Looking for the best interview questions possible to use when interviewing prospective employees in your offices? We are here to help you with this ultimate guide to interview questions. Spanning 17 categories and 120 questions, we’ll help you put together the best interview questions possible for your open roles. We include questions on all of the following:
- 11 Most Common Interview Questions
- 3 Get-To-Know-You Questions with Purpose
- 4 Experience Verification Questions
- 5 Logical Reasoning Interview Questions
- 8 Situational Interview Questions
- 10 Management Interview Questions
- 5 Marketing Interview Questions
- 3 Phone Screen Interview Questions
- 5 Second Round Interview Questions
- 3 Questions for Administrative Assistant Candidates
- 15 Questions for Real Estate Candidates
- 15 Questions for IT Candidates
- 11 Questions for Sales Candidates
- 7 Questions to Throw Your Candidate for a Loop
- 6 Questions to Get the Info You Need (without breaking laws)
- 5 Work Sample Interview Questions & Techniques
- 4 Cultural Fit Interview Questions & Techniques
11 Most Common Interview Questions
The following 11 questions are those that we all know and love, and they do still serve a good purpose in the standard interview. They can be used as openers, closers, or as a transition from one topic to the next.
What questions do you have for us?
Great candidates ask questions that not only demonstrate that they’ve thoroughly researched the company’s strategic direction, but also envision themselves in the role, contributing to that direction.
—Lynda Spiegel, Founder, Rising Star Resumes
Why are you looking to leave your current role?
I ask this question because I want to see if the candidate is negative about the existing employer or state that they are being let go.
—Kathleen Steffey, CEO, Naviga Recruiting & Executive Search
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
This question will give you some insight into how much thought a candidate has put into where they are going in life or where they want to go and will give you some insight into how much passion and drive they have!
—Neha Gupta, Elite Private Tutors
What two or three things would be most important to you in your ideal job, and why?
I ask this question to understand the candidate better. It can let me know several things, including what their priorities are.
—Shilonda Downing, Virtual Work Team
Describe the last significant conflict you had at work and how you handled it?
Savvy hiring authorities respond well when I say, “We hire them for what they know, we fire them for who they are.” The question now is how do we determine who they are? Questions (like this) help to discern who a candidate is.
—Kent Porter, Porter Leadership Development
Tell me about yourself.
Like many managers, I like a tell me about yourself question for all positions. This question is a good ice breaker.
—Olga V. Mack, Startup Lawyer, Head of Legal, ClearSlide
Here are 5 more traditional standby interview questions that you can use for any role, from my recruiting experience:
Walk me through your resume and explain to me how you got to where you are today.
I love hearing people’s stories. I suppose that is why I am in HR and recruiting! People are fascinating, and you can learn a lot from this simple question. You should also look for someone to volunteer why perhaps they have an employment gap or another anomaly in their resume.
What is your dream job? Describe it to me.
This is a great question to ask younger candidates and new graduates. I end up getting a lot of information, like “I really just want to work from home.” That tells me if they will be a good long-term fit.
Why were you let go from your last position?
For candidates who are unemployed, they should have an answer to this question ready for you. Candidates who were subject to a financial restructuring will easily be able to tell you that. Candidates who were fired should have some insight into why and show maturity about the situation.
How would your last boss or your coworkers describe you?
This is a classic interview question. It’s an opportunity to see how a candidate thinks others perceive them, and I like to see how genuine someone is in their response from their body language.
What are your salary requirements or expectations?
You’ve got to talk about money with a candidate at some point. You’d be surprised how many don’t read all the way through a job posting to see the salary range, and that can tell you something right there! But there is no point in entertaining a candidate who expects twice what you can afford, and this simply saves time.
3 Get-To-Know-You Questions with Purpose
These questions are important not just in order to break the ice between you and a candidate, but to give you some context into who they are and if they would fit into your company. These are a good place to start an interview and get the conversation rolling.
Tell me something you are passionate about.
If someone is not passionate about anything, then they will not be passionate about working for your company.
—Gene Caballero, Co-Founder, Your Green Pal
What was it about this job description that caught your eye?
