focused candidate is usually looking for stability and a healthy work-life balance. They'll be reluctant to be away from home beyond regular working hours and will probably be motivated by things like flex-time.
An ambitious candidate wants the room to grow in a space that encourages innovation and independence. They're willing to go way beyond the extra mile but will also want the freedom to make decisions.
To accept the job they'll need to know that there's room for growth and career progression.
2. What does customer service mean to you?
When you're asking this question, you're not referring to customers only. People with well-developed people and interpersonal skills don't make a distinction between customers and their work colleagues.
This is an important question to ask whether a candidate will be interacting with customers or not. Also, ask for actual examples.
What you'll learn:
How the candidate views the environment around them. Are they a survivor in a hostile world, or is the world a beautiful place?
How much negativity or positivity is in their answer?
How self-aware are they?
Ask them if they believe that customer service extends to the workplace; if we should be of service to our colleagues as well?
People who extend the concept of service to their colleagues too are team players. They'll do what's in the team's best interest, even if they don't necessarily agree with something or someone.
People who don't believe that they're at the service of their colleagues tend to be autocratic. They could do well in specialist roles though, that requires little input from others.
3. Describe your ideal work environment.
Make it clear that you're asking about a real or hypothetical situation. You can learn a lot about what motivates someone, what they like, what they don't like, and what their dream job could be.
If they describe their current job, follow up with what made them want to leave and start a job search. Because the answer can be literally anything, you want to compare their ideal to the actual environment they'll be in if they're hired.
Also consider the personalities that they'll be working with, especially if they list character traits.
What you'll learn:
This interview question can tell you a lot about the candidates' personalities and interests. Wrong answers could include talking about too much pressure, conflict with colleagues, and being misunderstood.
What were the motivators behind the problems?
Someone who wants the freedom to do their job, for example, will hate being micromanaged and that can trigger pressure and conflict. The opposite is also true.
The candidate could complain about not getting enough support. Consider what you need. Are you looking for independence and the ability to take decisive action, or is there tight control?
Keep asking probing questions and weigh the answers up against what you're looking for and the team culture.
4. Tell me about when you really messed up and how you got around it aka what is your greatest weakness?
You can make this a job-related situation only, or you can include personal mistakes. Here you find out about self-awareness, the ability to admit mistakes, handle pressure, accept constructive criticism and learn from blunders.
Ask for a few examples so that you can see if there's a trend or if they repeat similar behaviors. Spend time here and probe.
What you'll learn:
Some people struggle to acknowledge mistakes and lay blame everywhere else. That's a massive red flag! People who blame others tend to apply this trait across every aspect of their life.
Most candidates will speak about early career mistakes and how they now use the lessons learned. Don't discount personal stories however because people who overcome tragedy or misfortune often develop a strong sense of self-awareness and mindfulness.
Through personal suffering and struggle, we gain wisdom and empathy, so our people and interpersonal skills improve radically.
5. How do you think your coworkers would describe you?
This question takes you directly into self-awareness which in turn leads to motivations, people skills and traits like empathy, mindfulness, and personal responsibility.
People who undervalue themselves will focus on the negative; pretentious people will exaggerate their importance. Most people fall somewhere in-between.
What you'll learn:
You can glean levels of self-confidence and self-esteem as well as how well the candidate interacts with their colleagues. A negative perception of something can indicate areas where the person can be upskilled.
Bitterness towards others is usually a sign of deeper personal issues, but probe before you write someone off. A candidate that can't answer this question is either hiding something or was utterly disengaged from their colleagues. Probe, probe, probe!
6. Why did you choose this line of work? How long do you plan on continuing it?
This is essential to someone's success in the job:
Do they have a proper rationale for choosing the work they're applying for?
What are their motivations? Do they enjoy the field they're in? Why are they leaving their last job?
And most importantly, are they willing to work towards improving their skills with an eye on the long-term, big-picture perspective?
People who answer this in an overly succinct manner, or even worse, not at all, will most certainly not make the best employees. Potential employers should use these behavioral interview questions to gauge both career goals and how well the employee may fit into the current job.
Finally, even though some jobs are temporary, the applicant should, at the very least, understand the core necessities of the role (E.g., for a waitress role, one should be able to name providing good customer service as a reason to take the job).
What you'll learn:
By asking this, you will know whether the candidate is intrinsically motivated to perform well in the role you're offering. A good answer will inevitably also contain some references to one's background, personality, or world-view.
