9 Job Interview Questions You Should Always Ask

Here’s What to Ask Every Applicant, And the Reasons Why

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Not All Questions Are Created Equal

The goal is to hire the best person for the job. So why not ask the best job interview questions?

The fact of the matter is not all job interview questions are created equal. While some of the old standby questions are still worthwhile, the whole “If you could be any animal in the jungle which animal would you be?” set of questions is confusing and often doesn’t serve a valid purpose. While you’re obviously free to come up with your own questions for candidates that are specific to the job, there are some general ones that are almost always worth asking as well.

Check out this list to see which job interview questions are no-brainers each and every time.

9. “Tell me a little about yourself”

This isn’t a trick question, but it’s definitely not as innocent as it seems, either.

Look, if you’ve checked out the resume and done some research, you already know a little about them. But that’s not the point of the question. The reason you ask this is to see how adept the candidate is at taking a broad subject and condensing it to a short, but still helpful answer. This is especially important if it’s a creative position, or one that involves thinking quickly on his/her feet. So watch the reaction. If the person stumbles and stammers and can’t come up with anything worthwhile, that’s a red flag. But if the person launches right into a brief elevator pitch that succinctly captures the essence of who he/she is, then you’ve likely got a winner.

 

8. “Describe your ideal boss”

We all have different personality styles, and while different doesn’t necessarily mean bad, it’s important to determine whether your styles will mesh.

By asking what kind of boss the applicant prefers, you’ll be better able to figure out if his style is going to fit with yours and the team’s. For instance, if your organization is big on structure and you prefer lots of face time and interaction with employees, you’ll want to know if the person applying for the job only has experience in startup environments where everyone is left to his/her own devices and works independently. Again, different can be good but it’s smart to set expectations ahead of time in order to mitigate any problems down the road.

 

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7. “Do you live to work or work to live?”

Different people value and expect different things while at work.

By asking this question, you’re not trying to exclude anyone who doesn’t eat, sleep, and breathe the job. After all, balance is a good thing and someone who never comes up for air could be just as problematic as someone who shirks job responsibilities. But if work/life balance or a flexible work schedule is important yet the job requires working lots of nights and weekends without the flexibility of working from home, that’s something you want to establish at the outset.

Some employers say they like a workaholic, but a healthy blend of work and life is positive because either extreme is going to be problematic.

6. “How would your bosses describe you in general?”

Asking people to put themselves in their boss’ shoes and give an honest assessment of themselves is tricky business. But it can also be revealing and helpful when making hiring decisions.

For instance, you might find the applicant hemming and hawing and unable to come up with a proper description. This can be a tipoff of poor relationships with previous managers, and present a valid reason to go in another direction. You never know what answers you’ll get when you hit people with a question for which they’re unprepared, and true feelings often slip out. But on the other hand, if people are confident in how their bosses think of them and you see they’re all references, then you know you’re probably on the right path.

5. “What made you interested in working for this company?”

This question is great because it lets you know how much research the person applying for the job did before the interview.

If you get a generic “Well it’s a good company that’s been around for a long time” then that’s fairly unimpressive. But on the other hand, if you run across someone who says “I’ve been waiting for a job opening at this company because your sales have gone up the last three years, you’ve been named one of the best places to work in the state by several publications, and my values align with the CEO’s which I heard when she gave a recent commencement speech,” then you’ve found a few key nuggets. You know the person did his research beforehand. You can clearly tell the applicant has dug into the company’s history, he’s looked at the members of the C-suite, and he’s generally on his game.

Always give preference to the person who has specifics instead of generalities.

4. “Describe a problem you had and then how you fixed it”

If you need someone who is going to be a rock in the storm when things go wrong, then this question is absolutely essential.

First of all, if the applicant can’t recall a single problem he/she has ever had on the job, that’s a problem in and of itself. No one is perfect and we’re all flawed, but the person worth hiring is someone who can own up to the mistake, identify it, fix it, and improve on it. So ask, and be specific. Find out what went wrong and see who is blamed. Does the person pass the buck and place blame even though he was in charge, or does he answer the question with honesty and focus more on the solution than the problem?

You want to have confidence in people so when things go haywire, you know it’ll get taken care of.

3. “What accomplishment are you most proud of?”

You’d think this would be a simple question, but it’s often surprisingly difficult for many to answer.

Whether it’s a matter of being uncomfortable with self-promotion or because (gulp) there aren’t successes from which to choose, it’s a great question to ask for several reasons. First of all, you get to see how people talk about themselves. Did he give you five successes when you only asked for one? Could be a narcissist. Did she struggle to come up with something and stumble over her answer? There might be a confidence problem there.

Look for a confident and straightforward explanation, and also whether the candidate takes all the glory or spreads the credit around to his/her team members (if applicable).

2. “What is your biggest strength?”

A lot of people being interviewed are prepared to answer the opposite — what’s your biggest weakness? But this one is much more revealing.

When you ask someone their biggest weakness, you get stock answers such as “Well, I guess I’d say I work TOO hard” or “I’m too much of a perfectionist.” Bor-ing. Instead, flip the script on them and ask what is their greatest strength. What you’re looking for here is how they’re able to answer this and work it into a story that backs up what they’re saying. For instance, if they list being a solid communicator as their greatest asset and then tell you about the time they deftly handled a social media account during a crisis, you know you’ve got a worthwhile candidate. As opposed to the people who hem and haw and throw a bunch of lame buzzwords at you describing their wonderfulness.

1. “Do you have any questions for me?”

Always end the interview with this question.

Even though you’re the one doing the interview, all candidates worth a darn will have questions of their own. Although you shouldn’t automatically disqualify someone if the questions they have involve the number of vacation days or jumping right to salary, that’s not really what you should be looking for. The exceptional candidates generally ask about things like the company’s cultural fit and whether coworkers routinely go out together, to judge if it’s a place they think they can fit in. Or they ask questions related to the company being in the news lately, which lets you know they’re paying attention and are up to date on what’s going on.

It’s safe to say a candidate who has no questions at the end of an interview isn’t really all that interested.

 

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Hiring, HR, interview