You quickly learn whether candidates are focused on this particular job at this organization or if they are desperately trying to find any work.
—Mark Alves, Flipboard
You have two minutes. Tell me a story.
What I’m looking for is really to hear what the person says without a pre-prepared script. I want to get into the person’s head for a short tour (to learn more about them as a person).
—Ashley Galina Dudarenok, Managing Director, Alarice International Limited
4 Experience Verification Questions
Making sure a candidate has actually done the things they listed on their resume is more important than you might think. Thanks to the Internet, resumes and buzzwords can be easily cut and pasted into a resume, so you’ll want to at least spot check experience. From my experience as an HR Manager and Recruiter, you definitely want to verify a candidate’s experience to make sure they can do the job they’re interviewing for. Here are some questions that do just that.
Wow, (insert company name from their resume) is an impressive company, but I’ve heard their culture is a bit (insert adjective that you know of company culture). How did you find you fit into that culture?
A simple question where you ask about a company’s culture from a candidate’s resume should lead to a natural conversation about their experience there. Look for them to be able to answer this question easily and without hesitation.
Before you came in, I looked at the mission and vision from your current (or past) company. What is it in your own words?
Asking a candidate about the mission and vision from their current or most recent employer can provide a few insights into your potential candidate. First, do they even know the answer? Second, if they do, are they able to relate what the company does to that mission and vision, showing big-picture thinking?
I used to work with (insert name of professional contact) at your former company. Did you ever meet him while you were working there?
This is a simple question that can work really well for small businesses. Did the person look nervous or did they answer your question? This also tells them that you can ask someone independent about their work, which for good candidates, should make them happy.
I checked out your last company’s social media accounts to see what your marketing department has been up to. What did you think of their current campaign?
A simple question that is especially relevant to marketing candidates, but also can work for management or other candidates. Your potential new hire should know what their company is doing online, especially if they are in the marketing or client-facing side of the business.
5 Logical Reasoning Interview Questions
If you are interviewing for a math-based role, like a business analyst or accountant, you’ll want to include some logical reasoning questions. However, they can also be useful for project manager positions or other roles that require problem solving on a constant basis. A nice thing to add to any of these questions is to say, “Walk me through how you got to your answer,” for even more insight.
Austin Ries of Zoho’s recruiting blog also makes a great point in his article here that, when interviewing analytical candidates, you should ask them to summarize what happened in the interview since that is a necessary skill for an analytical role.
What is a quarter of a half?
I ask this question because math is a fundamental skill that employees need when it comes to analyzing the success of advertising campaigns. The best response is when they answer the question confidently and correctly. The worst is when they say I’m not very good at math or take wild guesses at the answer.
—Bob Bentz, President, Advanced Telecom Services
A bat and ball cost $1.10 IN TOTAL; The bat costs $1 more than the ball; How much does the ball cost?
Hint: the answer is not 10 cents! The answer is that the bat costs $1.05 and the ball costs $0.05.
—Kevin Robson, Managing Director, Capable Consultants
Here are 3 more logical reasoning interview questions from my experience as a recruiter:
How many people do you think are online on Facebook in Chicago right now?
This might seem incredibly silly with no possible answer, but it really gives some good insight into how the candidate thinks and can solve a problem using logic. You can replace “Facebook” and “Chicago” with any online platform and city that you wish.
How would you deconstruct a mobile phone? Explain it to me like I had never seen it before.
This is a good question to ask candidates whose communication skills you really want to suss out. Do they lose patience with themselves and how to explain it? Do they think for a moment and then provide a good answer?
How would you weigh an airplane, like a Boeing 747, without a scale?
For engineers and tech roles, this is a good question because it should test them way back to their classes from high school and college. The “most” correct answer would be to use some form of water displacement, where you put the Boeing in a tub that has a measured amount of water…but there are other options as well!
8 Situational Interview Questions
Behavioral or situational interview questions are questions that ask a candidate to tell a story from a previous experience they have had, or a chance to explain how they would handle a hypothetical situation. These questions can help to show you how a candidate thinks through a situation and solves a problem.
