find the best 33 interview questions to ask job candidates during the hiring process

The 33 Best Interview Questions to Ask Job Candidates

Bad hires are a serious problem for companies. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, bad hire costs can be at least 30% of an employee's first-year earnings. This translates into an average cost of $17,000, a figure which can even reach $240,000 in some cases. If you add to this that 75% of hiring managers have claimed that they've hired the wrong person at least once, the magnitude of the matter becomes clear as water.

An adequate strategy a hiring manager can implement to avoid these costs—or at least minimize the risks—is to make the correct interview questions during the job interview. There’s plenty of information out there about what to ask in a job interview. However, many of the common job interview questions you can find on Google are well-known clichés for which the interviewees have already canned responses that don't yield any valuable information at all.

This article packs up questions to ask in an interview that can be truly useful in hiring the correct employees. We want to provide you with interview questions that can help you obtain reliable and key information about the potential new team member. We’ll present a curated list of 33 job interview questions covering various aspects such as skills, personality, and cultural fit.

Category 1: Experience, Background and Overall Profile Questions

This interview questions category focuses on understanding the candidate's past experiences, last job, qualifications, and skills relevant to the job requirements. It’s a good place to start with, as many of these interview questions allow the transition from small talk to a more professional conversation.

Here are some interview questions to ask regarding experience and background, along with tips on what to look for in their answers:

1. Tell me about yourself. (Open-ended icebreaker)

Look for: How they approach the question (structured answer vs. personal anecdote), how they connect their experiences to the position, and their career goals.

2. Give an example of a time you improved or optimized a process.

Look for: Problem-solving skills, initiative, creativity, and ability to identify areas for improvement. Are they results-oriented?

3. If you were an interviewer, what do you think the three most important criteria would be for hiring someone for this position?

Look for: Understanding of the role, ability to analyze requirements, and how they position their own strengths to align with those criteria.

4. How would your past coworkers describe your interactions with them? Why would they describe them in this way?

Look for: Self-awareness, teamwork abilities, and communication style. Needless to say, the interviewee won’t tell you negative things. However, the candidate's choice of what to highlight can show their self-awareness and how they'd fit in a team.

5. Please give an example of a project that you owned and what the process was like from start to finish.

Look for: Project management skills, ability to handle responsibility, different stages of execution they mention (planning, execution, challenges, outcomes).

6. What kind of people do you have trouble interacting with? How do you deal with them?

Look for: Honesty, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution skills. Do they acknowledge challenges and demonstrate positive coping mechanisms?

7. What do you do when a decision is being made that you disagree with?

Look for: Communication skills, ability to express dissent respectfully, and willingness to collaborate for a solution.

Category 2: Skills Assessment Questions

In this section, we’ll present examples of questions to assess a candidate's capabilities through both hard skills (technical expertise) and soft skills (personality traits) in a job interview.

We’ll use a slightly different format here, as we’ll present sample questions for specific positions that we’ll work as examples.

Hard Skills

8. Technical Skills: These require specific interview questions aligned with the job description.

Sample question (Web Developer): “Walk me through your debugging process for a complex code error. What specific tools or techniques do you use?”

Candidate demonstration: The candidate should share their knowledge of debugging tools and frameworks relevant to the role. They might explain their step-by-step approach, highlighting thought processes and troubleshooting methods.

9. Industry-Specific Skills: Craft questions targeting the specific knowledge and experience required for the role.

Sample question (Marketing Manager): “How would you develop a social media campaign to launch a new product aimed at millennials? Describe your strategy and metrics for measuring success.”

Candidate demonstration: The applicant should be able to demonstrate their understanding of current marketing trends and their ability to apply that knowledge to a specific scenario. In an ideal scenario, they might discuss target audience analysis, platform selection, content creation strategies, and KPIs. If they don't bring them up, you can always teach that to them with personalized trainings.

Soft Skills

10. Communication Skills

Sample question: “Describe a situation where you had to explain a complex technical concept to a client with no technical background. How did you ensure they understood the information?”

Candidate demonstration: The candidate should detail their communication strategies for adapting their message to different audiences. They might emphasize clear explanations, use of analogies or metaphors, and checking for understanding throughout the interaction.

