Interview Questions

22 Interview Questions to Ask a Job Candidate

By The Org

Last updated: Apr 5, 2023

    Table of contents

Make the most of your interviews by asking your candidates the right questions.

Dylan Gillis/Unsplash
Dylan Gillis/Unsplash

The interview stage may be the most important part of any hiring process. No matter the position you’re hoping to fill, it’s essential to make the most of your interviews. That means asking the right questions.

Here are 22 interview questions to help you vet candidates and make an informed hiring decision. These questions are used across all interview stages, from phone interview questions to final interview.

Classic Questions

Some interview questions have been asked so many times they’ve become cliché. There’s nothing wrong with a simple, tried-and-true approach, though. After all, these classic questions are popular for a reason—they work.

1. “Tell me about yourself.”

This question can seem irrelevant to some interviewers, but it’s a great way to get a better feel for a candidate. By letting them pitch themselves to you, you can learn a lot from what they say and how they say it. You can also learn from what they don’t say.

Do they seem to have an unreasonably high opinion of themselves? Are they overly self-deprecating? Do they take themselves seriously, or do they view their career as a big joke? If you have a knack for reading between the lines, this question is an excellent tool for understanding exactly who is sitting across from you.

2. “What do you know about our company?”

This is another simple yet effective question. The candidate’s answer will tell you how much research they’ve done into your company, which in turn can reveal how invested they are in getting the job.

There’s no need to dwell too long on this question. The goal is simply to find out if a candidate put a little time into learning more about you before applying.

3. “Why did you apply for this position?”

The main reason most people apply for a job is to pay their bills. Still, you’ll generally want a candidate with deeper motivations than that. When employees identify with a company and share its goals and vision, you can expect them to be happier, more productive, and more likely to stick around.

4. “What are your greatest strengths?”

Once again, this question often provides more insight than just the surface-level information you get. Confidence is a key aspect of any truly valuable employee. By asking a candidate to explain their strengths to you, you may be able to gauge whether they’re confident in their abilities without being self-absorbed and arrogant.

(You can also add “What are your greatest weaknesses?” to your interview questions for the same reason.)

5. “Why are you the right person for this job?”

What sets this candidate apart? Why are they perfect for the job? Letting the candidate pitch themselves in their own words is another great opportunity to get to know the candidate better. Ideally, their responses should cover three bases:

  • Why they are capable of fulfilling the responsibilities the role calls for
  • How the role aligns with their personal goals and priorities
  • Why they’re a great fit for your company in particular (and especially any team they’d be working with)

6. “Why did you leave your last job?”

The purpose of this question isn’t to find out about the skeletons in a candidate’s professional closet. Chances are, they aren’t going to let those slip. That’s what reference checking is for. However, you can take note of how they speak about their former position.

Do they tell you that their last boss hated them or that the company was “out to get them?” Were their coworkers all lazy jerks? Were they continually ignored for promotions they deserved?

There may be some truth to those complaints, but that kind of finger-pointing is usually a red flag. Will they be saying the same things about your company when they decide you don’t “appreciate” them enough?

7. “Do you have any questions for us?”

This is the classic question to end a job interview with, and it’s important for several reasons. It:

  • Gives the candidate a chance to follow up on any pieces from the interview
  • Gives them more clarity on anything they don’t understand fully
  • Reveals even more about how much research they have (or haven’t) researched your company
  • Shows that your company is invested in transparency and two-way communication with employees

Plus, if a candidate doesn’t have any questions, you can mark that down as a potential red flag.

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Thought-Provoking Questions

Some interview questions should require a little more thought from a job candidate. Here are some thought-provoking interview questions to encourage more agile thinking.

8. “Explain how to do something you’re good at as if I knew nothing about it.”

The candidate could choose to explain how:

  • Bake a pie
  • Grill a slab of ribs
  • Plant and grow tomatoes
  • Weave a basket
  • Build a wooden cabinet
  • Design a homemade rocket

It doesn’t really matter what they explain. The point is the explanation itself. Can they articulate the steps clearly for you? This will tell you a lot about their ability to break processes down and communicate them to others.

9. “Tell me about a time when you made a huge mistake.”

No one is perfect. Everyone drops the ball. Having a candidate share a time when they messed up is a good test of their humility, self-awareness, and ability to learn from their mistakes. If they can’t think of a single time they made a mistake—or accept some responsibility while shifting most of the blame onto someone else—that’s a red flag.

10. “Who is the smartest person you know?”

This is a great way to learn what qualities a candidate values and who they aspire to be. Their answer should be someone they know personally, too, not a public figure like Elon Musk. They can choose a friend, family member, past coworker, or other acquaintance. Whoever it is, ask them why they consider that person the smartest they’ve ever known.

11. “Give me an example of an important decision you made.”