Kris Dunn of the recruiting blog Fistful of Talent writes that the top 2 behavioral interview questions are:
Tell me when you were most satisfied in your career.
Tell me when you were least satisfied in your career.
Dunn says that these questions tap into candidates’ motivations and also help to assess cultural fit.
We also have 6 more suggestions from small business owners and hiring managers on their favorite behavioral interview questions.
You walk into the office and have 8 emails and 4 voicemails from clients before your day has even started, all with different urgent requests. What do you do?
This way, I get to hear how they think about the problem from top to bottom.
—Katy Flatau, Career Coach, Mindful-U
Tell me about a time when you failed. Why did it happen? What did you do next and what would you do differently if given another chance?
I ask it to try to truly get at the person’s experience level, problem solving abilities, and intercommunication skills. It shows their ability to think critically about themselves.
—Gwendolyn Kestrel, PR & Digital Analyst, prWorks & hotelmarketingWorks
Please describe a time where you had a disagreement with someone or a problem and what steps you took to remedy the situation.
This question allows the applicant to draw upon a real life conflict and share with me what she/he did. Also, the answer to this question gives me insight to the applicant’s problem solving skills, perseverance, kindness, and communication style.
—Marley Hanson, Director, Camp Farwell
If a work teammate were to come in tomorrow morning and tell you he or she is quitting tomorrow, how would you respond?
Emotional intelligence measures how well someone can understand and connect with others. I’m a lawyer. In the legal industry, emotional intelligence may be the single most important quality a legal professional can have; yet most legal employers give it little or no attention. (Questions like this)… help to show a candidate’s emotional intelligence.
—James Goodnow, Attorney, Fennemore Craig
Tell me about a time you’ve had to discuss a project scope change with a client or superior and the outcome from this discussion.
I like to see how the candidate learned from the situation to create efficiencies during future projects in an effort to avoid a similar situation, when applicable.
—Cari Wafford, Digital Producer, AgencyEA
If a client emailed you asking for something outside of your territory at the company, how would you handle it?
Some people get confused and do not understand the question at all – no matter how many times I try to rephrase it. This shows me their comprehension level. Second, their answer gives a ton of insight as to what type of employee/worker they will be.
—Tasha Mayberry, Social Media 22 LLC
10 Management Interview Questions
If you are interviewing candidates who will manage a team, or who might even be managing your team to let you step away and generate more business, you will want to be thorough in the questions you ask relating to their management experience and style.
Ola Danilina, CEO & Founder at PMBC Group, shared her top 5 manager interview questions with us:
Tell me about two memorable projects, one success and one failure. To what do you attribute the success and failure?
What is your management style?
How would you go about establishing your credibility quickly with the team?
Have you ever been on a team where someone was not pulling their own weight? How did you handle it?
Tell me about a time when you had to give someone difficult feedback. How did you handle it?
We also got input from a few other sources for this crucial interview category:
As a manager in this role, you will be responsible for leading a team of X people. What specifically will you do during year one to help ensure they each become more valuable to the company and stronger performers overall?
With this question I discover if they understand a manager’s role in employee development, have specific plans for taking performance to the next level, and are able to adapt their approach to different levels and skill sets.
—Tim Toterhi, Executive Coach, Plotline Leadership
How would you explain a 10% departmental salary cut and still retain loyalty?
This is a great question to get the interviewee to open up. It’ll give them a chance to show how persuasive they can be, and whether they can evoke loyalty in a real work scenario.
—Kevin Robson, Managing Director, Capable Consultants
Here are some more questions from me:
Tell me about a time you had someone on your team who was an incredible challenge. What did you do to manage them, and how did the situation turn out?
I want to hear from someone their maturity in managing, as well as their coaching skills. If a candidate is inheriting a team, they will more than likely have a person or two who will challenge them as a new manager. How will they deal with that? I don’t want to lose my whole team over a new hire!
What is your experience with hiring and firing employees?
A good manager should be active in the hiring and firing process for all of their team members. I also would like to hear them talk about performance management, which should be a part of all hiring and firing decisions.