11. Learning and Adaptability

Sample question: “We're thinking of setting up a new CRM. If a CRM system is implemented at your current company, how would you approach learning the new system and adopting it as a part of your workflow?”

Candidate demonstration: The interviewee should highlight their openness to new ideas and willingness to stay up to date. They might describe their preferred methods for learning new software, such as attending training sessions, exploring online resources, or seeking help from colleagues.

12. Creativity

Sample question: “Our company is looking for ways to improve employee engagement. Can you share a creative idea you might implement?”

Candidate demonstration: The candidate should be able to demonstrate their ability to think outside the box and offer up-to-the-minute answers. Some employees liven the question up by adding an example of something the company is already doing for that so that the candidate can assess it or share their opinion. It's a good way to spark a conversation up.

Category 3: Behavioral Questions

These interview questions are designed for candidates to describe a specific situation they had to deal with in their last job and how they handled it.

By asking follow-up questions and carefully analyzing the candidate's thought process and problem-solving approach in their responses, you can gain a more in-depth understanding of their behavioral tendencies and predict how they might fit within your team dynamic.

Take a look at these behavioral interview questions:

13. Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult colleague.

Look for: Communication skills, diplomacy, and conflict resolution abilities. Did they demonstrate active listening and attempt to understand the other person's perspective? Did they maintain professionalism while addressing the issue? Note: HR reps can reframe this question as “had to deal with a difficult situation” instead of “colleague.” It really depends on a company's culture to adapt it either way.

14. Have you ever missed a deadline? What would you do differently next time?

Look for: Accountability, problem-solving skills, and ability to learn from mistakes. Did they acknowledge their responsibility for the missed deadline? Did they explain the root cause and suggest changes to prevent similar situations from happening again?

15. Have you ever been assigned a task you were not familiar with? How did you approach it?

Look for: Initiative, adaptability, and willingness to learn. Did they take ownership of the task despite the lack of prior experience? Did they try to take charge by asking for help or investigating how to learn?

Category 4: Teamwork and Interpersonal Skills Questions

97% of employers say interpersonal skills are key to business growth and success. How to correctly assess them through interview questions? Here’s how:

16. Describe a group project you worked on. What was your role, and how did you contribute to the team's success?

Look for: The candidate's ability to collaborate, share responsibility, and contribute positively to a team effort.

17. Has your team ever failed to reach a goal? If so, what went wrong, and what did you learn from that experience?

Look for: The ability to analyze team dynamics, identify areas for improvement, and learn from setbacks.

18. Tell me about a time you had to work with a colleague you didn't get along with. How did you manage the situation?

Look for: Conflict resolution skills, ability to adapt to different personalities, and commitment to maintaining a positive workplace environment.

Category 5: Problem-Solving Questions

Regardless of the specific position, unexpected challenges and roadblocks will inevitably arise. Employees with strong problem-solving abilities can quickly identify core issues, and generate creative and practical solutions—considering potential consequences and their practicality.

Here are some questions to assess these skills:

19.ell me about a time you encountered a situation where a project deadline was at risk. How did you identify the root cause of the problem and work towards a solution?

20. Describe a complex technical issue you faced at work. How did you approach troubleshooting the problem and ultimately solve it?

21. Imagine you disagree with a colleague's proposed solution to a problem. How would you approach this situation and communicate your perspective?

When assessing these interview questions, look for analytical thinking (did they break down the problem into manageable parts?), information gathering (did they actively seek relevant data to inform their solution?), creative thinking (did they consider multiple solution paths and potential risks?), decision-making (did they justify their chosen solution and explain its implementation?), and openness to feedback (did they show willingness to adapt their approach based on input from others?).

Category 6: Creativity Questions

Here, you'll pose job interview questions that gauge their ability to come up with unconventional solutions, generate original ideas, and adapt to new concepts:

22. We're always looking for ways to improve how we interact with customers. Can you share a creative idea you've had to enhance customer experience in any situation?

23. Imagine you're tasked with promoting a new product or service. Describe an interesting way you might capture people's attention.

24. How do you think working together as a team can lead to the best solutions for problems? Explain your approach to brainstorming.

