Job interview with two interviewers

Interviews are a crucial part of the hiring process. Paired with reference checks and effective assessment tools, they will help you select the best fit for your company and the specific role. To get the most out of the interview, it’s important to ask a variety of questions and get a clear picture of a candidate’s experience, behaviour and personality.

Ways to Ask Interview Questions

The way you phrase interview questions will elicit different responses from your candidates:

  • Close-ended questions only allow the candidate to answer in very specific ways, often just a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Close-ended questions should be used sparingly, but can be useful when verifying factual information about the candidate such as: “How long did you work for your previous employer?”
  • Open-ended questions require the candidate to provide a more thoughtful answer. When phrased properly, they avoid implying the “correct” answer. For example, instead of asking, “Do you get along with your coworkers?” (a close-ended question), ask, “How would your coworkers describe you?” (an open-ended question). In general, your interview should focus primarily on open-ended questions.
  • Behavioural questions are a specific type of open-ended question, based on the premise that relevant past behaviour is the best predictor of future behavior. So instead of asking how candidates would behave in a particular situation, a behavioural interview question will ask them how they did behave. Behavioural questions are typically worded as, “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of an instance when…” To learn more about what to expect from a candidate in response to a behavioural question, check out our Job Seeker’s Guide to Behavioural Interviewing.

With these different types of questions now in your arsenal, here are some categories of questions to ask, with examples of each:

Interview Question Examples

  1. Warm-Up Questions
    Interviews can often be an anxious experience for both the interviewee and interviewer. It’s best to break the ice by asking easily approachable questions to make both parties more comfortable. Examples:

    • “Tell me a bit about yourself”
    • “What made you apply for this position?”
    • “What’s one word you would use to describe yourself?”
    • “How did you hear about this position?”
  2. Background Questions
    This is the time you’ll want to ask questions about the candidate’s previous educational and work experience. Go beyond just asking questions that will have them simply reciting their resume. By asking background questions, you will learn the specific details of a candidate’s experience, as well as which of their skills would be transferable to your workplace. Examples:

    • “Give me an example of a time you failed at something on the job. Describe what happened and how you learned from it.”
    • “If you made a mistake in the workplace, how would you handle it?”
    • “Describe a time in your life when you were the most productive. Describe a time in your life when you were the least productive.”
    • “What’s the longest you’ve worked for an employer and what kept you there?”
  3. Career Goals
    These questions will give you an idea of whether the candidate will stay with your company if they are hired, and whether their career goals match what the position will offer. Examples:

    • “Where do you want your career to be five years from now?”
    • “Tell me about a time when you felt successful or accomplished. This can be either a personal or professional example.”
    • “What do you hope to achieve in the first year of working in this role?”
    • “What is your biggest concern about this position?”
  4. Motivational Questions
    Motivational questions are very helpful for understanding what circumstances will enable a candidate to perform to the best of their abilities and fit in with your specific work environment. Examples:

    • “What do you need from a manager to help you perform your best?”
    • “Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a co-worker and how that conflict was resolved.”
    • “Describe a time that you were innovative in a previous role.”
    • “Tell me about a time when you were essential to getting a group back on track.”
    • “Give me an example of a time you had to overcome obstacles to achieve a work objective.”
  5. Character or ‘Fit’ Questions
    These questions should give you a clear picture of the candidate’s personality, strengths and weaknesses. Character questions can reveal traits such as self-awareness, openness to improvement, honesty, innovativeness, competitiveness, etc. You can tailor these questions to focus on traits your ideal candidate would possess.As part of our hiring process, candidates complete our Workstyle & Performance Profile (WPP). After they complete the assessment, a Hiring Manager Report is provided to our client, and in addition to the candidate’s overall personality profile, includes suggested interview questions tailored to this specific candidate. You can incorporate these questions into your interviews to help bring a more scientific approach to ‘fit’ and minimize unconscious bias. If you’d like to see an example of the types of questions provided in our WPP, you can download a sample here.Examples:

    • “Tell me about a time you had to make a rapid change at work.”
    • “Give me an example of a time you had to motivate yourself to perform a difficult or unappealing task.”
    • “Describe a time when you were overwhelmed by your responsibilities at work. How did you handle the stress and what did you do to resolve it?”
    • “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?”
  6. Situational Questions
    Situational questions are hypothetical questions that allow you to understand how a candidate may react to specific scenarios in your workplace, such as: “What would you do if a client complained about the service you provided to them?” or “How would you respond if you were part of a team that did not meet their goals and requirements?” They are different from behavioural questions because behavioural questions ask a candidate to recall an example from their past, whereas situational questions have the candidate imagine how they would behave in a possible future scenario. These questions can occasionally be helpful, especially if a candidate doesn’t have experience with a specific type of situation you’d like to ask about, but behavioural questions are generally more effective than situational ones.

Before you go into your next interview, come up with a clear plan. Tailor your questions to suit the specific needs of your organization and the position, and intentionally ask varied questions (such as those we’ve explored here) to ensure you get the most complete picture of the candidate. Insightful interviews will lead to more informed and successful hiring decisions.

If you have questions about conducting interviews or need other hiring support, our Recruitment Consultants are here to help—contact us »