You can learn more about performance management for small businesses in our ultimate guide.
Why do you like to manage people?
With this question, I’m looking for why someone wants to manage a team (coaching, mentoring, developing new talent, etc.) versus rise in the ranks in their field. A good example of this is why does an engineer want to be a Project Manager or Technical Lead versus a Senior Engineer?
5 Marketing Interview Questions
Whether you are hiring a Social Media Manager or a Head of Marketing, you will want to make sure you hone in on your candidate’s ability to turn marketing ideas and thoughts into new business for your company. Here are some questions that can give you insight into whether a marketing candidate is worth their salt.
Can you show me proof of ROI (return on investment) on marketing campaign(s) that you’ve led, designed, or otherwise participated in, as well as what lessons, both good and bad, you learned from them?
This shows that a marketing person can relate their campaigns to the financials of the business, which is where marketing actually had the most impact.
—Nora Brathol, Founder, Arka Pana Consulting
What blogs and resources do you follow online to keep up with the industry?
The question(s) I ask every candidate is specifically related to my industry (Digital Marketing).
I like to understand if they are keeping up to date with the leading resources online to know what is happening in our industry and the “hot topics” vs. the fads.
—Rahul Alim, Inbound Marketing & Design Specialist, Custom Creatives
Please share with me your portfolio or any marketing materials you have created in the past. Share with me the process on the creation of these materials.
The reason I like this question is that the candidate can share their work along with their critical thinking skills around the creation of the work. In the description, if the candidate shares the details you can understand if it was a “we” creation or “i” creation. Usually when an idea is created there is a “spark of genius” in the creation. With the probing of the this theory, the hiring manager can truly understand the skills and competencies around how the materials were generated and used for the business outcome.
—Eileen Timmins, PhD, Executive Coach, Aingilin (no website available)
How did you build up your own personal social media channels and online presence? What do you think works or does not work?
I’m looking for a combination of posting original content and sharing interesting, relevant content from other outlets works best for me. (I’m also looking for) the person to have one voice so your followers know what you talk about.
—Ishveen Anand, Open Sponsorship
How do you deal with a project that’s gone over budget or pushed past the deadline?
One set of skills I attempt to gauge with this question is the ability to adjust tactics and communication during a difficult time in the life cycle of a project. I’m also interested in the candidate’s explanation of how they devised a plan in the short term to ensure the project is still completed successfully.
—Cari Wafford, Digital Producer, AgencyEA
3 Phone Screen Interview Questions
We provide a full guide to phone screening candidates and have 51 phone interview questions in this article. In the article, we provide a 5 minute phone screen template, a 30 minute phone screen template, and top tips list for how to make the most of phone screens.
Here are our top 3 must-ask phone screen questions for any role:
Why do you want to work for our company in this role?
This question makes the most of the 12 words that it takes up. It finds out if the candidate checked out your company and its culture, as well as what they think the job is.
Tell me about your skills in (insert crucial skill for the role). How many years experience do you have in it and how would you rate yourself on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being an expert?
Get a question in that will eliminate candidates who are not qualified. If you are looking for 5 years of experience managing social media campaigns, this is the time to ask.
Tell me the story about a time you failed, what you learned, and what happened next.
This questions gives a lot of insight into a candidate’s character, work ethic, and their genuineness all in one question, making it a must-ask to help you get insight into their ability to fit into the current team and company culture.
5 Second Round Interview Questions
Your second and final round interview questions should be notably more complex than your phone screen and first round questions. The questions should really focus on what the candidate would be like in the role and what kind of impact they would have. They should be realistic and relevant versus hypothetical and theoretical.
Here are 5 questions from a combination of experts and myself on how to get more information from your nearly-new hire:
Do you have any questions or concerns about your ability to do the job?
This often works better than the open ended, “Do you have any questions for me?” because it focuses in on the responsibilities associated with the job. If they say yes, it gives you the chance to help address their concerns and assess their fit for the job.
—Ben White, Getting the Job HQ
If you owned the company, what would you change?