Look for candidates who demonstrate the following originality (did they propose solutions that are uncommon or unexpected?), feasibility (did they consider the practicality of their ideas and potential implementation plans?), adaptability (did they show openness to different perspectives and willingness to refine their ideas based on feedback?), and collaboration (did they emphasize the importance of teamwork in the creative process?). It's always a plus if the candidate realized which kind of customer you're thinking in. It will mean they have tried to figure out the buyer persona your organization provides services to. That kind of research boils down to dedication to excel in an interview process.

Category 7: Leadership Questions

When evaluating management style, you should look for: initiative (does the candidate take ownership of problems and actively seek solutions?), problem-solving (do they demonstrate critical thinking and effective strategies?), decision-making (can they weigh options, make sound judgments, and communicate decisions clearly?), motivation and inspiration (can they motivate and inspire others through their actions and communication?), and collaboration (do they value teamwork and facilitate collaboration for successful outcomes?).

Consider the following leadership interview questions:

25. Describe a time you took initiative to solve a problem faced by your team. What was your approach, and what was the outcome?

26. Have you ever mentored or guided a colleague in a new task or skill? How did you support their development?

27. Imagine you're working on a group project where team members have different work styles. How would you ensure everyone feels heard and contributes effectively?

Category 8: Cultural Fit Questions

This section focuses on how well a candidate's values and work style align with your company culture. Cultural fit goes beyond just getting along with others; it's about finding someone who can adapt easily and comfortably in your company's particular environment.

Consider asking these questions:

28. Describe the type of work environment in which you are most productive. What aspects of a company culture are most important to you?

29. What are your preferred communication styles? How do you ensure clear communication within a team?

30. Tell me about a time you had to adapt your work style to a new team dynamic. How did you approach the situation?

With these questions, look for values alignment (do the candidate's stated values resonate with your company's core principles?), work style fit (does the candidate's preferred work style complement your existing team dynamic?), and adaptability (can the candidate adapt to different work styles and environments?).

Category 9: Aspirations and Goals Questions

Examining motivation is extremely important for a good hiring lifecycle. A Gallup study showed that motivated employees are 20% more productive. If you ever consider that productive employees are also happier, you'll have a new resource to put in your retention strategy toolkit.

These are some interview questions you can ask to assess a candidate’s aspirations and goals:

31. What are your long-term career aspirations in this field? How do you see this role fitting into your overall career goals?

32. Describe a specific instance when you went above and beyond to achieve a challenging personal or professional goal. What motivated you, and what did you learn from the experience?

33. How do you typically approach setting goals for yourself? Can you share an example of a time you achieved a particularly challenging goal?

Illegal Interview Questions You Must Avoid

Be very careful with this point. There are some questions that are illegal to ask during a job interview. Fortunately, these same questions can be easily filtered out.

These illegal questions are:

  • How old are you?
  • When did you graduate? (Because it probably gives away the age)
  • Do you plan to have children?
  • Are you married or plan to get married soon?
  • Have you ever used any drugs?

Some questions are not inherently illegal, but it's illegal to turn down a candidate for some answers they could provide to these questions. For example, it's illegal to discriminate by age, so it's just better to avoid asking about it.

The status of the illegality of many other questions is more of a sleuth assignment than a straightforward answer. For example, some sources advise against asking if someone is a native English speaker or if someone is a US national, but it's difficult to check whether that's illegal or not. In any case, plenty of job ads specify that the role is only for people based in the US. That seems to be the preferred way to approach that question in the employer market. Some other sources claim that asking about an arrest could also be illegal. Considering how arrest differs from conviction, and considering companies can run background checks, it is better to steer away from that question too.

Conclusion: Job Interview Questions and Answers

Asking the right job interview questions is crucial for successful hiring. Generic questions often lead to prefabricated responses that won't get you far. This curated list provides you with targeted questions that take you deeper into:

  • Skills and experience
  • Personality and work style
  • Cultural fit
  • Long-term potential
  • Motivation

However, keep in mind this list provides just a framework. Remember to customize questions to the specific needs of each role and your business.

Consider Implementing an HR Software Solution to Manage the Hiring Process

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