Questions to Ask a Potential Employee in an Interview

Job Interview Questions

When looking to hire a new employee, decide what questions to ask before you start interviewing. Asking candidates about their employment history (as listed on the application form or resume) is a good place to start, though you'll need to dig deeper to determine which candidates are best-suited to perform the job. It's a good idea to ask each candidate the same questions, as it will be easier to compare applicants if you do.

Tips for Choosing Interview Questions

Examples of good questions to ask when interviewing prospective employees are detailed below. It is not necessary (or even advisable) to ask every question on the list below. Select the questions that are most appropriate for your situation, choosing items that will provide you with a good sense of which applicants are best-suited for the position you need to fill. Feel free to add additional items as needed, though it's important to avoid asking any illegal interview questions.

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Past Employment

While you likely already have an application or resume that lists past employment, it's a good idea to ask each candidate questions related to the work he or she has done in the past.

  • What types of jobs have you held in the past?
  • What was your title at ___________ (name of company)?
  • What were/are your duties in your last/current position?
  • What did/do you like most about your last/current position?
  • What did/do you like least about your last/current position?
  • Why are you leaving your present employer (or why did you leave your last employer)?
  • What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far in your career?
  • What is the most important lesson you have learned from a job you have held?
  • What would your last (or current) supervisor say is your greatest asset as an employee?

Personality and Work Habits

Other questions should be aimed to gather information about the candidate's personality.

  • What are your greatest strengths as an employee?
  • What are your greatest weaknesses as an employee?
  • Can you give me an example of a challenging situation at work and describe how you solved the problem?
  • How would you describe your approach to dealing with stress in the workplace?
  • What motivates you at work?
  • Do you work best in a group or independently? Why?
  • If you had to write a reference letter for yourself, what would you say?
  • What's the most important lesson you learned from making a mistake at work?
  • How would you describe your approach to multitasking?
  • Can you give me an example of a time when you dealt with an irate customer? How did you handle it and what was the outcome?

Co-worker Relations

Ask questions that will help you evaluate the applicant's attitudes toward taking supervision and dealing with coworkers.

  • Will you please describe the best supervisor you have ever had?
  • What did you dislike about your least favorite former supervisor?
  • How would your previous coworkers describe you?
  • Can you give me an example of a time you worked through a conflict with a coworker?
  • What is your favorite part of working on a team? What do you like about it the least?
  • How do you approach getting to know new coworkers?
  • If I asked one of your current/former coworkers to describe what it is like to work with you, what would he or she say?
  • What do you see as the most important aspects of being a good team member?

Current Opening

The next part of your discussion with a candidate should deal with the current opening in your company. Give the candidate the opportunity to sell him or herself to you as a potential employee.

  • What do you know about our company?
  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • What appeals to you about this position?
  • Why do you feel that you would be an asset to our company?
  • What do you expect to gain from this opportunity?
  • What is your understanding of the requirements of this position?
  • What is your perception of what a typical day at work would be like for someone in this job?
  • What do you see as the most important skills required to succeed in this role?
  • What uniquely qualifies you for this job?

Skill and Qualification Questions

Make sure to verify that the applicant has the skills necessary to perform the job. Even if you plan to administer a skill assessment test, it's advisable to ask related questions during the interview process.

  • What is your understanding of the skills necessary to perform this job? How would you rate your abilities in these areas?
  • What training have you completed that qualifies you for this job? Please describe how you see that training applying to this position.
  • What certifications do you hold related to this position?
  • Can you describe how to ______________________ (fill in with essential job functions, repeating as many times as necessary to get a good idea of necessary job skills)?
  • This job requires the ability to ______________________ (fill in as stated above, asking a separate question for each skill). Can you give me an example of a time that you have had to use this skill/ability?
  • An essential function of this job is ___________________ (fill in as stated above). Is there any reason you cannot perform _______________________ (restate requirement)?

Career Goals

You may also want to get a sense of what the applicant's long term goals are.

  • Can you describe your ideal job?
  • Why do you see this position being a good fit for you at this point in your career?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years, in terms of your career?
  • How does this position fit into your overall career plans/goals?
  • Why should we hire you?

Establishing Criteria

When asking questions of a potential hire, it's helpful to establish or keep in mind the specific criteria that will be most helpful in determining whether an applicant will meet the company's needs. If the company has a pre-determined set of traits and skills that are necessary for the job, utilize that resource.

If not, determine what skills and characteristics are most important to the position in question, and ask interviewees questions that will illustrate whether or not he or she has those skills. Open-ended questions are often helpful in this regard. For example, asking candidates to describe an experience that gave them a sense of accomplishment will illustrate their values, motivations, and possibly how they handle challenges.

Listen to the Answers

Paying attention to what applicants say in response to the questions you ask is just as important as making the right inquiries. Listen carefully to identify if candidates truly seem to have the skills you are looking for as well as to determine if they have personality characteristics and attitude that are likely to be positive additions to your company's culture.

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Questions to Ask a Potential Employee in an Interview