This is one of my favourite questions when hiring a new employee. This is particularly awesome as you get to watch the interviewee think of a logical answer without offending the company itself.
—Jamal Asskoumi Owner, CastleSmart.com
What would your first 30, 60, and 90 day plans look like in this role?
You could also ask them to prepare a 30, 60, or 90 day plan in advance of the final interview to present to you.
—Ola Danilina, CEO & Founder, PMBC Group
How quickly will we see results from hiring you? Would you stake your job on achieving that result by a certain date?
—Kevin Robson, Managing Director, Capable Consultants
In 2 minutes or less, tell me why you are the top choice for this job, and why I should tell the other finalists to go home and give you the offer.
I like to ask this question even if the person is my top choice. By the end of a second round or final round, the candidate should be able to articulately touch on, in 2 minutes, why they are a fit for the role, a fit for the company, and why they want to work there, as well as the bonus of what they would do to make an impact on the company. If they can’t do that, I would think twice about them being my top choice since they simply might not be that interested.
3 Questions for Administrative Assistant Candidates
In our administrative assistant hiring guide, we go over all points of recruiting for this role, from the job description to the phone screen to interview questions and more.
Here are 3 additional solid questions that you should ask every administrative assistant candidate, either in the phone screen or in the in-person interview to make the most of your time:
Being an administrative assistant can be a stressful job. Tell me about a time when you had to multitask a deadline for your boss, a phone ringing off the hook, and a conference room booking error all at the same time, or something similar to that. What did you prioritize on this crazy day and why?
Being an administrative assistant is a multi-tasking heavy job. Depending on what your administrative assistant will be doing, you might change the 3 fires above to something else. Either way, you want to make sure they have been under the gun before and hear how they prioritize tasks.
How did you end up in the administrative field?
Ask this with the right tone of voice, as it’s not meant to be mocking. This is meant to find out from a candidate what drove them to be an administrative assistant–Personality traits? Skill for the job? A mentor? By chance? Since this field seems to have a love/hate relationship amongst job seekers, it’s also important to know if this is their passion or if being an administrative assistant is a job to have while they are in school/searching for another job/insert other reason.
Why do you think you’d be the right administrative assistant for me/for this office?
This is a great question to ask you administrative assistant candidates because you want to hear how they believe they can add value to your team or directly to you and what you need. The candidate’s answer should span the duties and how their personality would fit in well with the team or with you directly.
15 Best Interview Questions for Real Estate Candidates
Here we will provide the top 15 questions you should ask someone who is a potential new hire for your real estate company. The first ten are from our own real estate expert here at Fit Small Business, Emile L’Eplattenier. They are broken into 2 categories: the first 7 are for experienced real estate agents, and the last 3 for rookie agents.
Interview Questions For Experienced Real Estate Agents:
Do you have an established farm area? Are you planning on staying there?
An agent who has been diligently working a farm area will not only more than likely have a decent track record, but will probably also have a better chance at taking their business to the next level.
How many transaction sides did you close this year?
This question will tell you almost everything you need to know about a candidate. If the number is high, then they should be an immediate hire or at least a callback. If the number is low, you can press them for more information to find out why. Maybe they’re floundering because of a lack of training or ineffective lead generation.
Why are you leaving your current brokerage?
Since there is so much turnover in this industry, people leave brokerages for every reason under the sun. That said, knowing why they’re leaving will help you figure out if you can provide what they were lacking at their previous firm. It might also give you some insight into your competitors. That’s a win/win in my book.
Which lead generation source did you see the best ROI from?
In addition to opening up a discussion about lead generation, you can tell how creative the candidate is and how they handle a marketing budget.
What are you looking to gain out of associating with our brokerage?
The answer here is inevitably going to be about closing more deals, but you may be surprised by the specifics. Most agents are looking for a better commission split, paid marketing, or lower desk fees, but some are just looking for a better work environment, a more supportive broker, better training, or even just a nicer office.
Okay, your current business is at $_______ per year. What’s your GCI target for this year? How do you plan on getting there?