The goal of this question is to learn how the candidate approaches important decisions. The decision they use as an example might involve:

  • Moving to a new state
  • Switching careers
  • Buying a home
  • Picking a college major

Ask them how they made that decision and how they feel about it in retrospect. Did they make an impulsive choice or take the time to consider their options? Did they seek out advice or try to figure it out on their own? If they had the chance to go back, would they make the same decision now?

12. “How would you pitch this company to me?”

Here’s a spin on the “What do you know about our company so far?” question from earlier. This will give you an even deeper look at how well they know your company and if they understand your value proposition well enough to sell it.

13. “What do you consider to be your most significant career accomplishment so far?”

Some hiring experts consider this to be the most important interview question you can ask. Have the candidate choose their proudest accomplishment, and then ask them to walk you through:

  • Why they view it as their greatest success
  • How they planned it
  • How they achieved it
  • What they would do differently now if they could

Cultural Questions

Finding a candidate with the right skills and experience is only half the puzzle. In order for an employee to truly thrive at your company, they need to align with your company culture. Let’s look at some questions that can help you determine if they’re a good fit.

14. “What motivates you to work?”

Many candidates won't expect this question, which makes it all the more effective.

Every company wants driven, ambitious employees. Those are the kind of people who step up, innovate, and get things done. So what motivates the interviewee? If they can’t answer—or they have an overly generic answer—that may be a sign that their only motivation is paying the bills.

15. “Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team?”

Of course, the “right answer” to this question will depend on the role you’re hiring for. If you’re looking for an employee who will be working closely with others, you’ll want a team player. If you’re looking for an individual contributor, you’ll want someone who is comfortable working as a lone wolf.

Regardless of how the candidate answers, ask them to follow up with the reasons for why they prefer one scenario over the other.

16. “What’s your favorite hobby?”

This question is a pleasant change of pace from the heavier, more serious topics. The candidate’s hobbies may not impact their professional life, but it’s still a good glimpse into their character. (And it can be interesting to hear about their passion for wakeboarding or chess, too!)

17. “What made you excited to get up and go to work at your last job?”

There’s no denying that many people hate their jobs. But to cultivate a healthy company culture, you’ll need to find employees who are excited to show up and do their best. Explore what the candidate found exciting about their last job—then ask what could have made it even better. You can use this information to gauge how likely they are to find what they’re looking for at your company.

18. “Tell me about a negative professional relationship you’ve had.”

Just like everyone makes mistakes, everyone clashes with their coworkers and boss sometimes. Ask the candidate about a bad relationship that had at a previous job. How did it affect their work? Did they attempt to resolve the conflict, or did they let it fester? Did it ever require a third party to step in?

19. “What would you change about this company’s hiring process?”

When it comes to catching candidates off guard, this question may take the cake. More than likely, they’ll have to think on their feet—under pressure—and scramble for an answer. That answer may reveal more about their thinking process and willingness to offer constructive criticism, too.

(They may even have some useful ideas that could help you improve your hiring methods.)

Career Questions

If everything goes to plan, your new hire will be at your company for years to come. With that in mind, you should ask a few interview questions that give you an idea of how the candidate sees their career evolving.

20. “What would you want your first 30/60/90 days in this role to look like?”

You want the employee you hire to hit the ground running. Of course, a lot of their early days will be determined by your onboarding process, but it can still be good to hear their expectations and what help they think they’ll need to ramp up to full productivity.

You can choose to ask how they see their first 30, 60, or 90 days going—or you can ask them to give an overview of where they think they should be at all three stages.

21. “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

This is one of the most common interview questions around. (We could easily have put it in the “Classic Questions” section above.) Still, it’s just as useful a question today as it ever was.

Does the candidate plan to stay with your company for at least five years? If not, they may not be the right pick. If they do, do they see themselves loitering in the same role or climbing the ladder to new heights?

22. “What are your long-term goals?”

You may already know where they want to be in five years, but what about ten years? Twenty? What are their ultimate goals?

This will give you a clear picture of their ultimate aspirations (as well as how ambitious they are). Ask them to go into some detail about:

  • What they want to be
  • Why they think it’s a worthwhile goal for them
  • How they plan to reach it

You can then decide whether their plans align with your company’s.

Is Your Company on The Org?

Hopefully, this guide has given you some ideas for interview questions to ask your next batch of candidates. If you’d like to improve your hiring process even more, consider joining The Org. A public org chart is the perfect way to to attract the right talent for your organization and streamline the onboarding phase.

Create a beautiful org chart in under 10 minutes

Connect Slack or your HRIS system to get started

  • Get a free, dynamic org chart using existing tools like Slack or your HRIS
  • Integrate your ATS and place your open jobs in your org chart
  • Show off your team and boost your employer brand

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