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What questions should I ask candidates at interview?

Updated: Jan 8

Interviewing – the really helpful questions to ask

Interviewing can be a daunting prospect, especially if you’re a small business who is looking for someone with varied skills and a good personality that will be the right fit for your team.

There’s an endless list of questions you can ask, and job specific questions will vary enormously from business to business. But to get you started here’s 8 of our favourite interview questions that work well for most roles and will help you differentiate between candidates.

On the day, before you get stuck into your key questions, remember to give the candidate time to settle. Offer them a drink and begin by explaining the format of the interview, that you will be making notes throughout and that this shouldn’t put them off. Tell them that there will be a chance for them to ask you questions too; most interviewers leave this until the end of the interview.

The first question, and we think an important one, is before you even meet your candidates! It relates to when you invite people for an interview, either in person or on-line.

Q1 – Are there any arrangements you need us to have in place to assist you with the interview?

This allows candidates to comfortably ask for any assistance they might need e.g., accessibility to your premises or subtitles for an on-line meeting. You might also consider offering to send people your interview questions beforehand to allow candidates the opportunity to prepare.

Q2 - “What are you most proud of achieving in your career?”

This is good one to start off with, as you’re talking about something positive – which should be more comfortable for the candidate to talk about. From their answer, not only should you be able to gauge how good they would be as an employee, but also what they see as a ‘success.’ Does this fit in with your organisation’s values and goals?

A good answer might show the candidate’s problem-solving skills or initiative. E.g., “We had an imminent deadline, and X stopped working at the last minute. I looked around and implemented Y which meant we made the deadline and impressed the client too. My MD was so impressed we now use that process for all our work.” In a demanding environment especially, this would be ideal.

A weaker answer however might demonstrate a short-sighted outlook on their work, with little understanding of how their success impacted on the business. E.g., they may have produced a piece of work which generated a high volume of calls to their business – but were they valuable calls, do they know what impact they had on the company?

What you’re looking for is someone that feels pride in their personal success, but also understands the skills that led to that and what effect it had on the business.

Q3 - “How do you know when you’ve done a good job?”

Responses will tell you a lot about the person and their motivation. Look out for whether they make an external reference in their response such as ‘my boss/others tell me that I did a good job’ or an internal reference such as ‘I know I’ve done a good job; I feel good about it.’

People who use external references are more likely to rely on what others say and do for their evidence of success. It’s more common to hear strong external references from junior people. They might also reference other external factors such as “more orders”, “more sales” etc. These people tend to rely on having others around them and will work well as a team.

On the other hand, those who use internal references use their own feelings and voice to evidence success. These people tend to be independent and do not necessarily need others to work with them. It’s common for more senior people to use stronger internal responses. Imagine a Managing Director who depended on his staff’s praise to succeed!

If someone junior is primarily internally referenced, you may then ask them to give you an example of when they worked well as part of a team if you were thinking that the answer to the question suggested they were too independent. And vice versa if a senior person referenced external sources, do they have the capability to lead in your business?

Q4 – “Can you give an example of when your [choose a specific skill from CV] has helped to deliver success?”

This gives you the chance to really test people’s CVs.

It’s much harder for people to lie about being a ‘team-player’ or being ‘creatively-driven’ when they must give examples of what they themselves have actually done. Unfortunately, some people feel the need to fabricate parts of their CV, so this question will help you to root out the more ‘creative’ parts of a candidate’s story. If they say they’ve done something, they should remember the specific event, how it turned out, why they did what they did, and how they might change their approach next time.

This question should help you to gain more of an insight into how they apply their skills to different scenarios. Be ready to prompt here though, sometimes people can clam up when they’re nervous!

Q5 – “Can you tell me about a time when you have [add in specifics for the job role]?”

Used your initiative? / Beat sales targets? / Led a team to success? / Worked as an integral part of a team? / Used xxxx software?

Like Q4, this gives you an opportunity to probe what a person has put in their application.

If they say they have experience using a specific tool, or doing something specific, can they walk you through how they used it?

A good answer would show that they not only understand what they did when they implemented the use of the tool/practice, but why they did it too. Did they knowingly apply their skills to the situation in their story, or does it appear that they only understood this in hindsight?

Q6 – “What is your perception of our company?”

This can clarify how seriously the candidate is taking their application. Have they researched the business and prepared for the interview properly? Is it your organisation they want to work for you, or do they just want any job?

Look out for more incisive opinions rather than general compliments – have they told you anything you couldn’t find by typing the question into Google? It might be good idea to remind yourself what’s on your website, so you can tell if they’re just repeating your own marketing copy to you.

This is a good opportunity to understand their business nous. E.g., they might express an opinion on where your business sits in the market, or what your current challenges might be. They might even say they feel it would be a good opportunity for them to join a team which is going places.

Q7 – “What would your current or most recent boss say about you if I called them?”

This might make some candidates look totally horrified but assure them that you won’t take a reference until you have made a job offer.

An evasive or a non-specific answer could well suggest that there is something more to investigate. It may also give you an insight into how they handle authority. If you feel that they give a balanced answer with both positives and negatives, it’s probably a good indicator of a good, professional, and honest working relationship with their employer.

It’s always good though to check when you follow up with the reference!

Q8 – “If I met you in a coffee shop now, what would I find out about you that I don’t already know?

This is a great way to round off your questions and shows that as a business, you take a real interest in your employees and what makes them who they are. It gives the candidate the opportunity to tell you about their interests and lives outside of work,

Questions to avoid….

Some questions asked in an interview can get you into hot water!

Firstly, remember you should not be asking about the candidate’s personal life. Questions such as ‘are you married?’, ‘do you have a family, or are you planning one?’ might seem like polite interest to some but can put you at serious risk of a discrimination claim.

It might be that the candidate offers up this information in conversation. If that happens, make a note that they offered the information first, and don’t probe any further. It goes without saying that you should also not base any recruitment decisions on this information.

Family life is not the only area of potential discrimination. Questions about health and absences should be handled carefully. For example, you may be unaware of a disability that the candidate may have. Similarly, any other questions about disability are best avoided unless brought up by the candidate. Again, if the candidate offers details about a disability, then you should record that they have done so. You might also like to say something like: “we can discuss the impact of that and any adjustments that we need to make later, if your application is successful.”

This shows that you are willing to adjust if they are successful, and that their disability is not linked in any way to their application’s success.

The key to good recruitment is to have a planned process and be consistent. The advert and the interview process all form early perceptions in a candidate’s mind and will help them decide if you are the company for them. It’s a candidate driven market with more jobs than applicants, so getting it right is vital.

If you would like support with recruitment or you’re interested in discussing discounts that we offer on Applicant Tracking Systems, get in touch via or

Check out other Blogs in our series:

Please contact Robinson Grace HR for further advice and support via or call us on 01793 311937 to see if we can help you

The content of our blogs is intended for general information only and does not replace legal or other professional advice.

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