50 Good Interview Questions and a Few Other Tips

Interviewing is frequently viewed as a “necessary evil.”  Most managers don’t like the process or the time and energy it takes.  It’s a difficult undertaking that most of us freely admit we’re not very skilled at.  Even under the best of circumstances it’s been estimated that perhaps as many as one-third to one-half of hires should never have been made in the first place.  When you couple those “wrongful hire” numbers with the costs of replacing employees (often estimated at $5,000-$10,000 for non-exempts and $20,000-$30,000 for exempt employees) the importance of good interviewing becomes even clearer.

Managers have a number of very significant issues to consider and understand to ensure that their hires are both legal and effective.  Good training is absolutely critical and should address the following complex issues:

  1. Legal Interviewing.  Do managers understand what types of questions are illegal and discriminatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII (e.g., race, religion, sex, national origin discrimination), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, privacy standards, and other significant federal and state legislation?
  2. Legal Testing.  Are managers familiar with legal requirements regarding the types of tests that can be given? (e.g., medical, skills, personality, and honesty tests)
  3. Employment-at-will.  Could your managers explain the concept of “employment-at-will” and do they know how to avoid undercutting it so that your ability to terminate employees is not weakened?
  4. Appropriate Documentation.  Are your interviews properly and legally documented?  Are employment applications retained as required by law?
  5. Reference Checking.  Given that it’s been estimated that as many as one-third of applicants seriously lie on their applications is there an effective reference checking process in your organization?  Do managers know how to conduct an effective and legal reference check?  Does your organization understand the concept of “negligent hiring” and how it might impact you?
  6. The Actual Interview.  Do managers use a systematic process to:
    • Identify the critical performance factors, skills, and experience required for the position you’re trying to fill?  You need to be able to define your position requirements so you know what you are looking for and when you’ve actually found it.
    • Formulate questions that will shed light on the candidate’s work history, strengths, weakness, and to identify any “red flags” that would tell you to keep looking?

Asking good questions takes some thoughtful planning.  “Shooting from the hip” is unlikely to lead to good hiring decisions.  A few keys to good questioning include:

  1. Keep Control of the Interview.  You’re on a mission to gather information.  Therefore it’s important that the manager steer the direction of the conversation initially and ask the questions.  You need to get behind what’s on the resume or what the candidate tells you.  Time can be left at the end of the meeting for the candidate’s questions.
  2. Keep Your Mouth Shut.  Most managers talk way too much.  The candidate should be doing 75% or more of the talking.
  3. Don’t Leave Breadcrumbs.  Don’t provide too much information or clues about what you’re looking for as you ask your questions.  Keep your questions short.  A smart applicant will tell you what you want to hear.
  4. Consider Beginning by Chronologically Examining the Candidate’s Work History.  Letting the applicant talk about past work experiences, functions, duties, skills utilized, what she liked and disliked about past positions, work environments, bosses, etc., helps you identify behavior patterns and sort out issues.  Don’t forget to ask about why the applicant left each position.
  5. Ask a Variety of Types of Questions.  Obviously questions that end in yes or no answers aren’t very useful.  A smart interviewer uses many forms of inquiries to get at as much information as possible.
    • Use Closed Ended Questions for the Specifics.  There are times when you require specific information (e.g., What software tools did you use to accomplish those goals?)
    • Use Open Ended Questions Frequently. (e.g., Can you tell me about the types of projects you have managed?  Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a coworker and how you handled it.)
    • Ask Multiple Part Questions.  Questions with several parts allow you to gather considerable information and keep the candidate talking for a while (e.g.,
    • Can you describe the type of work environment you enjoy, the types of coworkers you like, and what you most appreciate in a boss.)
    • Use as Many Techniques as You Can to Keep the Candidate Talking. A few of these include:
    • Asking the candidate to “Tell me more” or “Say more” about the topic.
    • Parroting the comment…“So you found that task to be exciting”…
    • Making a brief response to a comment…“I can understand that,” “That’s interesting,” “Uh, huh.”
    • Keeping quiet. Sometimes silence will prompt the applicant to keep talking.

Providing managers with lists of possible interview questions not only makes their jobs easier but makes the interview process much more effective.  A few good questions are provided below.  You’ll likely want to customize them to meet the needs of your particular organization.

50 Good Interview Questions

  1. Tell me what you’re looking for in a new position.  How would you like to be spending your days?
  2. What functions/duties did you most enjoy at your past jobs?  Which were your least favorite?
  3. How would you have changed your past jobs if you could have?
  4. Why did you leave your last positions?
  5. Describe your past bosses.  Provide positives and negatives.
  6. What type of boss do you enjoy working with?  What type of boss would make you the most successful in your work?
  7. Why are you here?
  8. How can you help us?
  9. What challenged you in your past jobs?  What was the most difficult task?  What bored you?  Excited you?
  10. What types of duties are the most difficult for you to learn?
  11. What was your greatest accomplishment at work?
  12. Describe past coworkers who you admired most.
  13. Tell me about your favorite boss.
  14. Describe yourself in 3 words.
  15. What 3 words would your past bosses (or coworkers) use to describe you?
  16. Tell me about a time when you failed on the job.
  17. What would you like to do better?
  18. Tell me about some problems you had on your past jobs.
  19. What were the critical elements of your past position(s)?
  20. Describe how you would deal with a problem employee.  Give me a past example.
  21. What qualities in coworkers bother you the most?  In a boss?
  22. What qualities do you think most successful people possess?
  23. Tell me about a time of crisis at work.  What was your role in fixing it?
  24. What stresses you out at work?
  25. Did you feel appreciated at your past jobs?  Fairly rewarded?
  26. What motivates you?  What makes you want to get up and come to work?
  27. What bores you?
  28. What frustrates you?  What makes you angry at work?
  29. How does what you did in your past jobs prepare you for this one?
  30. How do you:
    • Make decisions?
    • Organize work?
    • Prioritize work?
  31. Describe a time when you were totally honest at work and your honesty hurt you in some way.
  32. How would you handle a situation where you made a decision and a coworker challenged you about it?  Your boss overturned it?
  33. What should a company expect from its employees?  What should an employee expect from the company?
  34. What elements of this job excite you?
  35. What’s your greatest fear about this position?
  36. Describe a time when you had a conflict with a coworker and how you handled it?
  37. Please tell me about an instance when you had to deal with an irate customer.  What did you do?
  38. What advantages do you see in working with teams?  Working alone?
  39. What parts of this job would be new for you?
  40. How would you know if you were successful in this job?  What would you have accomplished?
  41. How could someone in this position hurt the company?  Lose money for the company?
  42. Describe your career goals.  Where do you see yourself in 1 year, 5 years?
  43. Describe your greatest strengths (i.e., regarding skills or personal characteristics). What about your weaknesses?
  44. What types of responsibilities do you like?  What kind do you like to avoid?
  45. What if a serious problem arose over which you had no authority and there was no manager available?  How could you handle it?
  46. In what work situations is it appropriate to lie?
  47. Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with your boss.
  48. Tell me about the types of people you like to manage.  Describe a time when you had to manage a problem employee.  Have you fired anyone?  (Tell me about that).  How do you motivate employees?
  49. Is there anything we should know about you that would help us make this decision?
  50. Why should we hire you?   

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