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Best Interview Questions for Employers to Ask Applicants

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Best Interview Questions for Employers to Ask Applicants

Here’s a List of the Best Questions That Employers Can to Ask Their Applicants

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Man and woman interviewing a job candidate

You Will Develop the Interview Questions that Work Well for You.
Blend Images – Terry Vine/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images


Susan M. Heathfield
Updated January 04, 2018

Do you have favorite interview questions that you ask each job applicant at an interview? If so, you’re not alone. Seasoned interviewers develop a short list of best questions that quickly tell them what they need to know about a candidate’s job skills, job fit , and potential cultural fit .

These questions are the backbone of an effective job interview. If you track your data carefully over time, you will learn which questions worked to help you decide to hire the candidates who became your most successful employees . You will also learn what kinds of answers were given by the applicants who became your most successful employees.

These best interview questions focus on the skills that you want candidates to have and the contributions that you most want the candidate to make—if hired. They help you assess the prospective employee’s work experience and his or her approach to problem-solving. They help you understand how the candidate interacts with people and the work environment.

These best interview questions have a track record of helping you select people who became successful employees . These are some of the best interview questions to ask a prospective employee and your goal in asking each question.

Best Interview Questions

  • Interview Question: Tell me about your greatest achievement at work.

    Goal: The applicant’s answer tells a lot about what the individual values and what he or she considers important. It also demonstrates what the applicant considers to be an achievement. Occasionally, consider asking what the prospective employee thinks of when he is asked to name his three key and most significant values.

  • Interview Question: Describe the work environment in which you will most effectively be able to contribute.

    Goal: The candidate’s response tells the interviewer whether their work environment is congruent with the candidate’s needs. The answer helps the interviewer decide whether the prospective employee is a good fit for their culture and work environment . You don’t want to hire a loner for a team that thrives on collaboration. You don’t want to hire an employee who can’t type a coherent paragraph if the majority of your customer support is via email.

  • Interview Question: What kind of oversight and interaction would your ideal boss provide?

    Goal: You want to know how self-directed your candidate is. In a company that emphasizes empowerment , for example, a candidate who requires constant direction will not fit. If you know that the boss who is the hiring manager is a micromanager, the self-driven candidate may not succeed. (What are you doing about this boss’s management style , by the way?)

  • Interview Question: Tell me about a time when you had to overcome a major obstacle that stood in the way of you accomplishing a goal or commitment. How did you approach the situation?

    Goal: You will obtain a clear picture of the candidate’s past performance. You obtain information about his or her problem-solving style and you also learn about what the candidate considers an obstacle. You may also learn about his or her interaction style with coworkers.

  • Interview Question: What prompted you to apply for this job? What interested you the most about this position?

    Goal: You want to know what the prospective employee is most interested in related to your position. The answer will tell you about what motivates the individual and what is important to the applicant.

  • Interview Question: Why are you leaving your current employer? (If the applicant is employed.)

    Goal: The applicant’s response tells you about his or her values, outlook, goals, and needs from an employer. You can determine what prompted the job search. Is the candidate running towards a more successful future or is she running away from an unsuccessful employment experience?

  • Interview Question: What are the three most important attributes or skills that you believe you would bring to our company if we hired you?

    Goal: The candidate’s answer tells you what he or she considers most important in their skill set. You also learn about how the candidate views your open position.

  • Interview Question: What are the first three things you would do on the job if you were hired for this position?

    Goal: You will gain an understanding of what the applicant deems important, their understanding of the requirements of your job, and how the candidate approaches a new situation.

  • Interview Question: How would your coworkers at your current job describe your interaction with them and your general effectiveness in your work performance? How would your coworkers describe you?

    Goal: You want to understand how the candidate thinks that his or her coworkers view their interaction. You also want to assess how coworkers like working with the candidate. These questions give you an idea about the candidate’s assessment of his effectiveness in his current job and in his relationships with coworkers. Past practice can predict future results.

  • Interview Question: How would your current boss describe your work and contribution?

    Goal: You want to understand how the candidate perceives the support and opinion of his current employer. This question tells you about the candidate’s interaction with his current boss. It also informs you about how well he accepts criticism and feedback.

  • Interview Question: How do you believe that your current skills will contribute to the accomplishment of our company’s goals and mission as stated on our website or in company literature?

    Goal: Prospective employees have long been asked to learn about the company to which they are applying. In this virtual era, learning about the company you are applying to has never been easier. This question tells you if the prospective employee did learn about your company. Further, it tells you if the candidate was thoughtful about his or her potential fit in your company and whether she will be able to contribute.

  • Interview Question: How do you go about continuing to develop your professional skills and knowledge?

    Goal: You want to hire employees who believe in continuous development and improvement. Listen carefully to whether the prospective employee pursues his or her own professional development or whether they depend on their employer to provide the development opportunities .

These are examples of the best interview questions to ask as you recruit and interview new employees. You will devise your own list of the best interview questions to ask as you participate in more interviews and experience the success or failure of the people that you hire.

Sample Job Interview Questions for Employers

Use these sample job interview questions when you interview potential employees .

  • Job Interview Questions for Employers (With Descriptions)

Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality. The site is read by a world-wide audience and employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country. Please seek legal assistance , or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct for your location. This information is for guidance, ideas, and assistance.

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Talent Acquisition

15 Interview Questions to Ensure Candidate Quality

Posted by Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter

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On the surface, interviewing a candidate for an available job sounds easy. With the job description in hand describing specific skill sets and experience, the recruiter or hiring manager fires off a dozen questions or so and voila, they are equipped to make a hiring decision.