Since so many new agents leave the business in the first two years, someone who has an actual game plan on how to get to the next level takes their career seriously. If they have an actionable, solid plan, even more so.
What was your biggest mistake as a new agent? Have you overcome it? How?
This question will tell you a lot about an applicant’s humility, self awareness, and willingness to change. An answer like “I should have focused more time on lead generation” is obviously better than “The market stinks!”
Best Interview Questions for New Real Estate Agents
Why do you want to work as a real estate agent?
This is the ‘sell me this pen” of real estate interview questions. If they get starry eyed and talk about Million Dollar Listing for ten minutes, you will need to bring them down to reality. If however, they say they want to utilize their marketing skills and be more independent, then the chances of them being ready for the grind of the first year go up exponentially.
Do you have at least a few months worth of living expenses in the bank?
For almost all new agents, the realities of their first year are quite sobering. Just starting out, leads are few and far between, and learning to close them takes skill that only comes through experience. It’s a blunt and very personal question, but an important one. If someone has $500 in the bank and is expecting to make $10,000 their first month, they’re in for a rude awakening. Your training resources are precious. Don’t waste them on agents who will quit after a few weeks or months.
Your first year in this industry can be very tough. Would you be willing to become a junior agent and join a team?
Joining an established team your first year has huge benefits. Splits will be much lower, but you will have guaranteed leads and hands on training from an experienced broker. For most markets, starting out as a junior agent is the way to go. A smart candidate will at least take this advice into consideration.
Here are a few more real estate interview questions from small business experts:
If we hire you, how will you help grow your business (through our agency)?
This is a fantastic question because it requires real estate candidates to not only think on their feet, but it shows if they have done their due diligence and know what our company is all about!
—Candice Galek, CEO & Founder, Bikini Luxe
Have you ever ran an entrepreneurial business, even something as simple as selling collectible cards in high school?
Since we are in the real estate business, this question helps me see the way the person thinks. Have they ever ventured beyond to try and start a business or thought creatively to make extra money?
—Ivan Ciraj, Erin Mills Life
And here are 3 more from my recruiting experience:
How do you utilize the Internet, video tours, and social media to sell property or homes?
There is a divide in the real estate market right now between those who embrace social media and technology and those who do not. If your firm is tech-forward and understands the power of social media, video tours, and other technology to sell property or homes, you want to make sure you are getting an agent who is on your side of the fence. You can read more on our take on real estate software here.
Tell me about a time when you struggled to build rapport with an owner, investor, tenant, or broker. What would you have done differently?
Real estate is still a business of relationships and people, and even the most skilled realtors should have a story to tell for a question like this. If they don’t or if they say that’s never happened, that is a huge red flag for hiring them into your team!
What do you find most challenging when you accompany prospective clients on showings? Why?
Asking a question about what someone’s challenges are in the field is always insightful. It will help you to know if you have the ability to train or mentor them, which is useful if they are going to be a long term fit with your real estate company.
15 Best Interview Questions for IT Candidates
When we asked our friend Sanjoe Tom Jose, CEO at Talview, what interview questions they use for their IT candidates, they couldn’t wait to talk to us. Read on for the top 15 questions they ask IT candidates. You will see that some of them are also just great interview questions in general, or good questions for analytical or project manager roles too.
1. Describe a time when you worked in a group on your last technical project.
2. How would you set up a data gathering & projecting workbook? How would you ensure that the data being entered has zero or minimal errors?
3. What programming languages do you know? Describe the process that you will use to join two data tables, and you can use any programming language to illustrate the answer.
4. How would you handle a client situation where the deliverable deadline is approaching, and your team members may not be available to help?
5. What is fish bone analysis? How is it used?
6. How many traffic signals are there is your city? Explain how did you arrive at the number and the assumptions?
7. Why are recursive relationships bad? How do you resolve them?
8. What are singletons? Are singletons a good pattern to use?
9. If you had to make a program that could vote for the top three funniest people in the office how would you do it?
10. What is polymorphism? Explain with an example.
11. Describe how you would design a software that had to schedule meetings based on their priority.
12. What are checked and unchecked exceptions? Explain with examples.
13. If everyone had 100 points to rank the top 3 funniest people, how would you store this data and find the top 3 funniest people in the company?
