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Interview Questions to Ask Candidates (and a Few to Ask Yourself)

December 4, 2023
Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

Nice to meet you! Now sit down and tell me everything.

When interviewing a candidate for a role, you're attempting to learn a lot in a relatively short time. Your ultimate goal is to determine if this person is a good fit for your company and current job opening. Does he or she possess the required skills and seem like a good cultural fit? And what sets this person apart from other candidates with the same background? The interview process is a unique opportunity to learn more about a potential candidate’s experience, skill set, work ethic, work style and other traits. The biggest challenge for employers, HR and hiring managers can be gleaning critical insights within a limited amount of time. Knowing what most relevant and revealing interview questions to ask candidates can help you drill down on multiple levels at once.

Here's a look at some of the best interview questions for getting that ball rolling. Use our specific examples, or let them inspire questions and conversations that'll better suit your goals.

Start with practical and behavioral interview questions

When preparing your interview, give it structure. Structured interviews tend to perform best at predicting performance.

Plan to ask candidates a combination of questions that span the informational gamut. From behavioral questions to those pertaining to soft skills and the specific job description, select and frame both direct and open-ended questions for best results.

The following common interview questions are designed to help employers and candidates expand their understanding while addressing the basics.

Question: What have challenging times taught you about balancing work and personal time?

Granted, you want your staff to be committed to their jobs. But not at the expense of their well-being or productivity.

When in your interviewee's personal and/or professional experience has he or she faced a significant challenge? And what, if any, effect did it have at home and/or at work?

Tight deadlines, major organizational change and prolonged stressful situations can lead to overwhelm and burnout. So the goal with this interview question is to shed light on candidates' stress-management and work-life balance philosophies. What does a healthy work-life balance look like to them, and how do they envision creating or maintaining one?

Employees who achieve job satisfaction, overall wellness and a healthy work-life balance tend to do so by working in ways that are most effective for them. According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Global Talent Trends report, 63% of survey respondents said their top priority is work-life balance when looking for a new job. This question sends the message that you understand and expect that your people have a life outside work. This is particularly important to those who have busy family lives or demanding personal obligations.

Question: What type of work arrangement or flexibility are you seeking?

Many people who once worked on-site have become used to working remotely. While some individuals look forward to getting back into a traditional office setting, others prefer the quiet of their remote location. This question is designed to reveal your interviewee's work location and flexibility preferences.

Employees value flexibility and having more control over their time and work location. This could mean your candidates expect a flexible schedule with work-at-home options. Conversely, it may mean they prefer to spend all their hours at the office to set boundaries between work and personal time.

For this reason, you’ll need an idea of what type of flexibility your candidate is seeking. Broaching this topic should reveal how well you both align on schedule and working hours. Will their needs and preferences work for your company's position, culture and processes? If not, one of you may be destined for disappointment should you embark on an employment relationship.

Question: How would your coworkers describe you?

It’s always interesting to get a feel for how individuals view themselves. Asking how your candidate thinks they’re perceived by colleagues can provide a glimpse into how self aware they tend to be.

Would others describe them as a team player who thrives on collaboration? Or as more quiet and reserved; a more independent or autonomous worker?

Furthermore, to what extent do they agree or disagree with these assessments? Are they secretly more goal oriented, self-directed or creative than their previous employer or coworkers realized?

There should be no “wrong” answers here. Still, your needs will depend on what the role requires, and that's important to consider.

For example, an engineer who will be joining a large ongoing project might need to be extremely innovative and relatively extroverted. A shy or introverted financial controller might be perfectly fine working mostly alone.

Question: Tell me about the virtues or characteristics of someone you consider the best boss or leader you've ever had. What did you most admire, and why?

People’s values tend to reflect their desires, expectations and output. And vice versa: people's desires, expectations and output tend to reflect their values. For example, a person who values integrity upholds it as a standard for how they and others should conduct themselves. A person who values emotional intelligence will likely demonstrate fairness, diplomacy, critical thinking and effective problem-solving skills. This sets standards for others to benefit from, value and strive to cultivate.

Ultimately, it's our values, desires and expectations that drive our thoughts, behaviors, decisions and personal and professional relationship dynamics. So it's important to understand what people who impact your life will want, expect, contribute and perpetuate.

Successful business leaders understand how critical this concept is in day-to-day real-world practice. That's why this one ranks among the top interview questions in terms of most meaningful insight. From an organizational perspective, it's a company's core values that help define, shape and drive its mission. So asking questions that probe the nature of a candidate's own core values can help you better gauge if and how they align with yours.

Consider what values and characteristics matter to the success of your people and your organization. Those might include:

  • Honesty, integrity and trustworthiness.
  • Being ethical and principled.
  • Compassion, empathy and respect.
  • Emotional intelligence in leadership, communication and everyday interaction.

Put simply, you want to select a candidate who values the traits you’re looking for.

Question: Tell me about your experiences with remote and on-site internal communications. What works for you, and what doesn’t?

We've listed two great interview questions here; each pertains to workplace and team communications.

This first one is designed to help you find team members who suit the culture’s expectations regarding ongoing internal communication. The conversation could touch on needs, preferences and habits pertaining to:

  • Frequency or regularity.
  • Clarity and specificity.
  • Face-to-face and video meetings vs. email, phone, chat messaging apps and other channels.
  • After-hours urgent comms.
  • Response times.

