The best questions to ask an interviewee

questions to ask an interviewee

Ever thought about how much a bad hire could cost your company?

Hiring is critical in supporting a business’ growth but getting it right can be hard. Especially in the current labour market conditions. In a recent survey, 38% of hiring managers* said that they are currently finding it hard to generate applications

Despite a demand for new hires, it is vital that the hiring process is not rushed and that it is planned correctly to avoid costly mistakes. This includes making sure that you adequately plan your interview process and know the right questions to ask during an interview. 

When people think about hiring costs, many think of salary. However, there are other potential outgoings to consider. These can include recruiting costs, screening, training fees, and IT and equipment. And that’s before we bring time-to-hire and the cost of poor work into the equation.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that the wrong hire can exhaust resources and ultimately be an expensive setback for businesses.

Studies have estimated that UK businesses spend billions of pounds per year as a result of hiring mistakes. One bad hire for a mid-level position on a £42,000 salary, can cost an employer an average of £132,015. 

With so much at stake, it stands to reason that finding the right people to fill your role is of paramount importance. So how can you make sure you get it right?

One of the most important techniques is knowing the best interview questions to ask candidates. The best interview questions should cover both behavioural and competency questions. You should keep them open-ended, to allow candidates to expand on their answers.

We spoke to hundreds of hiring managers and thousands of interviewees to help contribute to the 10 most strategic interview questions to ask candidates, including some great questions courtesy of James Reed’s book, ‘Why You: 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again’.


10 of the best interview questions to ask an interviewee


1. What would your co-workers say about you?

OK, we admit it: some people are just good at interviews. However, there is a question that has the potential to trip up even the most self-assured of candidates.

An example of one of the 15 classic interview questions (the most common and commonly adapted questions asked), this interview mainstay demands a more thoughtful and engaging answer than the simple ‘tell me about yourself’. It also shows whether candidates can tread the fine line between offering up a generic answer (‘hard-working’, ‘reliable’ and, dare we say, ‘nice’) and flat-out lying.

The best candidates will instead opt for real-life examples to give a true picture of what they can do. Tasteful testimonials which reveal their true character will help you separate the potential from the pretenders.

Bad answer: ‘I’m not too sure, to be honest. My co-workers and I aren’t really on speaking terms.’

Good answer: ‘They’d call me dedicated and goal-orientated. After a recent project, I was nominated for an award by my peers which represented some of the values the business strives for. I’ve also brought along a few testimonials if you’d like to see them.’


2. Tell me about the best and worst bosses you’ve ever had in your career. What was the difference?

Although candidates may not be as prepared for this question on working with others, their answers can be a great indicator of their working style and what makes them tick. 

On one hand, their answer can reveal what style of management allows them to thrive. On the other hand, their answer can prove even more insightful. You should be able to suss out whether they prefer working independently or have a more cooperative approach – plus how they react to micromanagement. 

The trick is to push candidates to give developed answers that offer an emphasis on a positive outcome or lesson that came from their ‘worst’ boss.

Bad answer: ‘I’ve never had a good boss, I feel that they have always tried to micromanage me.”

Good answer: ‘The boss I found the most challenging was someone I  struggled to communicate with initially. Eventually, we established a trusting relationship which resulted in me working on projects without direct supervision, this motivated me to fulfil my goals.’


3. What motivates you to work?

What could be referred to as a career goal question, determining a candidate’s motivation early-on can be surprisingly effective.

Without knowing why an applicant wants to work for you, you could be employing someone who wants the job for all the wrong reasons. Will what’s on offer motivate them to do great work? Or are they just in it for the pay cheque? Will they be there for the long haul or are they just looking to fill a gap?

Finding the answer to these questions will go a long way in determining whether it’s worth taking a chance on a candidate, far beyond the simple: ‘why are you applying for this position?’. If someone can adequately offer an honest and thought-out answer, they could be the right one for the role.

Bad answer: ‘I just really need a job.’

Good answer: ‘I went into IT straight out of university and while I enjoyed helping people solve their computer problems, what really motivated me was when I got to work on projects analysing which software programs best met a company’s needs. I love translating people’s requirements into technical solutions and that’s what excites me about this position.’


4. What’s your superpower and how will you leverage that to make an impact at this company?

Usually finding out a candidate’s strengths and what they know about an organisation are posed as separate questions to an interviewee. However, a self-awareness interview question that incorporates the application of their strengths to a specific company will show who has done their homework. 

Their response should be able to answer: how can they add value to this specific company and role? Do they understand what the team is focused on? The response to this question should take a lot of thought and tends to reveal authentic insight into a person’s key strengths. 

Bad answer: ‘I’m a fast learner and I feel that this would be a fitting attribute to your company.’

Good answer: ‘My ability to put together creative advertising solutions that feel genuine is my super-power. This is something I would love to bring to the company especially as you are starting to head into the events space. I believe I can help brands create event campaigns where the advertising element feels subtle and flows, similar to the events that I ran for Red Bull in my previous role.’


5. Where does your boss think you are now?

For many companies, finding out whether a candidate is a right fit for the company culture is almost as important as assessing their other credentials. That’s where character questions come in.

Some people refer to these types of questions for an interviewee as the airport test. In other words, if you were stuck in an airport with this person, would you be able to pass the time together?  And, by extension, would they fit into your company culture?

The trick to this question is testing a potential employee’s honesty. Admitting that they lied to their current employer is the easy way out, but is unlikely to be particularly endearing. Instead, indicating that they used a day’s annual leave to see you is probably an indication of a reliable candidate.

