Hiring for a key position can be a time-consuming, often stressful, process. As the hiring manager, your objective is to offer the job to the most qualified candidate. That choice isn’t always obvious, especially when you have two or three equally strong candidates competing for the same position. But by giving careful consideration to your staffing needs, and what you want to learn from the interviews, you’ll know better what to ask and what to listen for during the job interview.
Not sure where to start? Here are 12 good interview questions to ask your top candidates:
1. What skills and strengths can you bring to this job?
This is one of the most effective interview questions to ask a candidate. Note that the question is not "What are your skills and strengths?" but "What skills and strengths can you bring to this job?" The answer is yet another way to gauge how much interest applicants have in the job and how well prepared they are for the interview. Stronger candidates should be able to correlate their skills with specific job requirements (for example: "I think my experience as a travel writer will be of great help in marketing products to overseas customers."). The job seeker should answer the question in the context of contributions they can make to the company in this specific position.
2. In a way that anyone could understand, can you describe a professional achievement that you’re proud of?
This is an especially good interview question to ask when you're hiring for a technical position, such as an IT manager or tax accountant. The answer shows the candidate's ability to communicate with others in the company. Do they avoid jargon in their answer? Do they get their points across clearly? Failure to do so may be a sign that the individuals can't step out of their "world" sufficiently to work with people in other departments, which is a growing necessity in many organizations today.
3. Tell me about a mistake you've made on the job.
Look for candidates' willingness to admit mistakes and learn from them, as well as how they hold themselves accountable for their decisions. Do they blame others for a project’s missed deadline, or do they accept responsibility and say what they learned from the failure? You aren't looking for an employee who doesn't make mistakes — your ideal employee recognizes their weaknesses and works on them.
4. Describe the most interesting project you worked on in a past position.
This is one of the most important interview questions for assessing whether the candidate would be a good long-term fit. The response should indicate what types of tasks the potential employee enjoys the most. Do these align with the job description you posted? Or given the candidate’s interests, would she be unhappy with either the job or the organization? Look beyond skill sets when evaluating candidates. Make sure they’ll not only be productive, but satisfied, employees.
5. How have you changed the nature of your current job?
A convincing answer here shows adaptability, creativity and resourcefulness — and a willingness, when necessary, to take the bull by the horns. The question also gives candidates a chance to talk about contributions such as efficiencies they brought about or cost savings they achieved for their employer. If candidates say they didn't change the nature of the job, that response tells you something as well.
6. What sort of work environment do you prefer? What brings out your best work?
Interview questions offer a good opportunity to probe for specifics. You want to find out whether this person is going to fit right into your team. If your company's culture is collegial and collaborative, you don't necessarily want to hire someone who likes to be left alone to do their work. You also may uncover unrealistic expectations or potential future career clashes ("My plan is to spend a couple of months in the mailroom and then apply for the presidency of the company.").
7. How would your colleagues describe your personality?
While you don't want carbon copies of existing staff, you do want to consider how well new hires will fit in with the rest of the team. Think of your team’s existing chemistry, and what qualities the candidate would bring. If you manage an aggressive, high-performing staff of Type A personalities, you’ll probably want to look for someone who’d be assertive enough to both succeed at their job and comfortably work with their colleagues from Day One. If you’re team members are quiet yet industrious, then a candidate who self-describes as “pushy” and “loud” might not be your first choice.
8. Why did you leave your last job, and what have you been doing since then?
Especially in challenging economic times, it isn't unusual for highly competent people to find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own, creating gaps in their employment history. While it’s important to ask about this, don’t come off as accusatory. Asking in a neutral, diplomatic way is key, but do try to get specific, factual answers that you can verify later. Candidates with a spotty employment history, at the very least, ought to be able to account for their extended periods of unemployment and demonstrate productive use of that time — getting an advanced degree or professional designation, for example, or volunteering for a related cause.
9. What do you hope to gain from working here?
Pay attention to whether applicants focus only on their immediate needs, like a paycheque or short commute, or if they mention longer-term goals. This can help you determine if you're dealing with someone just looking for a job versus someone who wants to build a career with your company. If the candidate discusses career aspirations, see what they know about the organization beyond what’s published on the website’s “About Us” page. That can tell you a lot about how interested they really are in your company.
10. Describe your most challenging client or coworker. How did you resolve those conflicts?
Every position involves some level of collaboration, and everybody has dealt with personality conflicts in the workplace at one time or another. You want to get a sense of how candidates work with difficult individuals and how they respond in high-pressure situations. No matter how talented or experienced a candidate may be, always be sure this is someone who can resolve differences in a professional, respectful manner.
11. What would have made you consider staying at your last position?
Candidates may have well-rehearsed answers to interview questions like, "Why did you leave your last job?" By asking them to consider what circumstances they wish had been different at their last company, you're likely to get more candid feedback. Obviously, the work environment or job responsibilities — or possibly the management style — were less than ideal. Does the candidate’s reason for leaving demonstrate career ambition, or something less desirable? And how does the candidate’s previous situation compare with the position they’re interviewing for?
12. Do you have any questions for me?
Every prospective employees should have a few questions of their own on topics not covered during the interview. Be wary of anyone who answers with a quick "no" or only asks about compensation; they are not likely to be as enthusiastic about the position. Nor are generic questions especially impressive. A serious candidate will be knowledgeable about your organization and the field or industry you work in. Questions should demonstrate a genuine interest in learning more about the company, the workplace culture, the job you’re discussing or other information not readily available on the website.