14. What are the different ways you can create an object in Java? Explain in detail.
15. What should be the strategy to upload billions of entry into the database, given a single point failure will rollover the process?
11 Best Interview Question Ideas for Sales Candidates
Recruiting a good salesperson (or business development, depending on your industry) becomes harder every year as much of our brains move online but sales is still an in-person and communicative industry.
HR Virtuoso blog writes an interesting article on looking for certain traits in your sales hires that match those of the late boxer, Muhammad Ali. The author says your interview questions for a sales person should revolve around the following traits (with add ons from my own thoughts):
1. Confidence – ask them about their proudest achievements.
2. Preparation – ask them how they prepare for a sales meeting, or for this very interview you are hosting.
3. Authenticity – ask them about their true self, or a time they had to stay true to their own values.
4. Value – ask them about their value to your company and what kind of sales numbers you can expect from them.
5. Conviction – ask the potential salesperson if they believe in your product, and why.
6. Legacy – ask the candidate about their record and legacy at past companies or with past clients.
She says these traits are that of successful salespeople, and the candidate’s answers should speak volumes over just looking at their resume.
Bonus: Our own article here offers 5 more interview questions to ask sales job candidates.
7 Best Interview Questions to Throw Your Candidate for a Loop
Maybe you have a candidate who seems cocky, or maybe your company culture is very competitive. Asking a question or two that will surprise most candidates can help you to get past a good interviewee’s canned responses, as well as give you insight into their potential cultural fit. Read on for some of our sources’ top “throw them for a loop” interview questions:
I’m not sure you’re the perfect fit. Why do you think you’d be a great candidate?
This is a great question because it’s an objection. I want to see how they handle objections like they would from a potential client or from a co-worker with a contrarian opinion.
—Jordan Wan, CFA & Founder/CEO, CloserIQ
When I speak to your last [or present] boss, what is he or she going to say about you?
Since people are trying to cover themselves for anything that their boss might say, it’s amazing the things they’ll reveal. They’ll very often tell you things that the last boss would never have brought up, even if the last boss would be allowed to deal with a reference, which often they aren’t.
—Barry Maher, Barry Maher & Associates
What scares you the most in life?
The reactions from this question are fascinating.
—Nick Kennedy, CEO, Rise
Would you have a problem cleaning the toilets?
It may sound sadistic or even ridiculous, but as a small business owner, I like to point out that sometimes all of us have to do unwelcome chores, such as taking out the garbage or cleaning the toilets.
—Ron Fry, Author, Founder & President, Career Press
What is your superpower?
A great answer will show creativity, relevance to the business and position, and personality and self-awareness. For instance, consistent and clear communication with clients is a phenomenal super power for someone in engineering. Occasionally, we even find people more fitted to other positions than that for which they’re interviewing, due to the passion in their superpower!
—Felicite Moorman, Esq., CEO, BuLogics & StratIS EMS
Are there any tasks or jobs you feel are beneath you?
It’s important that an employee know his or her own value and capabilities without being arrogant or unwilling to do some grunt work.
—Simon Slade, CEO, SaleHoo
Ask the candidate to rate a series of random items.
It’s a great way to find out a little more about their personalities and get away from the typical, monotonous questions that people have come to expect out of their job interviews.
—Hinalee Darbar, Digital PR Account Manager, Chicago Style SEO
6 Best Interview Questions to Get the Information You Need (without breaking laws)
According to Maren Hogan, a renowned recruiting blogger who also has her own blog, Get Marenated, up to “80% of employee turnover is due to bad hiring decisions.” She outlines the top 4 questions you should ask to get you the information you need about someone:
What is your ideal work schedule in regards to flex-time and in-office and remote working?
Tell me about a time when you were happiest at work. Why did you feel that way?
How would you handle a team situation where Nina wants to dive right in, Joe is telecommuting, and Todd wants to gut the project?