The answer to the next question can shed light on how this candidate communicates what they need in their environment and how they handle stress in the workplace.

Tell me about a time you felt burned out at work and if and how you communicated the issue.

Asking this allows your candidate to share moments of stress and anxiety they experienced in a past position and how they handled it. Did they discuss the situation and ask for help or advice to resolve the issues? Did they keep it bottled up inside until it spilled over to affect other people or responsibilities? What were the results of their communication or lack of it? And what are their expectations of themselves and others in future similar situations?

If you truly value your workers' well-being, make it clear with this question. Showing empathy and care is important. Employees who feel cared for are more likely to be happy at work and remain with the company. For everyone's sake, it's important that both the candidate and the employer are on the same page regarding a culture of mutual support vs. getting the job done at any expense.

"Culture add" interview questions to improve your hiring process

Some 20-plus years ago, the concept of company culture hit the corporate scene. It was a way of establishing the status quo within a workplace and made its way into hiring practices. But that eventually led to a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes someone a strong asset to a company.

Hiring for culture fit began to be confused with hiring for similar personal backgrounds, interests or even appearances. That mindset sometimes resulted in companies full of employees who looked, thought and acted alike rather than contributing diverse and complementary attributes. Culture add takes the concept of cultural fit back to its origins, leaning on the value of inclusion and diversity instead of sameness.

Think of your company as a machine, and every person is a moving part. The overall commitment to the company’s values is what powers your machine. Once that is established, you can apply the concept of culture add for new hires who can make your machine more efficient, productive and diversely robust.

What is a culture add interview?

Like a traditional interview, a culture add interview provides significant insight into what a candidate brings to the table. And it extends further, to a candidate’s potential to add something new, helpful, and diverse to a team. It considers the company’s culture as it relates to its implemented values. In a culture add interview, hiring managers measure a potential employee against how well they will fulfill the responsibilities. They also consider the different ideas an individual might bring to the team.

During the hiring process, culture add interview questions can help you make decisions based on good cultural fit and building a strong company with diversity and commitment to values.

Interview questions to ask yourself first

Before and after you interview a promising candidate, ask yourself the following questions. They'll help you determine what exactly you are looking for, why, and how a person can fulfill your needs:

  • What gaps in our company’s knowledge or culture can this candidate fill?
  • Does the candidate have skills in new processes or techniques that would benefit the company?
  • Could this employee challenge our way of thinking and suggest improvements to our processes?
  • Does this candidate represent a voice or viewpoint for our customers that we lack? Could they help us better communicate with potential customers by virtue of this?

Culture add questions to ask candidates

The following examples go beyond the more common interview questions to help hiring managers better understand what may make a candidate a good fit in their organization’s culture.

Describe a time when you helped a coworker or direct report with a work problem.

This assesses how potential job candidates use core values in their approach to problem-solving and management. Styles and strategies differ, and some are more effective or appropriate than others.

Describe an occasion at work when you had to do something you disagreed with. How did you handle it?

If your interviewees ever reported to a direct superior, they may have had to follow through with something they disagreed with. The answer to this question can help you gauge conscientiousness and open-mindedness, two qualities that may factor into your company values.

Describe a time when you received difficult feedback from a supervisor or someone on another team. How did you react? What was the result?

Feedback isn’t always easy, especially when it’s critical or negative. How a person handles difficult feedback can speak volumes about their character, work ethic and desire to improve.

What attracted you to this role?

A question like this can help you assess how familiar and interested a candidate is regarding your company's values, mission and proposed role. Someone whose professional development aspirations or salary expectations have prompted them to leave their current employer may be perfectly justified in doing so. But answers like that won’t tell you much. Probe for more specific insights about how candidates see themselves fulfilling your company’s mission and values through this role.

How do you measure success at work? What does a successful day at work look like to you?

Questions like this can filter out people whose ideas of success don’t fit the company culture. For example, “highest profits at the highest efficiency” may represent success in your primary competitor's culture. But your company might value a people-first approach to success, both internally and within the marketplace. For some, success includes community impact; a successful day could feature team volunteer work. Often, candidates will be well matched where the concepts of success align.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment with a previous employer?

This topic can open a window to what excites and motivates your interviewee and why. What did they accomplish, and with whom? Did it involve an interesting project? Did it further their career development? Did it have a meaningful impact on others? Take note of things like their intentions, what challenges they overcame, what they learned, and what they found most rewarding about the achievement.

In some cases, this question is more appropriately framed in terms of a most interesting project rather than a greatest accomplishment.

How would you describe your leadership style?

This topic doesn't only apply to higher-level leadership positions. It’s actually an excellent indicator of culture fit and culture add as it reveals how someone might respond to other people’s leadership.

A team member calls in sick two hours prior to a team presentation. What do you do?

If you work in a fast-paced work environment, it makes sense to assess culture fit and culture add as they might apply to real-world scenarios. This means knowing more than how a candidate prefers to work. This interview question can help you understand how he or she manages parameters like strict or tight deadlines. Moreover, you'll glean insight into how they're accustomed to handling unexpected high-pressure situations.

Finally, remember that while you’re interviewing candidates, they’re also interviewing you. Demonstrate your behavioral standards and expectations, and be open to answering their thoughtful questions about you.

Hiring has its challenges. And we have solutions. Visit TriNet daily for HR trends and insights that matter. To learn how TriNet's array of HR and benefits services can support your workforce, speak with a knowledgeable representative today.

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