Bad answer: ‘They think that I’m currently working on a presentation for my team, that I have to present later today.’

Good answer: ‘I booked today as annual leave. I know people do tell white lies to their boss when going to interviews, but it’s not something I’d be comfortable doing.’


6. What’s one misconception your colleagues may have about you?

Many interviews include a behavioural question that will ask candidates about their weaknesses. The question should be to find out two things that are more important than simply knowing their weakness. 1) How self-aware they are and, 2) if they have any strategies to tackle them.

What’s great about these questions is that it allows the interviewee to demonstrate their understanding of how they are perceived by others.

If a candidate struggles with this answer or attempts to pose a strength as a weakness, it could mean that they have a lack of self-awareness or poor communication with colleagues.  

Bad answer: ‘I work too hard/I’m a perfectionist.’

Good answer: ‘A misconception colleagues have had about me in the past is that I’m not a team player. I understand why they may get this impression as I didn’t contribute much in group meetings. In truth, I lack confidence in group surroundings and I am afraid of saying something stupid. I have tried to work on my confidence and push myself to step out of my comfort zone by speaking up more and contributing more in group meetings.’


7. They say we learn something new every day. Can you explain something new that you have learned recently?

This is a good curveball question to ask an interviewee because it is open-ended and unexpected. This gives clear insight into a candidate’s thought process and how quickly they are to think on the spot. As a bonus, you may get a glimpse of how self-aware they are through their ability to recognise the importance of personal development.

A goal-orientated candidate may take a moment to pause and premeditate, whilst they map out how they will break down their explanation. This will be to ensure their points are clear. Empathy when communicating is a great ability and can be reflected by candidates asking you if you understand what they are trying to communicate.

Bad answer: ‘I can’t seem to think of anything new that I have learned recently. I have already learnt most of the things that I wanted to know already.’

Good answer: ‘I think that it is important to try to expose yourself to situations where you can learn how to do new things. I recently learned how to play the Ukulele, which is similar to playing the Guitar but with fewer chords. I decided that I wanted to learn to play the Ukulele after reading a book to my nephew about trying new things and ended up being inspired despite having no musical instrument experience. The message of the book was to step out of your comfort zone, so I did. 

I headed to YouTube and learned to play. I dedicated about 30 minutes a day for a few weeks. Essentially it requires sturdy fingers and good rhythm. I became confident in playing and quite good at the one song I learned. I surprised myself and I think my next step is to put on a music jam with friends. Can you play any instruments?’


8. Can you tell me about a recent situation where you used your initiative?

Translation: will they go above and beyond in the call of duty? Or will they never venture beyond the minimum requirements?

While this competency question is relatively straightforward, the answer could reveal a lot more about your interviewees than you’d get with almost any other question.

The best responses not only answer the initial enquiry but are also able to bring it back to the situation at hand. Candidates should be able to demonstrate how their example directly resulted in a positive effect on the business.

Bad answer: ‘I often come up with my daily schedule. I don’t respond well to authority.’

Good answer: ‘When I started at my last company, there was no real induction process and it took quite a while for me to get up to speed on the way everything worked. Once I had settled in, I collected all the information I had and created a training document, which included a step-by-step starting process. The company has now rolled it out to all new starters, which has saved them both the time taken getting new starters up-to-speed, and also money.’


9. What do you want to achieve while working with us?

This fit for role question is a common routine interview question. But, what do you need to look out for in their response? This question should reveal their motivations for wanting the role, and their understanding and commitment to the team’s focus and your company mission. A good answer will help identify how good a fit they are for the business and how as a business you can help them achieve their goals.

Bad answer: ‘I want to achieve success in my role and work hard to achieve this.’

Good answer: ‘I want to be able to develop my technical skills and feel your company is a great match as your product team is impressively experienced.  I believe the core values reflected in your mission statement reflect my desire to make tech more accessible and I have some great ideas that I would love to contribute and see implemented. I want to grow with a company and work my way towards a senior role within product development.’


10. Every CV has one lie in it. What’s yours?

Curveball questions work well to keep the interviewee on their toes.

It could be about animals or about biscuits. It could even be about Doctor Who. Whatever the question, some of the world’s biggest businesses, ranging from Amazon and Airbnb to Google, Goldman Sachs and Deloitte, are asking creative curveball questions to identify the right talent for their roles.

With research showing that as many as one in five jobseekers admits to lying on their CV, this is one of our favourites.

A successful answer here will never openly admit to blurring the lines, although may throw some humour in to break the tension.

Bad answer: ‘Well, I didn’t actually get a 1st in my degree as stated on my CV, but I was close, so it’s not a complete lie.’

Good answer: ‘OK, so “active lifestyle” may have been a bit of a stretch. I do go and sit in the sauna in my gym from time to time if that counts? On a serious note though, I don’t believe there are any lies on my CV. I believe integrity is very important and that starts with your CV.’


Prepare, take time and know what to look for

While no two job interviews follow the same format, they all require preparation, time and understanding of what to look out for in candidates’ responses to avoid making a hire that will hinder your business’ growth.

Identify red flags early on and trust your instincts. For a comprehensive list of questions that will help identify emotional intelligence, core skills and the experience required for a role, check out James Reed’s book here.

*This online survey was conducted by Atomik Research and consisted of 251 hiring decision makers in the UK. The survey took place between the 7th – 18th February 2022. Atomik Research is an independent creative market research agency that employs MRS-certified researchers and abides by the MRS code.