People might also get really passionate when answering this question, which would be desirable for more challenging or senior roles - without a strong emotional drive and a clear sense of meaning, these types of roles might prove overwhelming.
Furthermore, for candidates who really want the job, it will be an opportunity to open up.
Finally, the second part of the answer shows whether they're committed to the line of work, or simply chance applicants.
7. What makes you the best candidate for this job?
Keep this question for last.
You can also ask, “Why do you want to work here?”
This question will showcase how well the candidate researched the needs of the company, company culture, and some of the greatest strengths they can bring to the job.
The answers here will tell you how much attention the candidate paid during the interview. Job-related discussions, as well as those centered on personal characteristics, likes and dislikes, and strengths and weaknesses should give a good idea of whether they're a good fit or not.
Although the candidate has no idea who their competitors are, their reasoning and communication skills should provide an answer.
What you'll learn:
How involved was the candidate during the interview? Are they just going through the motions to secure a job or do they actually want to work for your company? Self-awareness and solid reasoning tell us whether we're likely suited to a job or not!
The candidate could answer “yes, but… ” and their concern could be valid or easy to solve.
Conversely, they could say they are when there were obvious issues. For example, if they indicated a dislike for open plan and you told them that everyone in your team works in an open plan.
Overlooking things that can't be resolved is an indication that the candidate wasn't engaged during the interview.
Job Interview Tips to Remember.
You have all the technical requirements for comparison on the job description, and the candidates' resumes, so that's the easy part of interviews. The challenge all hiring teams face is to understand the person behind the resume and to assess if they're a good fit for the team and the company.
Collaborative hiring is essential to ensure a fair and transparent candidate experience.
There are two essential elements to remember about interviews:
- It's a totally unnatural social situation where the hiring team and the candidate agree to meet, but all the power is in the hands of the hiring team. The candidate, irrespective of the job level, is out on their own in unfamiliar territory. A hiring team is a group of people on common ground with a shared objective. The balance of power is unnatural.
- A human mind is a fascinating place, and we can never predict how someone thinks or how they'll react, either during an interview or afterward if they're hired.
Bearing this in mind, you have to get to know someone as best you can in only a few hours (at most) and then make a crucial decision to hire them or not.
It's very easy to make a poor decision and either hire the wrong person or let your best candidate slip through your fingers.
How to Come Up with Questions to Ask in an Interview.
Analyze the vacancy in terms of the type of person who'll fit in and enjoy what they do. Then consider whether that type of person is someone who'll likely have career aspirations.
Can you accommodate different ambitions? Various personal characteristics come with both job satisfaction and ambition.
Breakdown the positive personal character traits to isolate those that best will fit the role and then structure your job interview questions around that. Build-in questions that probe:
- People skills
- Interpersonal skills
- Leadership qualities
- Personal motivations
- Level of self-awareness
- Ability to handle pressure
- Ability to learn and grow from past mistakes
- Ability to accept and give constructive criticism
These are just a few examples, but it gives you an idea of how to structure questions to identify potential strengths and weaknesses in a candidate's personal characteristics. Of course, not all perceived weaknesses are genuine flaws. View them in relation to the specific role.
To sum it up.
Good interview questions are a matter of planning and careful listening. Take in the candidate's answers and weigh them up against the circumstances they're describing as well as your needs.
Most candidates come in with preconceived ideas of how to answer interview questions.
Experience and skills related interview questions are easy to get through and can be verified with assessments and past employment references.
Personal characteristics, however, are just as, if not more important to ensure that the candidate is a good fit and won't fall out after a few months.
Skills can easily be improved with the right training, but personality isn't readily changed. Expect that candidates research common interview questions, answers and tips online.
This means that their initial answers can be generic, or what they think you want to hear. Interviewers must ask follow up and probing questions to get the best info they need to make a fair decision on each candidate.
Finally, knowing what motivates someone at an intrinsic level gives you a heads up when it comes to negotiating a job offer.
Further Reading on site: If you're looking for more career tips, check out my guide on leadership qualities, getting an entry-level digital marketing job and the best online jobs for college students.
Guest Author: Sim Samra is Recruitee's content marketer and is one of the Recruitee blog's main curators. She's usually hard at work unearthing headline-worthy recruitment trends and interviewing breakout names in the HR tech business.