 If only interviewing were that simple.
 The nuance of interviewing candidates extends well beyond skills and abilities into areas of candidate maturity level, culture fit and self-awareness to assess overall candidate quality. You can mitigate some of these questions for fit if you’re attracting informed candidates who have engaged with your employer brand through Glassdoor’s recruiting soltuion . Tools like Glassdoor help showcase the different areas of your culture to better attract candidates that are a fit and want to drink your company’s Kool-Aid.

 Once you’ve attracted great fit candidates , you’ll want to ask interview questions regarding industry and expertise, as well as broader-based questions to learn how they will ultimately mesh with your team..

As Shelly Goldman , Executive Recruiter and Founder, Goldman Group Advantage said, “These questions are a wonderful way to know more about what’s important to a candidate and how well they interact with others, etc.”

“Ideally, my goal is to have a collaborative and communicative conversation during interviews – putting candidates at ease (after all, interviews and job search, in general, can be stressful for job seekers) and creating a pleasant and comfortable interaction (vs. an interrogation),” continues Goldman.

As such, three of Goldman’s favorite interview questions to ensure candidate quality include:

Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

1. Tell me something about yourself that others may be surprised to know about you. 

Why Ask This Question? This question is an opportunity to learn something very interesting and real about a candidate that might otherwise not come up in a standard interview.

2. If there were something in your past you were able to go back and do differently, what would that be? 

Why Ask This Question? This question is another way to understand life lessons a person has learned and how these lessons may be of benefit when managing others or working in teams.

3. Tell me about a time you had a difficult working relationship with a colleague. What was the challenge, how did you address the situation and what did you learn from the experience?

Why Ask This Question? I am looking to understand how a candidate moves through, resolves problems and how the experience and knowledge learned can be applied to possible future situations.

While skills don’t stand alone, culling proper skills still is crucial to ensuring a candidate’s capabilities to do the job. Recruiter Ed Han shared two interview questions he likes to use to vet skills that are ‘not’ predicated upon having relevant knowledge about those skills, as follows:

 4. So, tell me one of your war stories about that skill.

Why Ask This Question? I like this prompt because it helps me discern whether or not the candidate has really gotten into the weeds with that skill and gives a good opportunity to evaluate communication ability.

5. Tell me your biggest success story related to [skill].

Why Ask This Question? This prompt is one I like to use early in the conversation: it helps the candidate feel at ease and comfortable. Candidates lacking a good success story, particularly recently, raise a flag. Plus, it often helps to fuel better follow-up questions afterward. That said, if a success is particularly noteworthy, it’s more or less timeless.

Goldman also shared an interview question that ferrets out skills using a ‘why-based’ interrogative.

 6. What is your ideal position and why? 

Why Ask This Question? It offers the candidate an opportunity to share their best skills sets (technical skills) along with their transferable skills (soft skills) and understand what they consider to be the best-fit position. It gives the interviewer an opportunity to see how closely aligned the candidate is with the duties and responsibilities of the position.

“In my numerous years of conducting interviews, there have been many times when a candidate will describe their best-fit position, to find, it does not align with the position they are interviewing for,” reinforced Goldman.

Skills-unearthing can provide opportunities to learn about a candidate beyond the actual ability to perform the skill. For example, Han taps into his skills-vetting repertoire to assess a candidate’s self-awareness regarding weaknesses.

Here’s an interview question Han recommends:

7. Tell me your biggest failure related to [skill].

Why Ask This Question? The purpose of asking this question is to ensure that the candidate possesses self-awareness. But perhaps as importantly, much like the biggest weakness question, the key thing here is learning what the takeaway was to help avoid recurrence.

Moreover, Kathryn Lorenzen , Senior Recruiter and Career Coach, LandaJob Marketing & Creative Talent, transforms the ‘what are your weaknesses’ cliché via a storytelling invitation. She asks:

8. What is a development area, a deficit, or a gap that you’ve had to overcome or improve in your career? How was that identified, and what did you do to improve?

Why Ask This Question? It offers a chance to learn how someone deals with self-realization, self-actualization, and potentially how they overcome obstacles or adversity.

Storytelling also is employed in Lorenzen’s following ‘accomplishment-focused’ example:

9. What are two of the most satisfying accomplishments in your career? Tell me about each of them.

Why Ask This Question? When people are invited to tell a story about what’s been important to them in the arc of their careers, you get a window into their values. Did they value the impact they had? Did they value the award or official recognition? You have an opportunity to see their motivators and their success markers.

Asking about favorite and least favorite supervisors is yet another strategy Lorenzen uses to gain insight about candidates’ attitudes.

10. Describe your favorite supervisor and your least favorite supervisor – and why. 

Why Ask This Question? This allows some fast insight into how the candidate likes to be communicated with and managed, as well as some revelations into overall attitude and maturity.

Moreover, according to Lou Adler in his article, 3 Ways to Ensure Your Interviews Are Set Up to Identify the Best Candidate, Not the Best Interviewee , he suggests asking candidates to:

11. Describe work you’ve accomplished that best compares to what needs to be done.

Why Ask This Question? A pattern soon emerges of where the candidate excels and what organizations best meet their needs.

According to Morgan Hunter Corporate Search , a more focused way to ask a candidate to tell about themselves is to instead ask:

12. How did you end up in your current role?

Why Ask This Question? You’ll get a better sense of a candidate’s career trajectory, as well as what motivates them.

Finally, these three questions can help vet out the quality of a candidate’s preparation for the interview:

13. What challenges do you see impacting the industry? 

14. What interests you most about this position? 

15. Do you have any questions for me?

Why Ask These Questions? More substantive answers signal a higher level of preparation and initiative. Moreover, the candidate having jotted down a few questions to ask signals interest beyond an individual role and to their overall relationship within and among the enterprise.

The interviewing process is tough, no matter which side of the table you sit on. To bolster your hiring team’s abilities in assessing candidates and making great hires, download:

How to Screen for Retention Checklist

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