Interview Questions for Employers to Ask: Your Guide to Selecting the Best Applicants

<div class="grey-callout"><h2>In This Guide You’ll Learn</h2><p><ul><li>Types of interview questions to avoid.</li><li>The aim of a Structured Interview.</li><li>The key elements that you need to include in a Structured Interview.</li></ul></p></div>

CVs vary so much in what that they contain, that you need to carry out interviews to get the reliable information you need about candidates.

Avoid These Interviewing Techniques

Before I outline the format of the Structured Interview, here are a few things to avoid:

  • Game show type questions. Shows like The Apprentice are purely entertainment and you shouldn’t try to adopt their approach. Aggressive interrogations and bullying are completely inappropriate as well as being ineffective.
  • “Killer” and trick questions. Questions like “What animal best represents you?” are patronising and useless and only make the interview seem even more artificial than it already is.
  • Competency questions. These try to uncover some desired skill or capability in a candidate: “Give me an example of when you solved a business problem independently.” The problem with them is that candidates can always cherry pick and fashion examples that fit the question (most people could point to times when they’ve been “creative” or “confident”). These might be isolated instances and won’t necessarily give you the bigger picture.

A Format for the Structured Interview

To properly understand a candidate you have to look for trends and patterns in their career (competency type questions tend to miss these). This is the purpose of Structured Interviews.

The aim is to get an overview of a candidate from education through to their working life up to the present. You go through their life in chronological order and build up a picture of the trends and patterns that help you understand their motivations and skills.

Here are the main sections that you should include in your structured interview. My book, The Secrets of Great Recruitment, goes into this in more detail, including a script and set of questions to use.

Opening remarks

  • Make sure to build rapport from the outset, for example, you might ask the candidate “How was your journey?”
  • Tell them briefly what you’re going to cover in the interview.


<p><ul><li>How a candidate approached their education can be an indicator of their character and motivation. </li><li>Educational background is less important for more senior jobs than for junior ones.</li><li>Typical questions might include:</li><ul><li>“What school accomplishments are you most proud of?”</li><li>“Did you study hard or pick things up quite quickly?”</li><li>“Who influenced you and contributed to the person you are today?”</li></ul></ul></p>

Employment history

<p><ul><li>Ask about all of the candidate’s previous jobs, going into more depth on the most recent ones.</li><li>Typical questions might include:</li><ul><li>“What did you like most about that job?”</li><li>“How did your performance compare to your colleagues?”</li><li>“How do you know when you’ve done a good job?”</li></ul></ul></p>

Passions and hobbies

  • At this point in the interview asking about the candidate’s hobbies can help to lower the intensity after all the discussion of education and employment.
  • People with interests outside of work tend to be better candidates. I tend to be wary of workaholics!
  • However, it’s not hugely relevant to the job and whether you’d employ them so a simple “What do you like to do in your spare time?” would suffice.

Reasons for joining your company and pre-close

<p><ul><li>This is a really important part of the interview for making sure that the candidate will accept your offer. </li><li>Ask them if they have concerns about joining your company, what their salary expectations are and whether they’ve applied elsewhere.</li><li>Typical questions might include:</li><ul><li>“What would stop you from joining us?”</li><li>“If I could offer you a salary in that range, would you take the job?”</li><li>“If we offer you a job, how do you think your employer will react and what will be your likely response?”</li></ul></ul></p>

Candidate’s questions

  • It’s important to allow candidates to raise questions and for you to give honest answers: “Do you have any questions?”
  • Be concerned if a candidate has nothing to ask at a first interview; this may be a sign that they’re not very committed (though trainees often don’t have questions and just want the interview to be over!).

After the Interview

  • If after the interview you think you want to hire the candidate then the next step is to do a Job Simulation to test directly their competencies (see our guide Job Simulations and Work Culture Assessments).
  • Second interviews aren’t always necessary. You may want to do one if you have to carry on shortlisting, need agreement from a senior leader, or if there are parts of a candidate’s story that require further probing.
  • Avoid having third or fourth interviews. These drag out the process unnecessarily and could alienate the candidate – they might decide to cut their losses and take a job with a faster-moving competitor.

<div class="grey-callout"><h2>Key Takeaways</h2><p><ul><li>Forget game show type grillings, gimmicky trick questions and competency questions.</li><li>Use a well-designed Structured Interview to uncover the key trends and patterns in a candidate’s background.</li><li>Structured Interviews should explore the candidate’s education, employment history and hobbies.</li><li>Increase the chances of the candidate taking the job by including at the end a set of pre-close questions that explore their reasons for wanting the job and the broader context of their job search.</li><li>After the interview, give promising candidates a Job Simulation.</li><li>You don’t have to do a second interview, but may want to in some circumstances. Avoid third and fourth interviews.</li></ul></p></div>

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The Secrets of Great Recruitment is a top-seller. It is easy to read and wastes no time in giving powerful actionable strategies you can use straight away.

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Geoff Newman has dedicated his entire career to recruitment. He has consulted for many well-known international brands, and worked with over 20,000 growing businesses. He has helped fill over 100,000 jobs.

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We literally wrote the book on...

The secrets of great recruitment

The Secrets of Great Recruitment is a top-seller. It is easy to read and wastes no time in giving powerful actionable strategies you can use straight away.

Book cover for The Secrets of Great Recruitment