What was the worst day you’ve ever had at work and why?
Maren explains that these questions aren’t going to get you the canned responses that candidates have prepared for and yet also will tell you a lot about the candidate, including relevant personal information that they most likely wouldn’t share otherwise (e.g. whether they have kids and need a flexible schedule).
A couple more bonus questions for getting the information you need:
Tell me something that you don’t like about yourself.
I just want to observe the candidate’s reaction. If the candidate is honest and trustworthy, they will get a little nervous and divulge some private information.
—Jesse Harrison, Zeus Legal Funding LLC
What is the single most important factor that would make you happy in your job that is not from the job itself?
This question can ideally pull out some information that you might not otherwise get, like “Well, I really like working out. I would love if I could get to the office at 9 am after my gym session.” The answer to this question can give an insight into both the person’s personal motivations and their ability to fit in with the culture.
5 Work Sample Interview Questions & Techniques
If you work in a field like graphic design or web development, asking a candidate for work samples is incredibly important to make sure they have the skills they say they do, as well as to make sure they are a “style” fit with your company and the work you are doing. However, asking for work samples can be relevant in nearly any role as long as it is done the right way.
Here are 5 ways to get work samples from your candidates:
Tell me about something you’ve done that you’re incredibly proud of from your past work experiences and still wonder how it was that you achieved it.
I ask it because it’s a great point of connection and further, it gives me an idea of what they view as a major accomplishment.
—Michael S. Gottlieb, Principal, Momentum Lawyers Group
Ask for a writing sample or give them a short essay to answer.
I had a client in Texas who asked second round interview candidates to write a 3 paragraph essay on what they are most proud of and why. Sounds simple enough, but it weeded out a load of candidates for every role for them from Operations Manager to Business Analyst.
Ask a candidate to give you a 5 minute presentation, such as teaching you how to do a basic task.
You could assign the task they need to explain, or leave it up to them. For any role, this will reveal a lot about the candidate and their teaching style. This is especially great for manager or HR roles.
Give the candidate a (paid) sample project, like a logo design or editing a client presentation.
Especially for creative roles, this can be really useful to see a candidate’s work and in real time (i.e. give them 24 hours to finish it). However, you do need to pay for this to avoid earning a bad hiring reputation! Think $50-100 for a VERY short project, or perhaps upwards if you want a logo designed. Here at FSB, we use this method when we are hiring writers by giving them a paid test article as part of their final interview.
Ask a candidate for their school transcripts.
Especially for new grads, this can be a useful technique versus asking for a work sample. Did the candidate ace every class in their Graphic Design major? That bodes well for them as your employee. Bonus: it serves as proof of their education.
4 Cultural Fit Interview Questions & Techniques
Cultural fit is a huge deal for small businesses. Many small businesses operate like a large family, and you want someone who can not only do the job, but who can also be a part of that family. Interviewing for cultural fit is essential for the small business owner!
Name one person, alive or dead, that you would want to meet and why?
Get insight into the applicant’s thought process, what’s important to them, and generate interesting conversation.
—Chris Taylor, RE/MAX Home Experts
Tell me about the best boss you ever had. Why did you enjoy working for them so much?
Especially if you manage the entire team as the owner, this is especially important to learn if a candidate will be a good long term fit with you as their boss.
How do you feel about becoming friends with your coworkers? Is it a good idea or a bad idea?
This is a good question to get at your employee’s social behavior at work. For example, my husband’s company is a place where people are friendly, but not friends who go to happy hour every week since everyone drives to work. This is versus a friend of mine, who is an HR Manager at a company where not going to company social events (that are held nearly weekly) is a big deal, and the company even encourages interoffice friendships.
Describe your usual role on a team or on group projects.
This is important because a lot of candidates will just automatically answer “Leader.” Maybe your company doesn’t need any more leaders. You might need listeners, cheerleaders, or devil’s advocates, all of whom are good archetypes to round out your team.
Over To You
If you made it all the way to the end of this guide, bravo! What did we miss here in our best interview questions guide? Do you have a favorite interview question you like to ask? What is it?