People Leadership

The Best Interview Questions to Ask Candidates (with Examples)

May 21, 2024

Rethinking Interview Clichés 

The best interview questions to ask candidates

The hiring process has changed over the years; video interviews and online applications have become the standard but were almost nonexistent just a few decades ago. The best interview questions to ask candidates are the ones that give employers the information they need. As such, the traditional in-person interview remains the preferred method to evaluate the final pool of candidates. For many companies, these interviews are now just one phase of a larger hiring process. For others, interviews may be the only step in recruitment. In either case, the face-to-face interview is given a lot of weight in the final hiring decision, so it requires close examination to ensure it’s as effective as possible. The best interview questions to ask interviewees are the ones that elicit the information the interviewer requires. Without the right questions, you can’t get the answers you need from candidates to make a reasoned, informed decision. 

Yet how many interviews continue to deploy the same tired, clichéd questions that every candidate has a canned answer for? To obtain candid and informative responses from interviewees, it’s crucial to pose unexpected and unconventional questions. You may not need to leave all the old standbys behind or ask really strange questions like “How many cows are there in Canada?” or “Explain the causes of the French Revolution,” but you can still improve on many of the classic questions without sacrificing the vital information they provide. Consider changing up some of them or adding follow-up probes to gain a more complete picture of the candidate’s skills, abilities, and fit. Let’s look at some conventional interview questions and ways these can be expanded to gain the most insight. Our blogpost, Effective Talent Management Strategies for Small Businesses, can help get you started with ideas for hiring and retaining top talent. 

Strategic interview questions to ask candidates 

Where do you see yourself in five years? 

While this question purports to address goal-setting and ambition, it may lend itself to problematic answers if not expanded on. Common answers to this question are variations on two premises: “here” or “somewhere else.” The former suggests a lack of ambition, the latter a lack of loyalty. Neither option is particularly attractive in a candidate and may not accurately reflect their long-term career goals. In addition to asking for a five-year plan, prompt further for a specific goal the candidate set and achieved, emphasizing how it was achieved, what setbacks were encountered, and so on. Alternatively, ask the candidate what they imagine to be the career path in your company. Either option will give you more specific information about the candidate and their appropriateness to your organization. 

What are your greatest strengths? 

It’s easy to see why this question is common. The idea is that the candidate will demonstrate some form of self-examination and give you an idea of what they consider a defining quality. The issue is that the question may lend itself to formulaic answers, not honest critique. A candidate may speak of general, positive traits, without providing you any evidence of those qualities. One option to correct this oversight is to make the question more specific. Consider following up with “How will your strengths be an asset to this position?”

By focussing the question on a specific context, you’re inviting the candidate to demonstrate an understanding of what the position requires, as well as how their self-identified strengths complement those requirements. Of course, you can vary the question depending on your needs, but ensure that you’re seeking an answer specific to the job you’re hiring for. Someone honest, friendly, and loyal may be great, but it might not tell you whether they’ll succeed in your position. 

What are your greatest weaknesses? 

This question pairs nicely with the one above and again seems to probe for honest self-examination. And yet, when asked directly about weaknesses, most candidates have answers prepared to spin any weakness in a positive light. Does it really help you in your decision-making process if the candidate thinks their greatest weakness is being a perfectionist? Probably not, so ask questions, or add probes, that require more complex and thoughtful answers. Focus on real issues: difficult projects, interpersonal conflicts, dissatisfied clients, and so on. 

Consider following up by asking directly about how a candidate’s weaknesses led to a time they failed. Failure is ubiquitous, but meeting failure is unique to each candidate. Ask why the failure occurred and how it was addressed. You’ll learn about weaknesses, but also how the candidate overcomes or compensates for those weaknesses. Similarly, ask about conflicts the interviewee has experienced in previous positions. Seek specific examples and cater your questions to the specific position the candidate is looking to fill. 

Why are you leaving your current position? 

In some situations, “Why did you leave your last position?” may be more accurate, but the intent is the same. This collection of questions is supposed to determine what about their current job the candidate dislikes. However, the reasons a candidate leaves their current employment may have little to do with the position itself. This question may uncover a prohibited ground of discrimination and should be avoided. For instance, perhaps a spouse or significant other received a job locally, and the candidate needs to move. This information is not relevant to your decision to hire or not to hire. 

A more productive question might be, “What would be a deal-breaker for you?” It’s important to know what the candidate considers an unbearable condition or situation, whether that’s a conflict with a manager, insufficient compensation or benefits, excessive workload, unfulfilling work, another offer from some specific company, or some other particular of the work environment. Understanding what would make this interviewee quit will help you decide whether you want them to start in the first place. 

What interested you in this position? 

This question and its counterpart, “What made you want to apply here?” give the candidate a chance to explain why they are sitting on the other side of the table from you. It asks quite bluntly what about the vacancy drew their attention. This question helps determine whether the candidate did a suitable amount of research about your company, and whether they have a good understanding of what you’re all about. But you should also ask about what the interviewee values in a workplace. In general, what motivates them, and what they expect from the position or the company.

Use this opportunity to address why a candidate applied for this position and what their ideal position would be. Asking “What interested you in this position?” requires an answer specific to the company. Asking “What would be your ideal position?” requires a candidate to explain motivations, interests, expectations, frustrations, and ambitions. Coupling this information together helps you determine a candidate’s fitness for your company. 

What are the best questions to ask during an interview? 

Asking the right questions is essential for gaining practical information about a candidate during face-to-face interviews. The Internet has made it trivial for candidates to research and prepare for conventional interview questions. Therefore, it’s worth analysing your repertoire and seeing what changes you could make. There’s no need to rebuild the interview entirely. Instead, contemplate tweaking or adding unique follow-up questions. Consider what information your questions are attempting to gather, and brainstorm unexpected or unusual ways to address those topics. Clichéd questions yield clichéd answers. To truly discover whether a candidate fits your needs, try to surprise them—in turn, they might surprise you. 


Need advice and guidance on crafting interview questions that meet your hiring needs? 

Our HR experts have decades of experience helping HR professionals develop thorough and effective interview strategies in several industries. Our Job Description Generator can adopt and customize job description templates for any position in your organization in minutes. Streamline your hiring process with HRdownloads’ customizable human resources information system (HRIS). From contacting candidates for the first time to onboarding new hires, our user-friendly platform ensures efficiency and compliance, allowing you to focus on what matters most: your team’s success!  To get honest, unrehearsed (and more informative) answers from an interviewee, it’s important to ask questions in a new or unexpected way. Learn how! Download our free Interview Question Guide and get started today! 

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