You’ve probably heard stories of those really wacky interview questions – like Apple asking “if you were a pizza deliveryman, how would you benefit from scissors?” or like Google asking “how many cows are in Canada?”.
But let’s forget about those for a moment, and focus instead on 10 of the most basic (yet important) questions to ask your candidates, and why you might want to ask them:
1. Tell me about yourself
This question is not just a great ice breaker, but it helps you to get a feel for the person you’re interviewing.
You’re normally looking for an answer that is clear, concise, and that gives you information relating to how well the person will handle the job they’re applying for.
2. Tell me about our company
This might seem like a bit of an odd question – after all, you already know about your company and you want to learn about the candidate!
But asking what they know about your company will show you how much research they’ve done in advance. Research shows dedication, motivation and a genuine interest in working for your company – you can tell this job means more to the candidate than ‘just a quick job to tie me over’.
3. Why do you want this job?
Everybody is looking to earn money, but if your candidate is looking for nothing more than a quick wage, then how can you be sure they will be a good long-term investment? Will they leave at the earliest opportunity?
The best candidates will usually be enthusiastic with their response, and have a couple of specific reasons why they want a job with your company.
4. What are your biggest strengths?
This question will help you to match the candidate’s skillset with the requirements of the job they’re applying for.
If you want to make sure that strengths aren’t simply being listed off because the candidate feels that’s what is required, then don’t be afraid to probe in a little more detail – ask for examples of each strength, and have them describe why they think this strength is important.
5. What is your greatest weakness?
Firstly, it is genuinely helpful to understand a potential employee’s weaknesses – if you know in advance what they struggle with, then you can better prepare yourself to support them in the areas where it will matter the most.
But this question can also help you to test how a person deals with pressure – it’s a pretty awkward question to answer.
Look out for answers where candidates explain how they overcome their weaknesses (and avoid candidates who say they have none – nobody is perfect!).
6. Where do you want to be in the next (X) years?
This is a pretty crucial question, and will help you to work out whether or not the candidate’s career goals match up with what you’re looking for.
For example, you might want somebody who is looking to progress within your company for many years to come… so if the candidate wants to be retired and living on a tropical island in the Bahamas 2 years from now, then there might be problems. On the flip side, you might be looking to hire somebody to simply cover another employee’s parental leave – would it really be fair to offer a temporary job to somebody who wants to become your next CEO?
7. Why did you leave your most recent job?
This is a great all-round question that can help you to better understand the candidate’s motives.
The best candidates will remain professional when answering, and avoid criticising their last employer – even if they left their last job because of conflicts or disagreements.
8. What is your proudest achievement?
This question can tell you a lot about a person. Not only will you learn more about their skills and abilities, but you will learn about their values, too.
Look for answers that offer evidence of the skills you require, and that match the person specification of the vacancy you’re trying to fill.
9. Describe something that went wrong at work, and tell me how you handled the situation
This really gives you the chance to drill-down into the candidate’s problem-solving skills.
The ‘what went wrong’ part of this question is not too important – you really want to analyse their description of how they handled the situation.
10. What would you like to ask?
This is a great final question for making sure the candidate is confident about the job they’re applying for, and also for assessing their enthusiasm and research skills.
It can also show you their listening skills – are they asking a question you’ve already given them the answer to?
You may find that you learn more during this stage of the interview, as many of the nerves and formalities that are stronger towards the beginning will have eased a little.